Monday, October 26, 2015

Luxurious Lasagna

Lasagna has been my speciality ever since I made a vegetarian lasagna for my Junior Cert Home Ec cookery exam. I think I made a lasagna every week between the mocks and the actual exam. It was the first meal I ever cooked for my boyfriend and has been made more times than I can count over the years. I have worked on the recipe in this time, adjusting my ingredients and method, adding in meat probably being the most significant change, but the essence of the recipe has stayed the same. I did think long and hard about sharing this, or whether I should keep it as my own little secret as my boyfriend suggested. In the end I got so many requests when I posted the photos last week I decided to go ahead and share. 

I have to say that I won't compromise on this recipe at all. Any low fat ingredients I use only because I know they won't compromise the taste. I do not use less lasagna sheets as I think ensuring each piece of lasagna remains consistant is too important to me. I insist on real butter for the white sauce, low fat is not the same. So how do I make this weight watcher friendly you may ask? I bulk out my meat sauce with lots of veg which also adds lots of depth, flavour and texture. I use the leanest mince I can get and I will use low fat cheese (lots of it but it is low fat). Also my biggest secret is that skimmed milk makes a far better white sauce than low fat or whole milk, even if I wasn't following weight watchers I would insist on skimmed milk. 

This also isn't a recipe you can't whip up in a hurry. You want lots of time to simmer the sauce and build flavour. There is lots of prep work involved as well as a lot of cleaning up. The good news about this recipe is it freezes really well. You get 9 decent portions out of this, so for 2 of us it does for 4 meals plus a spare portion if one of us is home along one night. It's also a great dish to cook for friends for a casual dinner. You can do all the prep and cleaning in advance and just have the lasagna in the oven when people arrive making it seem effortless. 

Servings: 9
Smartpoints per Serving: 13 sp
Propoints per Serving: 12pp 
Filling & Healthy/No Count: 5sp/5pp  if you use brown lasagna sheets & oil from daily allowance
700g extra lean mince
1 large aubergine
2 courgettes
2 red peppers
1 large onion
5 garlic cloves
500g carton passata
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
splash tobasco
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried oregano
fresh basil
salt & pepper
75g butter
75g flour
700 ml skimmed milk
200g low fat cheese*
1 ball low fat mozzarella sliced
12-15 lasagna sheets

Preheat the oven to 200C and roast the peppers until the skin is blackened. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in a ziploc bag before peeling and chopping. 

While this is cooking/cooling you can get a start on the sauce. Chop the aubergine into bite-sized chunks, sprinkle with salt and place in a colander with some plates on top to weigh down. You want to extract the bitter juices so this should be left for 5-10 minutes before rinsing well and drying with some kitchen paper. 

Chop your courgette into bite-sized pieces, finely chop the onion and crush the garlic. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes until just soft and add the aubergine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes before adding the courgette & garlic. Place a lid on and cook for around 10 minutes stirring occasionally. You want the veg to be very soft, particularly the aubergine. I cook until it starts to go a little mushy. While the veg is cooking brown the mince in small batches in a non stick frying pan over a high heat. 

When your veg have the desired consistency, add the mince, roasted pepper, passata, tomato puree, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, oregano & sugar. Leave on a low heat simmering while you prepare your white sauce. Check occasionally and stir to ensure it is still on a low simmer and not sticking. 

Melt the butter over a low heat and add the flour. Cook for 5-10 minutes stirring constantly to let the flour cook through. Add the milk in very small batches, again stirring constantly to achieve a smooth consistency and bring to a very low simmer. It may seem like its very thin but resist the urge not to add all the milk as it will thicken. Continue to cook and stir until the sauce thickens. You want it just thick enough so it coats a spoon but can still be poured. It will thicken a little more in the oven so don't overdo it here. Season to taste (I add lots of black pepper here as it really brings out the flavour of the sauce). 

When your meat sauce has been cooking for at least 40 minutes, take off the heat and season well. Add in your fresh basil at this point, I usually use about half a pack you get in the supermarket. 

Now to layer the lasagna. Spread roughly 1 tbsp of white sauce in the bottom of your lasagna dish** (this helps to prevent sticking) and cover the base with lasagna sheets. The dish I use takes 4.5 sheets to cover completely. Cover this layer with half of your meat sauce and then pour over one third of the remaining white sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. 

Cover again with lasagna sheets, the rest of the meat sauce and a little less than half of the remaining white sauce. Again sprinkle with 1/4 of the pack of grated cheese. Top with the remaining lasagna sheets and white sauce. Place the slices of mozzarella evenly over the top and cover with the remaining grated cheese. 

Place in the oven (preheated to 180C) and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the pasta sheets are cooked and the top is golden and bubbling. When it comes out of the oven it needs to sit for around 10 minutes. This gives the layers time to set and ensure they keep their shape when serving. 

This is perfect served with just a side salad, but if you have a few extra propoints some garlic bread is never unwelcome on the plate! Let me know if you try it, would love to know what you think.

*For the cheese in this recipe I use a 200g pack of lidl Linessa grated cheese, and the lidl brand low fat mozzarella. The pack of cheese is 14pp so if you can't use this then just use 14pp of any cheese you like. 

**My Lasagna dish is 27cm squared, you may need less/more lasagna sheets depending on the size of your dish. 

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