Beef and mushroom lasagne

Beef and mushroom lasagne


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There are few dishes as comforting as a big, bubbling lasagne, its sauce rising and popping as it emerges from the oven; golden at the edges and hot as hell. Then comes the wait, for one must hold off plunging the serving spoon through the cheesy crust, down into the forgiving, soft handkerchiefs of pasta below. The portion should be very obviously too large as it wobbles its way over the plate, and once down, the ragu should ooze gently from the sides; inviting and rich, nuggets of beef tumble from between the layers.

There is a balance to be struck, with lasagne, between the creamy béchamel and intensely savoury ragu. In this version, the base is beefy, with just a little pork to bring salty-sweetness. The béchamel is thick and savoury with that almost-brown-butter flavour and then - boom - the mushrooms. Four different kinds feature here, but if, for example, girolles are not in season, do feel free to mix up the combination. Don’t skip the dried porcini though, as the depth of flavour they bring is something special.

The lasagne may seem like a heavy dish, but serve it with a salad of soft butter lettuce leaves, some slivers of spring onion and a sharp vinaigrette, and you have something summery. Drink with a chilled red, like a light and juicy Barbara d’Asti.

In a large saucepan, cook the mince and bacon pieces until the mince is browned. Remove from the pan and set aside
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in the pan and cook the onions until soft but not coloured. Add back the meat, then splash in the wine and cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf and some salt and pepper
Put a lid on the pan and allow to cook, stirring every now and then, for around 1 hour. After this time, remove the lid and allow to cook for another half an hour or so, until the ragu has thickened
Pour boiling water onto the dried porcini and allow to rehydrate for 20 minutes. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and cook the girolles, closed cup mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms until soft. Add the sage, cook a few minutes more then set aside
Drain the porcini, reserving the water. Add the water to the ragu sauce, chop the porcini and add them to the other mushrooms
To make the béchamel, melt the butter and and add the flour to it. Cook, stirring all the time, until the flour mixture is a golden sandy colour
In a separate saucepan, heat the milk until almost boiling. Add it, a ladleful at a time, into the flour and butter mixture, whisking until smooth with each addition. Do this until all the milk is added, then bring the sauce to the boil and cook for around 5 minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper, then add the mushrooms and set aside
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4
To assemble the lasagne, add a layer of ragu, then add a layer of pasta sheets. Spread over a very scant layer of mushroom béchamel, then another layer of pasta sheets, then another of ragu
Add another very scant layer of béchamel, then pasta sheets, then continue repeating these steps until you get to the top. On the final layer of pasta sheets, add the remaining béchamel so that you have a nice thick layer. Grate the Parmesan cheese on top and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and bubbling
Serve with a green salad dressed with a sharp vinaigrette
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