Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Make a little go a longer way - Braised mince & Lasagne

I made lasagne at the weekend. It was delicious. I haven’t made it for ages, and I’m really pleased I made it again. Before this weekend, my abiding memory of it has been frozen baby portions clogging up the freezer during Blue’s toddlerhood. I spent a long time freezing portions of food so that I would always have a ready supply of meals for him. The idea behind freezing portions beyond those ice cubes of puree so beloved of Annabel Karmel  (which soon got a little tedious because Blue would either be ravenous and eat cubes and cubes, or nothing) was to put some distance between the cooking and anticipated rejection. It didn’t always work, but it was a nice idea.

Anyway, back to the present. Our butcher sells beef mince at a discount if you get 3lbs, and after reading a feature in Good Food back in 2009, I usually take advantage of this and cook it into braised mince before freezing in portions to be cooked on into bolognaise, cottage pie, lasagne... It might sound like a bit of a nonsense, cooking the mince only to cook it again, but it solves a problem I used to come up against if I’d cooked the mince too quickly – that it would be a little grainy/gritty. Also, the extra cooking makes for a really good flavour in the sauce – you may remember Heston Blumenthal's meat ragu which he cooked for hours and hours. He may be on to something. The other great thing is that somehow it makes the mince go much further than it would otherwise. And you end up with stuff in the freezer which is then really easy to turn into something else. Cottage Pie is a good one. Or lasagne.

Braised mince:

3-4 tbsps vegetable oil, 4 onions, finely chopped, 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 3-4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped, 1.5 kg/3 lbs beef mince, 400g can chopped tomatoes, 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 3 beef stock cubes made up to  1.2 litres with boiling water

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large casserole/pan and fry the onions, garlic and rosemary on a high heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring. Set the pan aside, then heat a tsp oil in a large frying pan and start browning the mince. You need to do this in relatively small batches to get a bit of a crust on the meat, but not cooking it. As each batch browns, add it to the onions. When you’ve browned all the mince, put the large pan back on the heat tip in the chopped tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. Swill out the can from the tomatoes with some of the stock and tip into the pan along with the rest of the stock, bring it all to the boil and simmer, uncovered for an hour or so. When it is done, it will have reduced and be rich and tasty looking.

Divide this mixture into 4 portions. At this point, I usually freeze all four portions for later, but you can turn at least one portion into

Braised mince lasagne – serves 6

Olive oil, 1 onion, finely chopped, 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, 100g cubed pancetta or streaky bacon, chopped up, 2 celery sticks, finely chopped, 3-4 sprigs of thyme, 350 ml red wine, 2 400g cans of chopped tomatoes, 1 portion of braised mince, 1 beef stock cube made up to 300ml, and for the sauce: 75g butter, 50g plain flour, 850 ml milk, 150ml single cream, salt, pepper & nutmeg, sheets of dried pasta, freshly grated parmesan (25-50g depending on taste).

Heat 1tbsp olive oil in a large pan, and add the onion, garlic, pancetta, celery and thyme sprigs (woody bits and leaves). Cook for 2-3 minutes, then tip in the wine and let it boil up till it’s almost all gone and the onion is a beautiful red colour. Tip in the chopped tomatoes, add the portion of braised mince and the stock and simmer for 45 minutes.

While the mince is cooking, make the sauce. Add the flour to a pan and slowly pour in the milk, stirring in the flour as you go to avoid lumps. Add the butter and bring slowly to simmering point, whisking all the time till the suace starts to thicken. It does take a bit of time, but it’s worth it. When the sauce reaches simmering point and starts to thicken, reduce the heat as low as possible and simmer for 10 minutes. Add freshly ground salt and pepper, and a really good grating of nutmeg, and beat in the cream.

When meat and white sauce are ready, you can get layering in your chosen dish. Mine was a rather smart Emile Henry dish  that Baytree Cookware asked me to try out.

Start with your meat ragu, then a layer of sauce then a layer of pasta. You should get 2 complete layers and then have enough white sauce left over to cover the top layer of pasta. Sprinkle over your grated cheese, and bake at 1800C for 30-40 minutes, till the lasagne is golden and bubbling, and the pasta is cooked.


  1. Think I must cook my mince too quickly, because it's often gritty, so like the idea of braising and freezing it. Your lasagne sounds delicious and looks lovely and crispy on top. It's a hit with everyone here, which is great, but I also find it a bit of a faff sometimes. Tried Jamie's one with butternut squash recently. He uses creme fraiche and anchovies as a quick alternative to white sauce. It was ok, but not as good in my opinion!

    1. if I have time I always try and do the braising - although i wouldn't do it if I didn't have bulk mince, probably, Yes I saw that Jamie version too, but there's nothing to beat a proper bechamel sauce if there's time.


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