Hey everyone, hope you’re all doing great. I feel rested after a week-long break up in the Lake District. We’ve been there before but this last trip has been the most enjoyable. I read two books (even though I packed five of them in my backpack – and I’m continuously wondering why my back problems have gotten worse during the past few months), explored Derwent Water and its surroundings, cried like a baby with joy when I saw all those adorable little lambs, soaked up the Sun (it was warmer than Malta for a few days), had coffee and afternoon tea and indulged in good pub lunches and ice cream. It was one of the most peaceful weeks in my life. I kept technology usage to a minimum; most of the time we didn’t have any mobile or Wi-Fi signal anyway, and frankly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I did the basic stuff in the evenings at the cottage where we stayed in and that’s it. Bliss.
I can’t quite get my head round the fact that it’s already the beginning of October. Children have started school this week here in Malta and today, poor things, they made their way in the rain. We had quite a storm this morning and this doesn’t make the commute easy for all those who have to walk out the door to work. Flooding affected the usual places and traffic was even more nightmarish than usual. I hope everyone made it to their destination in one piece. It’s Friday once again though, so there’s the weekend to look forward to. Anything to hold on to, to make life better, right?
The weeks are really going by so fast. I can’t quite get my head round it. However summer doesn’t seem to want to come to an end here in Malta. The weather is glorious, a little too hot for my liking, but it comes with one perk. If you’re into eating with family and friends on a breezy rooftop, or if you’re lucky enough to own a luscious green garden, this is definitely the perfect weather for you. There is nothing like fresh food and great company, with perhaps a nice bottle of chilled white to share. This simple pasta dish reminds me of all that. I am looking forward to winter cooking, but in the meantime I don’t mind eating this now.
This pasta recipe has practically written itself. I think this has been one of my busiest weeks so far, and one of the most productive, though not in terms of work. I’m really behind on my writing course work, so unfortunately I have to try to remedy that all day tomorrow. I won’t be able to finish everything but I have allotted the whole morning to that. Tough. But now we have aircon units in the office so at least I can continue working even through the afternoon heat. *Pumping fists in the air*
It’s been a fab Friday so far though. There’s a lovely cool breeze around. I spent my morning, taking a mountain of glass jars and bottles to the recycling bins down the road, then I caught up with an old friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in ages, spent more than two hours talking about everything under the sun over a nice meal, squeezed in a little veggie shop while comparing notes on various recipes,
I also bought a new lime coloured dress…Shh and returned home right after lunchtime. Life is good.
I love a good lasagna. To eat that is. Well, let’s say that unless J is at home and can help me with lifting the heavy pans I don’t enjoy it. What I also don’t enjoy is the washing up of all those pots and pans. Even now as I’m writing this, my wrists are not happy and every time I write one word I have to stop and wish my carpal tunnel away. My frustration could also be a result of taking loads of pictures with this one and in my kitchen cooking and carrying a heavy-ish camera don’t always go together.
Look, not all cooking is a breeze and sometimes a challenge is good for the soul. Not to sound too dramatic, this is an easy dish, but it takes some time to prepare. You might be asking me “is there anything you like here?” Of course there is. I have extra portions for the next day, and it will taste even better tomorrow. Just give yourself a couple of hours for prep time and assembly and you’ll be OK. I admit I don’t make this as often as I would like, but when I do I remind myself that I should, and what better way to welcome the winter months! And the kitchen is smelling lovely! I also have a vegetarian one lurking in my files which I must not forget…
Please be aware there are quite a few photos in this post. I just thought they would be of help. Thank you for being ever so patient with me as always.
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon garam masala or mixed spice
- ¼ chilli flakes (optional)
- ¼ curry powder (optional)
- 250g bacon, chopped
- 2 shots red vermouth
- 500g minced beef, preferably lean
- 500g passata di pomodoro
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- around 250ml water
For the ricotta mixture:
- 500g ricotta
- 500g frozen spinach, thawed; you could also steam fresh baby spinach, and set it aside to cool
- 100g fresh parsley or basil, roughly chopped
- around 6 tablespoons milk, or enough just to thin the mixture a little bit
- salt and pepper, to taste*
- 2 large eggs, beaten
For the bechamel sauce:
- 25g butter
- 3 to 4 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 litre semi-skimmed milk
You also need around 700g to 900g lasagna sheets (around 30 sheets), depending on the size of the dish you want to use.
To prepare the sauce place a large pan preferably with a heavy base on medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Chop the onion, crush the garlic and tip in the pan, together with the spices, and stir occasionally. Once the onions have softened and turned opaque add the bacon and the vermouth and let it cook through.
Add the lean minced beef and cook until brown. Pour the passata and sugar in with the beef mixture, stir, add the water, give everything a good stir once more, cover and let it simmer for around 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
For the ricotta mixture, I would advise you to remove as much of the spinach water as you can. To do this, simply thaw on a sieve on top of a bowl and squash the spinach downwards with your hands or a spoon.
Place the spinach in a medium mixing bowl, together with the ricotta, fresh parsley, milk, add salt and pepper, give everything a good mix and now is the time to taste. When you’re happy with the seasoning, add the beaten eggs, stir and set aside.
To assemble the lasagne, pour a thin layer of sauce, enough to cover the bottom of the dish. Then build the lasagna alternating as many lasagna sheets as you can fit in one layer (I can fit 6 in mine), then a layer of sauce, another layer of lasagna sheets, a layer of ricotta mixture, a layer of lasagna sheets and start the process again, until you get almost to the top.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and set everything aside to prepare the bechamel. In a small heavy-based saucepan make a roux, by melting the butter, adding the flour and stir vigorously until you get a golden paste, around 6 minutes will do the trick. As you whisk, gradually add the milk, a little at a time. Whisk to avoid any lumps and once in a while scrape the bottom sides of the pan so that nothing sticks to it. Whisk in all the milk until you get a nice velvety sauce. Add salt and pepper and some grated nutmeg.
Pour over the top of the assembled lasagna and bake for 1 hour.
Leave to stand for 15 minutes and serve to 6-8 hungry people! Enjoy with a glass of red.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe and the photos. If you decide to try this over the holidays let me know! I always appreciate feedback.