Friday 4 July 2014

Three Meat Lasagne with Handmade Pasta and Crème Fraîche

I won’t lie, this started out as an attempt at a 1 hour lasagne. I feel there’s a market for that. And while I considerably missed that target, the end result of 2 hours wasn’t too shabby, considering the pasta had to be made from scratch and rolled out. But using crème fraîche instead of making a béchamel sauce really does save time. I reckon if you used dry lasagne sheets, pre-boiled, you could potentially have this on the table in an hour and a half. But then you’d be reading a different recipe, on a different blog, wouldn’t you? As for me, I’ve a reputation to uphold.

I call it… Fraîche Lasagne. It’s a pun, see? ‘Cause it’s made with fresh pasta sheets. But it’s also made with crème fraîche. See? Do you get it? It’s GENIUS!

I’ve got chills. Really. Now just tell me what to do.

    Make a well in your sieved flour and crack your eggs into it. Whisk them up and draw in the flour, mixing into a very firm lump of dough. Knead the dough to smoothen it, then wrap in cling film.

    Chop up plenty of streaky bacon and fry it in the biggest pan you’ve got. Add chopped garlic, then minced beef and pork. Dice onions and slice mushrooms, then throw them in. Fry until the mince is completely browned.

    Squeeze in some tomato paste and dump a load of oregano, basil and thyme on top. Slice up a couple of chillies and add to the pan, along with bay leaves and some salt and black pepper. Fry for a few more minutes.

    Empty in a few tins of plum tomatoes and break them up a little. Slice a courgette and an aubergine into 1cm thick rounds, scatter these into the sauce and let stew for 10 minutes. Pour in as much red wine as you’re willing to spare and stir before half covering the pan with some kind of lid.

    Unwrap your pasta dough, break it into four and start rolling them out. Use some extra flour to stop the sheets from sticking to the counter or the rolling pin. Make them as consistently thin as you can. Once you’ve developed a newfound respect for Italian housewives, take out your lasagne dish.

    In a bowl, mix a whole lot of crème fraîche with plenty of parmesan and half a ball of chopped up mozzarella. Spread just one spoonful of meat sauce onto the base of the dish, then make a layer of pasta, then the crème fraîche, then a real layer of meat sauce, and so on. Finish with the crème fraîche and top off with the remaining cheese. Pop it in a hot oven and cook until the top crisps up nicely. Keep away from orange cats.

But… Fraîche means fresh. It’s just in French. It’s not a homophone, it’s literally the same word.

Nobody likes you, you know that?
God! Here, just take the recipe and go.


For the Lasagne Sheets
  • 400g plain flour (or TIPO 00 flour if available)
  • 4 large free range eggs

For the Meaty Sauce
  • 300g streaky bacon
  • 500g minced beef
  • 500g minced pork
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3 large red onions
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp basil
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 chilli peppers
  • 3 tins plum tomatoes
  • 1 aubergine (you know, the big purple fruit of the plant that looks nothing like an egg)
  • 1 large courgette
  • 1/2 a bottle of the cheapest, shittiest red wine money can buy

For the Creamy Sauce
  • 1 litre crème fraîche
  • 120g parmesan
  • 1 ball of mozzarella

Say whaaaaaaaaat?!

Yup, you read right. Crème Fraîche, a little cheese, and nothing else. Ready to have your world rocked?

By the way, this makes a huge amount of lasagne. You could halve the ingredients and you’d still have a buttload of food. But have you ever heard someone say “Oh no! If only we had less lasagne…”? Yeah, didn’t think so.

It’s also worth noting that the “Meaty Sauce” part of the lasagne really isn’t fussy about what meat you put in it. That’s why everybody just calls it Your Mama sauce. You can partially, or even wholly, substitute in sausage meat, chorizo, pancetta, veal, boar, anything at all (Italian sausage works particularly well). Just use whatever’s available to you.

