One of the things we have learnt in these times of Covid is that lasagne, despite its Italian origins, seems to have made its way into the Australian psyche, becoming a strong contender for a spot as one of our national dishes. We have adopted and bastardised many Italian favourites, but lasagne seems to have a special place in our hearts. It is a dish of warmth and comfort, and making it is a labour of love. There are no real shortcuts, it takes time and patience, and it is best made in large batches.
It’s well worth it, as when it’s all done it is the perfect dish: baked, cheesy, rich and a complete meal unto itself (although a green salad and a warming glass of red wine elevate it even further). Is there anyone who doesn’t like a lasagne? There are endless recipes and it feels a little extraneous to add another, but I am going to anyway.
The main difference with this version is that I blanch the pasta sheets before layering and then let it sit overnight to set. This makes for a slightly lighter version, but the main benefit is giving you more flexibility in the final serving of it. Once it’s set you can jiggle the whole lasagne out of its dish and cut it into portions. This means you can make a big batch and freeze portions, which is good news for those living alone. The other excellent news is that when you go to reheat it in portion sizes, you get extra caramelised edges, which is the most sought-after bit anyway.
There are a few elements to this dish that you can break down into stages and do over a few days. You can even ditch the idea of making your own pasta and find somewhere to buy fresh pre-rolled sheets. Each step is a version of a standard recipe so for a little brevity I haven’t given detailed instructions, rather I shall just advise on pertinent points. It is important though that you follow amounts here as then the ratios will be correct for the final product. And, of course, feel free to go a little wild and experiment: make a spinach pasta sheet, add mozzarella or more chilli, throw in some basil, or do an eggplant version. There are no rules if you call it Australian.
Time: about 3 hours preparation + overnight + 30-40 minutes cooking
(I used a 38cm x 30cm dish)
- 200g pasta flour
- 50g coarse semolina
- 8g cooking salt
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 750ml milk
- 2 bay leaves, lightly crushed
- ½ small brown onion, peeled and cut in half
- 50g butter
- 70g plain flour
- grated nutmeg, salt flakes and white pepper for seasoning
- olive oil for cooking
- 500g pork mince
- 500g beef mince
- 2½ small brown onions, diced
- 1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 bunch thyme, leaves picked
- 300ml red wine
- 3 cloves
- 2 star anise
- 3 small, dried chillies
- 3 bay leaves, lightly crushed
- salt flakes and black pepper
- 750ml tomato passata
- 150g grated parmesan
- Make (or buy) your pasta sheets. You want them to be rolled quite thinly and, if possible, cut into long pieces appropriate to the size of the baking dish you are going to use. Blanch your sheets in boiling salted water for a minute, transfer them to a bowl of iced water to cool and then lay your sheets flat between clean tea towels until ready to use.
- For the white sauce, warm and infuse your milk with the bay leaves and onion and then carry on with making a white sauce like your nanna used to, slow and steady. Season with nutmeg, salt and a lot more white pepper than she would have. You may need to lay plastic wrap on top to stop a skin forming but this sauce is best used while a little warm.
- For the ragu, in a large frypan add some oil and sear the mince in batches, seasoning and breaking it down and browning it. As each batch is complete, transfer to a colander to drain. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, add a generous amount of oil, warm it and then add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, to sweat the onions with no colour until soft (four to five minutes).
- Add the drained mince and the thyme. Stir to mingle before adding the red wine and spices. Season well.
- Let this simmer for a few minutes before adding the tomato. Give it a good stir and reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Let this gently bubble away for two hours, stirring and tasting very occasionally. If it looks as if it’s drying out too much, you can add some water, but you shouldn’t need to. Once cooked set aside to cool a little.
- To construct your lasagne, take your dish, line it with baking paper and place a single layer of pasta on the bottom (you may need to jigsaw puzzle it depending on your dish and pasta sheets). Spoon over a quarter of the white sauce and evenly spread it along the bottom. Follow with a third of the ragu and then sprinkle over a quarter of the parmesan.
- Repeat twice more before finishing the top of the lasagne with a layer of white sauce and parmesan. Cover your lasagne and let it sit overnight in the fridge.
- To serve, you have two options. Either bake the lasagne as one whole, in an oven preheated to 170°C until it’s hot through and caramelised on top (30-40 minutes), or slide the lasagne out of its dish, cut it into portion sizes and bake them as pieces. If you are going to do this, place it on a tray with baking paper and plenty of room around each portion. Serve hot, straight from the oven.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 18, 2022 as "Layers of joy".
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