Nigella’s Calabrian Lasagne

  
We don’t often do pasta. Too many carbs!  But for some reason I felt Freya needed a lasagne to cheer her up a bit. 

The Brits tend to make their own version of lasagne and I imagine it is a million miles away from anything the Italians make. 

On Australian Masterchef this year one guy made a lasagne the English way (adding cheese to a white sauce) and he was suitably chastised by Marco Pierre White for not making a proper bechamel and using th wrong type of cheese – oh and doing the layers in the wrong order. 

I tend to make my lasagne different to most as well so I thought I should try an Italian version. Now granted you can’t normally trust Nigella to do anything authentic but this lasagne did remind me of one I’d had in Italy many years ago.

This lasagne has no white sauce. It doesn’t even have buckets of minced meat. Oddly, it contains slices of cooked ham and hard boiled eggs. Sounds strange – but it was amazing.

You can make this (well up to the point it goes in the oven) in less than 20 minutes. It is very easy. Most of the stuff from the Nigellissima book can be achieved by anyone – even if you do lack the rich language and voluptuous figure that comes hand in hand with her recipes. It is hard to believe it is one of her recipes because it is broadly quite healthy. Compared to the desserts in the book – which are guaranteed to give you heart failure! That said, she does say it is great for soaking up alcohol; so it clearly has a purpose!

Anyway, how do you make it!?

Well first you hard boil some eggs. You’ll need these to be peeled and cold so do those first. While they are on the go you make a very runny tomato and meat sauce by frying some onions, adding some mince, adding red wine, then a lot of passata and the same again of water.

I had to shift my sauce to the pressure cooker as my pan wasn’t big enough to hold 2.5 litres of sauce!

While the sauce is on a rolling simmer for 10 minutes or so you can peel your eggs!

Then you simply ladle the sauce into the bottom of your dish, add dried lasagne sheets, add another layer of sauce, then add slices of cooked ham (that stuff you put in your kids sandwiches!) and some sliced/chopped hard boiled egg.

Build up the layers until you’ve filled your dish (I did 4 layers) and top with one last layer of sauce and a load of grated parmesan.

Cover it in tin foil (I had a panic! I thought I didn’t have any) and wrap it tight and pop it in an oven for an hour. And it’ll be done.

Something awesome happens while it’s in the oven. The pasta layers all ripple and all the sauce soaks into the pasta leaving it so beautifully cooked. Being under foil effectively steams it too so you won’t get any hard uncooked bits. British lasagnes are all flat and regimented and predictable but this one is quite amazing. You don’t even miss the white sauce. And it isn’t a meat overload. The dots of mince here and there are all you need – it’s pretty special!

If you’re feeling cheated on the cheese you can always use more or try a stronger cheese but I found it perfect just the way it was. And was the ham and eggs odd? No. They were a great addition indeed.

Nice dish. I’ll definitely make it again. And we’ll definitely be eating it again today as we barely dented the batch that I did make!

Pancake Day

Bacon, Spinach and Cheddar Pancake

In the UK it was Shrove Tuesday yesterday; or pancake day if you prefer.

Most people forget pancake day these days. It was always a big deal when I was growing up – but the only pancake you’d ever get was dressed in a squeeze of lemon and some sugar. Maybe I was just deprived but it’s all I knew in the 70’s and early 80s.

We already had pancakes this week; Freya and I met up with her brother and his girlfriend in Chelsea for Dutch Pancakes in My Old Dutch. It wasn’t bad although £10 for a pancake with a few pizza toppings is a bit much. That said the beer was reasonably prices and I have a very nice Kriek Boon – which usually costs a lot more.

I promised Freya pancakes this week – and hoped to have a few for dinner before going to our regular Rock’n’Roll dancing class  – but North Circular traffic put a stop to that. It did allow us a good two hours to think about the pizza toppings. It also allowed an amusing text exchange between a couple of my friends – who eventually admitted defeat to my relentless pancake puns.

Bacon, Spinach and cheese was the eventual winner – going totally against the ‘no cooking meat on the boat rule’. Rules are made to be broken though.

Pancakes are pretty easy to make – it’s only eggs flour and milk. Some people add melted butter to the batter, some add and extra egg yolk, some add oil. I opted for the extra yolk option but only because I had one lying around from a previous recipe.

You need your pan to be super hot. I always make my pancakes in a mix of butter and oil – and wait for the butter to brown. I also tend to make savoury pancakes a bit thicker than the sweet variety as the toppings tend to tear the base and it all goes horribly wrong if you need to grill the cheese afterwards. You just can’t shift them out of the pan! Thicker is better in this case.

I fried the bacon in a pan first – I used really cheap bacon bits from Morrisons – I think they were only 89p – in keeping with the frugality of pancake day. In hindsight a better quality of bacon might have been better – less salty for a start – although it didn’t bother me.

Once you’ve make your pancake, top it with trimmed spinach leaves, your cooked bacon and a generous handful of grated cheese. Pop it under the grill and let the cheese bubble.

When it’s ready slide it onto a plate and serve.

I made enough batter for two each but one was enough really. It was very filling and very very tasty.

I think I might start making pancake pizzas from now on. It uses up eggs and milk and there’s always something you can put on a pizza/pancake.

Fresh Borlotti Bean Cassoulet

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Does anyone know where to get Fresh Borlotti Beans? I don’t so I couldn’t really make this as per the recipe. If I’m honest I only chose this recipe because I found a couple of tins of them whilst packing up our food as part of our house move and figured I could swap them out without much fuss.

This dish is also from Maria Ella’s ‘The Modern Vegetarian’ – and was pretty easy – and is really just one of those ‘throw it all in a pan’ affairs. The end result is ‘posh beans on toast’ (if you serve it with toast!).

This was nice and quick and took me less than 30 minutes to make – although the recipe suggests that the longer you leave this to infuse the more tasty it will become! We ate really late last Sunday (when I made this) so the flavours didn’t have a chance to infuse. That said the leftovers were definitely more tasty when we had them at work the following day.

To make this you simply fry celery, onion, carrot and garlic (all diced very small) into some olive oil. Once soft add bay leave, sage and oregano, the beans (I used two 400g tins), chopped fresh plum tomatoes (I had a lot of Heritage ones that were very very ripe so I favoured these) and cook.

Now ordinarily in the recipe you would add water to cover the beans and cook for 50 mins or so. But my beans were already cooked so I didn’t bother with this step. I just added enough water to keep the consistency of my beans similar to that of a tin of baked beans.

When it’s all ready you remove from the heat – add lemon zest and lemon juice and some basil and serve with some toasted bread.

As quick dishes go – this was very quick. But I did cheat. This would take far longer if you used fresh beans.

This is quite a nice go to dish if you’re short of time. And it is far better than a tin of baked beans!