I love lasagna; I love to eat it, I love to cook it, but a traditional lasagna does take a fair amount of time to put together. Making a great tomato sauce, then making that into ragu, creating a lovely silky bechamel to layer into it… it can take a few hours, which is always time well-spent, assuming you have the time.
This deliciously cheesy lasagna provides all the comfort of a traditional lasagna without taking an age to create. Actually, it is at heart just a twist on macaroni cheese – so it is two of my favourite dishes in one. What’s not to love?
RECIPE – Serves 4 generously
80g unsalted butter
1 shallot, very finely chopped
75g plain flour
1 litre skimmed milk
2 bay leaves
500g ricotta cheese (or soft cream cheese)
50g grated Parmesan
Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Lightly grease a roasting tin with butter or olive oil.
First, make the cheese sauce: melt the butter in a large pan and gently saute the shallot until soft but not coloured. Take off the heat and, while whisking constantly, add the flour to make a roux. Return to a gentle heat and whisk for 30 seconds or so until you have a smooth paste with no visible flour.
Now start adding milk, a little at a time, while whisking constantly. The milk will be absorbed into the roux, do not add more milk until the paste has fully absorbed what is already in the pan. When you have added around a third of the milk you can start to add it in greater quantities until it has all been added. Once the milk has all been added, lightly crush the bay leaves in your hand and add to the sauce. Turn the heat up to high and keep on whisking until the milk is at a simmer and the sauce is glossy, thick and smooth.
Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves and stir in the ricotta, season carefully.
Spoon a quarter of the cheese sauce into the roasting tin, top with a layer of lasagne sheets. Repeat twice more, finishing with a layer of cheese sauce. Top with the grated Parmesan, then bake, uncovered in the middle of the oven, for 35-40 minutes.
Leave to rest for 5-10 minutes once it has been baked, then serve.
This goes fantastically well with apple and celery salad; the bitter leaves and citrus cut through the rich sauce, while the celery, apple and walnuts provide texture.