I was looking for a ragu bolognese in Tom Kerridge’s cookbook Best Ever Dishes and found this very interesting lasagna recipe.
This lasagna stood out to me due to some of the ingredients of the ragu (red wine, vast amounts of Demerara sugar and red wine vinegar, mushroom caps) and new techniques (rinsing the mince, oven roasting both the mince and the tomatoes, using infused milk for the béchamel sauce).
The Best Ever Dishes cookbook was nominated for the 2014 UK National Book Awards, but Ottolenghi’s Plenty took the award. The link to a sampler of the cookbook from the NBA site has recently been removed, but can be found here. It does not only have the recipe for this Lasagna, but also for Cheesy baked potato skins and Treacle tart with mascarpone ice cream.
What worked and what didn’t:
On the cover, Tom explains that his recipes are all about creating big, intense flavors. Rest assured, pretty much every aspect of this ragu is big and intense: from its colour to the flavours in the oven-roasted beef mince (thanks to the star anise and cloves), the herby ragu (made from the caramelised oven-roasted tomatoes) as well as the béchamel sauce (made with garlic, shallots and thyme-infused milk and loads of parmesan)
The ragu was rich, delicious and worked well in the lasagna whereby the béchamel sauce didn’t really hamper the intensity of the ragu but did not take over either. However, the only thing where the recipe did go overboard is the sweetness; next time I will be definitely cutting back on the prescribed 100g / 3oz of Demerara sugar. I reckon that 30g / 1oz would already be sufficient to balance the red wine vinegar without making the ragu overly sweet.
With respect to the oven roasting of the mince, I can really recommend it as it turned out dark brown and crispy without using any added oil. To get the same result with a frying pan, you will need a red-hot cast-iron pan and a good glug of oil (and you’ll need to clean your entire stove area afterward…). Using a high walled roasting tin in the oven was enough to prevent a mess in the oven. Rinsing the mince in a colander did break down the structure of the meat, but not as much as expected. Having a proper go at it with a wooden spoon will have the same result.
The recipe was generally easy to follow and the measures of ingredients work very well together (with the exception of the Demerara sugar).
The recipe yields about 4 liters/3½ quarts of ragu and serves about 8-12. We used slightly more than half of the ragu in the lasagna (for 6-8) and put the rest in the freezer.
With respect to the oven roasting of the tomatoes, I can recommend making this recipe in the summer… 😎 The fresh plum tomatoes that I used, turned out rather devoid of flavor, so resorting to good quality tinned Italian tomatoes would a good alternative for the wintertime. I added some tomato purée to give the ragu the much-needed tomato flavor. Besides the mix of caster sugar and salt, which kickstarts the caramelization process, a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves or a splash of balsamic vinegar wouldn’t be bad at all.
Verdict: 8/10; Will definitely be made again.
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