We invited one of Sion's new colleagues to have dinner with us last night, after hearing how he is working away from home and eats in the same restaurant every night when he is away.
Being away from your family is hard enough, but missing out on home cooked meals and conversation makes it even harder.
Knowing I would be limited on time to prepare and cook meant that there was really only one dish to do - lasagne. The beauty of this meal is that you can prepare the meat ragu the day before, or make a double quantity, cool completely, then freeze in portions of your choice to use at your convenience. These quantities will make a 6 portion lasagne, if serving with salad & bread (4 if you are all adults and hungry!)
For the meat ragu -
2 tbs cooking oil
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
2 sticks of celery
400g minced beef
400g minced pork (or use 800g of minced beef, or vegetarian alternative)
1 large red pepper
2 tbs tomato puree
500g carton of tomato passata (alternatively 1 tin chopped tomatoes)
200ml red wine
1 beef stock cube or liquid stock portion (I used a Knorr stock pot)
1 fresh bouquet garni (made using sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley & bay leaves)
Salt & pepper to taste
For the white sauce -
1 1/2 pints whole milk
1/2 onion, peeled but not chopped
2 bay leaves
50g plain flour
To construct -
Fresh or dried lasagne pasta sheets
grated mature cheese
Start by frying the bacon, garlic, onion & celery over a medium heat until the bacon has started to colour and the onions are soft & golden in colour.
Add your minced meat and cook through, stiring occasionally to break up any larger chunks of mince. While the meat is cooking, make up your bouquet garni using string or the stalk of some parsley. If this is too fiddly, you can always finely chop all the leaves of the herbs except for the bay leaves and add straight to the pot.
Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly, put the lid on and simmer on a low heat for at least 30 minutes. It is at this point that you can pour yourself some of the red wine and catch up on one of your recorded programmes. Should anyone ask you for something, tell them to wait - you're cooking dinner after all!
If after 30 minutes your sauce is still quite runny, leave the lid off and cook for a little longer until the ragu is nice and thickened. Taste and add more salt & pepper if necessary. Remove the bouquet garni or bay leaves of you chopped your herbs instead.
Preheat your oven to 175C.
To make the white sauce put the milk, onion, nutmeg and bay leaves into a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts boiling take off the heat and using a slotted spoon remove the bay leaves & onion.
In a separate pan gentle melt the butter then add the flour. Mix together with a whisk and continue to stir for 2 minutes. This is to "cook out" the flour and should make your sauce nice and creamy tasting. Add a ladleful of the flavoured milk and stir vigorously. This will turn into a lumpy mess - DO NOT PANIC! Keep adding the milk gradually and whisking until all the milk is added. By this point you should have a creamy sauce. If you still notice lumps, take it off the heat and whisk it with a hand whisk for one minute. Put it back on the heat and gently stir it until it has thickened to a porridge type consistancy. If you spoon some onto a plate you want it loose enough to start spreading, but still able to hold it's shape.
Taking an ovenproof dish start with a layer of ragu, then lasagne sheet ( to make it a little healthier, I sneak a layer of wilted spinach in between the ragu & lasagne too). Repeat until all the ragu has been used. Make sure the final layer is pasta then top with your white sauce. Finish with a generous sprinkling of grated cheese and black pepper.
Bake for 40 minutes or until golden. Serve with bread & green salad and giggle as you watch people eat without letting it cool down first!
What's your go-to mid week meal? Let me know if there's a recipe you want to see.
Linking up to Lavender & Lovage's September Theme of Mediterranean