“Lasagne is a subjective thing,” says cookbook author and food writer Julia Busuttil Nishimura, who’s behind the beloved Ostro. “Every family has their own interpretation.”
This one, an ultra-comforting three-cheese number, is from her soon-to-be-released second cookbook, A Year of Simple Family Food.
Contrary to popular opinion, lasagne is a pretty simple dish to make. “You just need to allow enough time to make the different elements,” says Busuttil Nishimura.
Her formula? “A simple ragu, which I usually make the day before to develop the ﬂavour (but also for convenience); fresh pasta, blanched for just a minute; the most simple bechamel; and plenty of parmesan and mozzarella.”
And if your pasta-making skills aren’t up to scratch, “store-bought dried lasagne sheets are ﬁne”, she says. “But you will need to make sure your ragu is a little runnier than my recipe calls for, as the dried sheets tend to be thirstier than their fresh counterpart.”
Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s lasagne
Preparation time: 1.5 hours
Cooking time: 2.5 hours
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1kg mince (equal parts beef, pork and veal)
Sea salt and black pepper to season
1 cup dry white wine
2 sage sprigs
3 oregano sprigs
2 basil sprigs
700g tomato passata
50g unsalted butter
400g tipo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of fine sea salt
75g unsalted butter
½ cup plain flour
3 cups full-cream milk
Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
100g parmesan, grated
300g buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte, roughly torn
250g scamorza or mozzarella (or a combination of both), grated
50g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
Sage leaves, to garnish
For the ragu, warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over low to medium heat. Fry the onion and celery for about 10 minutes, or until soft and beginning to colour. Increase heat to high and add the mince. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the mince is nicely browned, breaking up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon. Pour in the wine, then add the herbs, passata and butter along with 300ml of water. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 1.5 hours. Remove any stems from the herbs and season to taste. If making a day in advance, allow to cool before transferring to an airtight container and storing in the fridge.
For the pasta dough, tip the flour onto a clean work surface and sprinkle with salt. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs. Gently whisk the eggs using a fork, then slowly incorporate the flour, mixing in a circular motion. When the mixture becomes too thick to mix with the fork, use your hands and a pastry scraper to bring it all together. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Flatten into a disc, cover with plastic wrap or an upturned bowl, and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
Divide the pasta dough into 4 pieces. Cover 3 of the pieces and set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rough disc around 5mm thick. Roll the dough through a pasta machine on the widest setting, then roll again through the next 2 narrower settings, dusting with a little flour between each roll if needed. Fold the dough back on itself so it’s a bit narrower than the width of the machine and use a rolling pin to flatten slightly. Set the machine back to the widest setting and roll back through the first settings again, folding and flattening the pasta dough before each roll.
Repeat this process twice more, so you’ve rolled the dough through the widest settings, folding between each roll, 3 times in total, making the pasta nice and strong. You can now roll the dough through the settings until the pasta is around 1.5mm thick. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Cut into lengths to fit your baking dish, then blanch the pasta in salted boiling water for a minute. Arrange the sheets on clean tea towels with enough space to prevent them sticking.
For the bechamel, melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Now swap to a whisk and slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Continue whisking until the sauce becomes thick, like pouring custard. Add the nutmeg and season lightly with salt.
If you’ve made the ragu in advance, reheat in a saucepan over a medium heat so it’s easier to layer.
To assemble, lightly grease the base of a 25cm by 30cm baking dish with butter. Cover the base of the dish with a large spoonful each of the ragu and bechamel. Now add a layer of pasta, followed by layers of ragu, bechamel and cheeses. Repeat 4 more times, finishing with a layer of bechamel, cheese, a few dots of butter and some sage leaves. The lasagne can be baked immediately, or you can cover, refrigerate and bake within 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges are bubbling and the top is golden. If the lasagne is cold from the fridge, increase cooking time to 35 or 40 minutes. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.
A Year of Simple Family Food costs $39.90, and it’s available for pre-order online.