Tuesday 13th April
Lasagne. (Not lasagna, for the record). One of my favourite dishes and yet it hasn’t touched my lips for half a decade since the avenues of pleasure which are dairy and gluten were shut down to me.
Always up for a challenge, I tell Tom I’m going to attempt a dairy and gluten-free version. His response is a mixture of delight: yes! We finally get to eat it again, and incredulity: lasagne without lashings of dairy? Where’s the fun in that?
I start by wanting to make the ultimate bolognese. According to Felicity Cloake (see Guardian article below) this means the inclusion of chicken livers: they add a depth of flavour, apparently.
I’m new to cooking with offal but according to nosetotipapp.com, chicken liver is the place to start your offal journey. I don’t plan to go very far on this journey but if it adds something to my lasagne, I’m willing to cross into unchartered territories. Added to which, the acupuncturist I see is always encouraging me to eat chicken liver because of its high iron content. So far I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it, but hidden in a lasagne makes it sound almost palatable.
The phone rings just as I’m finely slicing the first liver. It’s my father-in-law. I haven’t spoken to another adult all day, and I’m cutting up offal for the first time; it leads to a long conversation.
He cheerfully reminds me that the liver processes all the toxins and junk from the body, and that he wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole; then he expects to end the call. Not likely. I want to justify why I’m using them and give him a blow-by-blow account of how disgusting it is to cut up an animal’s organ.
The béchamel sauce I make using Oatley milk, Pure spread and gluten-free flour. It’s a gamble but it seems to work. I sprinkle each layer of it in the lasagne with Pecorino cheese. This is another new for me. My friend, Helen, uses it for her daughter who is dairy-intolerant but can cope with sheep and goat products. It’s very salty but certainly jazzes up the béchamel.
Next step is the dish (or pan if you are American). Learn from my mistake and don’t even attempt to cook lasagne without the right dish. I nearly come a cropper at the final hour: the bolognese and béchamel are made, the pasta sheets are blanching and there I am on hands and knees looking for a dish I do not own.
The ideal dish needs to be at least two inches deep, preferably three to fit all the layers of lasagne in. For two people a 5″ X 7″ rectangular pan, or for four a 9″ X 13″ is what housewares.about.com recommends. http://housewares.about.com/od/bakewareservingware/qt/lasagnapans.htm
Due to the dish issues (mine being too wide and too shallow) my lasagne lacks the structure I was hoping for. Still, I’ve come this far, (I can almost taste the lasagne!) I’m not going back now. I put it in the oven for half an hour. It’s got so late that the kids have had their bath and are in their pyjamas. They are nearly passing out with hunger on the kitchen floor.
I decide to make an occasion of this first-lasagne-in-five-years and we set the table for our first dinner of the year outside. I have one last check of Felicity Cloake’s article and am horrified to read that you should leave the lasagne to stand for twenty minutes once it comes out of the oven. You have to be kidding me?! I’d prefer a burnt mouth than having to look at a delicious cooked lasagne for twenty minutes!
As it is, the temperature in the garden has dropped so it cools as soon as it hits the plates: no burnt mouths necessary. Daisy and I fall upon the lasagne and demolish it. We have seconds and then thirds, then we remember we need to save some for Tom.
The gluten/dairy-freeness is not apparent at all. It may have failed on structure but it’s a BIG WIN on taste. What a joy to eat!
And the chicken livers? I’m not completely ruling them out, (which is good as there’s half a bag to use up in the freezer), but they do need to be cut up VERY finely or the taste can be over-powering. Next time I will also add some chopped pancetta or streaky bacon to the bolognese too.
For a first attempt though, I’m absolutely delighted. Welcome back, lasagne!
Ingredients: serves 6
Ragù alla bolognese:
- onion, 1
- carrot, 1, peeled
- stick of celery, 1
- garlic cloves, 2
- olive oil, 3tbsp
- minced beef, 500g
- chicken’s liver, 50g (optional)
- red wine, 100ml
- passata, 500g
- grated nutmeg
- beef stock cube, one
- dried oregano, half tsp
- salt and pepper
- Pure spread, 50g
- gluten-free plain flour, 50g
- Oatley milk, 600ml
- salt and pepper
- Pecarino (ewe’s cheese) or soya cheese, a sprinkling for the top of each layer, approx 30g
- 9 sheets of gluten-free dried pasta
Finely slice the onion, garlic, carrot and celery.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan or heavy based saucepan with lid. Fry the onion gently until softened. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook for five minutes.
Turn up the heat to medium and add the minced beef. Cook until it has browned, stirring regularly.
Finely chop the chicken liver (the finer the better!) and add to the frying pan, cooking it for three minutes.
Add the wine, passata, crumbled stock cube, oregano and a pinch of nutmeg.
Bring it to a simmer, then partially cover and continue to gently simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees.
Make the béchamel sauce: in a heavy bottom pan, melt the Pure spread, then whisk in the flour. Stir and let it cook for a few minutes, then gradually add the Oatley milk, whisking it in. Bring to the boil, then allow to simmer and thicken for five minutes. Keep stirring throughout. Season.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Blanch the lasagne sheets in batches for two minutes. Leave to dry on a tea towel or greased plate.
Now layer it up in the dish: a third of the bolognese, followed by a quarter of the béchamel and a sprinkling of the Pecerino. Top with three sheets of lasagna. Repeat the process three times finishing with a layer of béchamel and a big sprinkle of Pecerino.
Cook for 30 minutes until golden. Enjoy!