My mother makes a good lasagne — and she isn’t Italian. She mostly uses the dried ‘ready-cook’ sheets and sometimes adds chopped celery, peppers and mushrooms to the meat sauce. The ready-cook sheets do absorb quite a lot of liquid, so it’s important to keep your sauces fairly runny. If you prefer, just use the sheets that need boiling beforehand. The meat sauce and béchamel can be made in advance. I often make huge pots of the minced meat sauce and freeze it; then when I want to make lasagne it doesn’t seem much of a job at all.
For the meat sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onions over medium heat until they are quite golden. Stir in the garlic and then add the mince, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, worcestershire sauce, mint and paprika. Sauté over high heat for 8–10 minutes until the meat starts to brown, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes or so until it evaporates. Add the tomatoes, cook for a few minutes and then add
To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk. It will be immediately absorbed, so work quickly, whisking with one hand while adding ladlefuls of milk with the other. When the sauce seems to be smooth and not too stiff, add salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg and continue cooking, even after it comes to the boil, for 5 minutes or so, mixing all the time. It should be a very thick and smooth sauce.
Add another layer of lasagne sheets, then meat sauce, béchamel and parmesan, as before, and repeat this layering twice more. Use up all the meat sauce in a last layer, then top this with a final layer of pasta. Scrape out the last of the béchamel to thinly cover the lasagne sheets and sprinkle the top with any remaining parmesan. Put in the oven with a tray underneath to catch the drips and
I watch them playing in the moment. I think about their stickers — the ones I save in the drawer for when they are exceptional and lay out on the rug for them to choose. They take the first one that grabs their young and cheerful eyes and don’t give it another thought. They stick it in their book, askew, in whatever way it lands, and that’s that. Then they flip their books shut and lie back and think of what to do next. If I said ‘let’s go and live in China,’ they’d believe me and pack with the most enthusiasm I’d ever seen, and tag along, not even wanting any big details, until we got all the way to China — as long as they had one or two toys to play with.
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