Sunday, March 25, 2007

Simple Baked Lasagne

I know lasagne is a bit past it, in culinary terms; it's had its hey-day and now nobody serves lasagne at dinner parties anymore, even the pseudo-exotic Mediterranean vegetable variety. Still, regardless of passing trends, I continue to cook lasagne. I've tried quite a few versions of the ragu sauce that is its base and several different cheese or bechamel sauces; I've made it using my own freshly-made lasagne sheets, Tesco's 'fresh' lasagne sheets and dried lasagne sheets from a box. My favourite lasagne, however, still comes from Jamie's Dinners, the book that accompanied the TV show where he changed the fate of school dinners, except that the book came out before the television series and bore little relation to it. This book has mixed reviews, as I understand it, but it has some old faithfuls in it for me, and some recipes with a new twist. The slow-cooked lamb, turned the second night into shepherds pie; the fish with Parmesan crust; the lamb cutlets with basil sauce; the quesadillas with guacamole; the burger; the chicken tikka masala that is unbelievably easy and good... Oh and the simple baked lasagne, which is simple, but has a layer of butternut squash in it, that lifts it way above the ordinary.

Lasagne, to me, is comfort food; it is out of place in the summer, even a British summer, but it is incredibly warming in the autumn and winter. I realized I hadn't yet made lasagne this winter - thanks to the Jamie project - and set about rectifying that. Jamie's ragu sauce includes pancetta, beef and pork mince, cinnamon, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, tinned plum tomatoes, red wine or water. I left it to simmer away in the slow cooker yesterday while we went to Durham with my parents (back from Gran Canaria and unapologetically brown). I don't cook the lasagne quite as Jamie suggests (he lines the oven dish with pasta, and uses more layers than me), but I do include his layer of butternut squash, first roasted in the oven with crushed dried red chilli, coriander seed and black pepper. I also use his version of white sauce (creme fraiche with anchovies chopped into it and grated Parmesan), and, as suggested, tear mozzarella over the top. I recommend this over boring bechamel (which isn't to denigrate bechamel, particularly - I make it in other lasagnes and it's nice, really; this is just easier and really nice).


I watched part of an episode of Nigella Bites earlier, the one where she cooks to commemorate the past, her grandmother, her mother, her sister Thomasina, and where she makes liptauer. I recall my friend Victoria's verdict when Nigella's children dive into the fridge at the end of the programme and gobble up the liptauer: 'what did she bribe them with to get them to eat that?' I have never made liptauer and am sure it's really good, but it doesn't appear, at any rate, particularly child-friendly. Or else her children have better taste than most (which is obviously possible). Nigella also deep-fries whitebait in that episode. I used to love whitebait, and then on a Christmas works' night out three years ago, I was fed some suspect whitebait and could taste it for days afterwards. (Is it just me or is the food on work nights out inevitably revolting?)

The clocks went forward last night, spelling the beginning of British summertime. The sky was relentlessly blue today and from indoors it seemed as though summer had indeed begun; outside, though, a chilly wind still dominated. Nonetheless, changing the clocks seems to have a psychological impact, marking the time to wake up rather than hibernate, to look forward to warmer days, and to plan the summer. That is, if you aren't still knocked for six by having to get up an hour earlier.

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