I don't call this Special Occasion Lasagne just because the meat sauce is a masterpiece that takes 3 hours to bubble away on the stove and become rich and unctious. I don't call this Special Occasion Lasagne because I only make it on significant dates like birthdays or anniversaries. I call this Special Occasion Lasagne because it's the lasagne I make when I have a lot of people to feed. And when I have a lot of people to feed is generally when we have a house full of family, friends, red wine, music, games, stories, fun, laughter, jokes... and that, to me, is a Special Occasion.
Special Occasion Lasagne
Meat Sauce from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich's Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, Bechamel Sauce from Jamie Oliver's Jamies Italy
For the Lasagne:
250g instant lasagne sheets
1 ball fresh mozzarella
100g grated parmesan
For the Meat Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 brown onion, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
500g lean ground beef
500g Italian pork sausages, casings removed
1/2 red win
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups of freshly chopped tomatoes, or diced canned tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Sea Salt Flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Bechamel Sauce:
1 litre milk (I use low fat)
a sprig of fresh parsley
a grating of fresh nutmeg
1/2 an onion, peeled and sliced
6 black peppercorns
65g plain flour
Sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Make the Meat Sauce:
Blitz the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the chopped vegetables and season them lightly with salt and cook them, stirring, for about 4 minutes.
Toss in the ground beef and pork sausages, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon. Cook the meat in the vegetables until the liquid has evaporated off and the meat is lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Pour in the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any caught bits. Cook until the wine has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the tomatoes, toss in the bay leaves and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the sauce is kept at a lively simmer. Cook stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick, rich and dark red. This will take about 2-3 hours. Add hot water from a kettle every now and then if it looks like the sauce is drying out too much.
Make the Bechamel:
Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the onion, parsley, nutmeg and black peppercorns and bring gently to a boil. Turn off the heat. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes then strain out and discard the onion and herbs.
Melt the butter in another saucepan, add the flour and mix well. Cook for a minute or so over a low flame then slowly add the warm milk a ladle at a time, stirring well after each ladle full until you have a velvety, smooth sauce. Take it off the heat and season well with salt and pepper.
Assemble the Lasagne:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Pour 1/3 cup of meat sauce into the bottom of a large baking dish. Cover the sauce with the lasagne sheets, cutting them to fit the dish if required. Pour 1/4 of the meat sauce over the noodles. Drizzle a cup of bechamel sauce on top. Put another layer of noodles on the white sauce and continue layering until you have four layers total, ending with a thick layer of bechamel sauce. Tear the mozzarella into pieces and place over the top of the final layer of bechamel and then sprinkle with parmesan.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the pasta is hot, bubbling and golden brown.