    Get the ball rolling with the pasta dough. Dump the flour through a sieve and onto your counter. Make a hole in the middle and throw in the eggs after you give them a quick beating. Mix it all together, don’t be afraid to get messy. Keep bringing all the flour in until you’re left with one single, yellowish, tough, crusty ball of dough. Press, squish, push, stretch and otherwise knead the dough until it smoothens out a bit. This should take about 5 minutes and some elbow grease. Pasta dough needs to sit for at least half an hour before you roll it, so wrap it completely in cling film and set aside.

    With that out of the way, it’s time to go ahead with the meat sauce. Start by cutting up your bacon into little bits. If you don’t have a sharp knife, using a kitchen scissors is a good trick. Heat up a little bit of olive oil to a medium-high heat in either one humongous pan, or two normal sized ones. If you use two, just try to split the ingredients relatively evenly between the pans as you add them.

    Fry the bacon for a few minutes, and chop up your garlic. Add that to the pan, followed straight away by the minces. Break up the lumps of mince as best you can and keep it moving, browning on all sides. While that’s happening, dice the onion into little pieces and add it to the meat. Slice up your mushrooms (I used portobello, but any type are fine) and throw them in too.

    Squirt in the tomato paste and sprinkle in all the dry herbs. Thinly slice the chillies and lightly crush the bay leaves in your palm before adding them too. Mix it all into the meat and keep frying for another few minutes. (If you want to use fresh herbs instead of dried, take about a handful of each and strip the oregano and thyme leaves from their stems. Shred up the basil leaves and add everything to the pan later on, at the same time as the wine. Dry herbs aren’t “worse” than fresh herbs, they just have a different taste and require a longer cooking time.)

    Crack open the tins of plum tomatoes and pour in. Add a sprinkle of sugar and mash the tomatoes a bit with your spoon or spatula or whatever to break them up a little. Slice up your courgette and aubergine. I got nice big fat ones, and cut them into thick circles. Add them to the sauce and let them soften. This should take maybe 10 minutes.

    Now you can add the red wine. It’s a shame to use good wine in a slow cooked sauce, so use any old plonk. Well, new plonk i guess. I don’t really know how wine works. All that’s important is bad wine is cheap, but tastes pretty much the same as good wine would after you cook it this long. Plus it discourages the “one for you, one for me” method of cooking which might leave you on the floor before we’re done here, seeing as we’re using at least half the bottle. Now half cover the pan with a lid, which will help speed up the stewing while still letting the sauce reduce a little.

    Okay, while the sauce is getting all drunk (not to mention delicious and flavoursome), you’re going to make the pasta sheets. I won’t sugar coat things, it’s a bit of a workout. Just think of it as earning your lasagne. So start off by unwrapping the dough you made earlier and cutting it into quarters. Take each quarter at a time, and sprinkle some flour on the countertop and your rolling pin before rolling it out as best you can. The dough will be very firm, and not too compliant to your efforts. Keep at it though, really putting all your body weight into it and flipping the dough over every now and then to make sure it’s not sticking. It’s also a good idea to flip the dough the other way too, as you may find that one arm is stronger than the other, for reasons that we won’t go into here, making the dough uneven.

    When the dough is as flat as you can make it, you should have a nice, long strip of dough in front of you. Hold it up to the light to check for any particularly thick parts, and flatten them out with the rolling pin. Congratulations! It was tough going, but you’ve made your very own lasagne sheets, crafted with love! Take a breath and enjoy the moment. Now do it again with the other 3 lumps of dough. They’ll be crafted with determination, rage and desperation, in that order.

     Wasn’t that fun? I’m sure people with pasta machines are laughing their asses off at you right now. But it’s okay, because we’re at the home stretch. Grate most of the parmesan and half of the mozzarella into a bowl. Add all the crème fraîche and mix. That’s it, that’s the white sauce. No flour, no cooking, no nothing. Crème fraîche and cheese. Bam!

    So turn the oven on to 180ºC and take out a dish (or two) for the lasagne. First, spread just a little meat sauce on the bottom of the dish. This will make sure the pasta doesn’t stick. Alternatively, you could rub it with olive oil, but the sauce is already right there, and after all that pasta rolling I don’t feel much like moving. So on top of the sauce, lay your first sheets of pasta. Try to avoid overlapping the sheets. Feel free to cut them to fit. Then on top of the pasta, spoon on plenty of the white sauce, followed by plenty of the meat sauce. Then do another layer of pasta, and repeat. Make sure to finish with the white sauce layer, and sprinkle it with the rest of the parmesan and mozzarella.

