Ragu alla Bolognese

Lasagne

It may not be considered the most exciting meal these days, but lasagne will forever be a dish close to my heart.

Believe it or not I was a painfully fussy eater when I was a child and lasagne was one of the few dishes I really enjoyed. Fuelled by an unhealthy affinity with Garfield the Cat, my youthful appetite for lasagne was as insatiable as  that of the grumpy ginger feline himself! Whenever my mother asked what I wanted to have for a special occasion the answer was always the same: lasagne, lasagne, lasagne!

LasagneIn a world obsessed with carb-cutting, the humble lasagne has become somewhat of a relic of family style cooking – a dish that your good old mum would make because she doesn’t know any better or hasn’t bought a new cookbook since 1985. A crying shame really, as this oven-baked Italian classic is a victim of its own popularity. Much like the equally misunderstood and shamelessly corrupted Spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne is in fact a dish of noble proportion and should be appreciated as such. Made well and with love, lasagne is truly a paragon of pasta perfection.

Rich and layered, lasagne is to food what a  hot water bottle is to a winter’s bed: the ultimate comfort. To build the perfect lasagne each layer must be generous and distinct, a balanced ménage à trois of punchy ragu (meat sauce), cheesy béchamel sauce and silky pasta.

Lasagne also needs time to rest before serving. Allowing it to cool down will afford each layer the opportunity to solidify its presence in the overall dish and not be overwhelmed by the molten maelstrom of flavour that is a lasagne immediately after it’s taken out of the oven. At least half an hour is needed for everything to cool down although a couple of hours would be better, but overnight in the fridge would be ideal.

Lasagne reheats wonderfully in the microwave in just a few minutes or in an oven (covered in foil) at 180°C for about 15 minutes.

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Ragu alla Bolognese

Penne al Ragu BologneseThe one thing that surprised me most about Italy is how simple italian food really is; nothing is added that isn’t necessary and ingredients are given the room to speak for themselves.

In Florence we chanced upon a delightful local eatery called La Burrasca, just on the dodgy side of the Central Market. My partner, who has a famed aversion to all things “flavoursome” (with a particular loathing of garlic) fretted over whether the penne al ragu on the menu was cooked with the offending clove; after all this was Italy, they put it in everything. We asked our waiter if the ragu was made with garlic and his response was quite unexpected; “Of course not, this is ragu! It would not be ragu if there was garlic!”. Delighted, my partner ordered it and loved it. So much so, he ordered it three nights in a row!

So the humble ragu taught me an important lesson in italian cooking: keep it simple. It seems the obligatory addition of garlic to all Italian dishes is a culinary assumption most of us are all guilty of making. Unsurprisingly, the Italians harbour an aversion to extraneous elements being added to their most treasured dishes. Why mess with Tuscan perfection? After all a ragu is a ragu and you don’t need to add garlic to make it taste italian.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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