    All that’s left now is to bake it in the oven. Put them in as they are, no need to cover with foil or anything like that, and cook for about 20 minutes. Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dry pasta, so it’ll be done quicker than maybe you’re used to. Take it out when the cheese on top has gone brown and crispy, but before it burns. Cut out a steaming hot slice, let it cool a little, then sink your teeth in.

Then wake from a food coma 3 hours later and wonder where all the lasagne could have gone.

(There is not a food in the world more perfectly suited for freezing than lasagne. That is, if it lasts that long. Cooking up a huge batch like this means that you can have it for dinner once a week for a month. Or once a month for a week, if you're so inclined.)


  1. Whew! Well, I made this yesterday! (Except for the pasta because I'm too lazy and I had lots of dried pasta sheets in the pantry so I figured why not just use what I already have, right?)

    I also added some carrot, celery and some smoked cheese (again, because I already had it) and I nixed the aubergine because we are going through a bit of a rough patch and I am not ready for reconcilliation yet. (It turned all bitter in my wok, whyyy aubergine, whyyy? What did I ever do to youuuuu?! ... Well like I said.) I also added a splash of milk to the pan because the dry pasta sheets needed much more moisture than my sauce and the creme fraiche could provide.

    Well, I halved your recipe because I simply didn't have a big enough pan for this and I used a bottle of wine that I expected to be quite shitty and turned out to be delicious - to keep it short I had to drink the remainder of the bottle after using 1/4 of it in the sauce and I got quite a thursday night buzz! I was blushing, giggling and singing to myself in the kitchen. Quite uncharacteristic to be slightly drunk on thursdays, I assure you!

    The lasagna was EXEMPLARY, and I am not just saying that because I was slightly intoxicated while ingesting it, although it helped - and was great with a glass of wine. It was very very delicious! I loved the squash, the bacon, the creme fraiche (I also added some cheese between the layers (while giggling to myself) and drunk me makes a much better lasagna than sober me. This is now noted!!!

    So thank you for another spectacular recipe! Having some more for dinner tonight (and looking forward to it) I will have to pop the rest in the freezer for future decadence!

  2. Hahaha, I don't blame ya for skipping out on the homemade pasta sheets, they're a lot of effort... Well, they're not bad if you're halving the recipe. Or if you feel like saving money on a gym membership. Besides, like you said, use what you got! Great call on adding milk for the sake of the dried pasta sheets! Even adding a little extra water to the meaty sauce would work, but I'd say the milk kept everything awesomely creamy.

    Tora, I gotta say, you use my recipes in the best possible way I could have hoped. See, recipes are like the Pirates' Code. They're more what you'd call... guidelines.

    Celery goes well in pretty much any stew, carrot is something I'd normally add, but I was happy with the mushroom, aubergine, courgette combo. Smoked cheese needs no explanation. Although that rarely makes it into my cooking because I just eat it straight. And I'm pretty sure drunk cooking has led to many a great culinary experiment! Just remembering how you did it the next day is the problem...

    There's a saying that you should never cook with wine you wouldn't drink, but I think that's bollox. The only merit to that advice is in cases of that strange occurrence you encountered yourself, whereby the wine you don't use in the cooking calls to you. Please... drink me... And who are we mere mortals to refuse? But if you don't plan on drinking it (like if you have a week old half-bottle from the fridge), it still works fine for slow cooking, particularly in any dish that benefits from a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Free acid! (steady on, not that kind of acid)

    As for the aubergine, I've heard that soaking in salt water for an hour, then rinsing and draining can remove any bitterness. But what I've generally found is that quick cooking doesn't work. At all. With the sole exception of tempura, it's always bitter. But roasted or simmered for long periods of time, until completely melty and tender? Never bitter. Also, make sure it's ripe, and fresh.

    Oh, and I sing to myself in the kitchen too, wine or no. Blushing... not so much ; )