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Traditional beef lasagne

Wed, 16 June, 2021

Even if you don’t make your own pasta, cook the two sauces from scratch for a perfect lasagne.

traditional beef lasagne

Lasagne is an utterly blogger-unfriendly dish as it’s impossible to photograph nicely: when it’s whole in the pan you can’t see a damn thing. When it’s cut, it looks a right mess. Unless you cheat and photograph cold lasagna, but that’s not me. I shoot what I eat.

It’s quite an undertaking: the white sauce, the meat ragù, the assembly and the bake. That’s why when I embark on the lasagne project, I make absolute bucketloads of it – four trays, one to eat, one to freeze and two to give away.

lasagne from scratch

Lasagne cheats

Though I might think again before I make a batch for takeaway. Last time I offered it to Alice and Mouse, they asked incredulously how come the pasta sheets were not homemade. They weren’t; I don’t make pasta myself because I’m not very good at it, all right?

Thinking about it now though, it is actually an easy dish to cheat at. Get a jar of so called ‘bolognese sauce’ from the supermarket, another of the white or cheese or béchamel; build it all in a dish and presto! A not exactly homemade lasagne but home assembled. A DIY lasagne. An IKEA lasagne.

In my version only the pasta is shop bought, for reasons outlined above. The rest is properly artisan. Except I don’t mince meat myself. Oh damn! What a fine line between homemade and half-ready made! Who would have thought!

Joking aside, it’s still absolutely gorgeous, even with shop-bought pasta sheets. Talking about which: do not preboil or soak them. There is completely no need to do that as that’s precisely what the white sauce is for: you’ll notice it disappears in the baked lasagna because it has been absorbed by the pasta. To cook it. Soaking is just messy.

homemade lasagne

The two sauces for lasagne

The white sauce, béchamel or cheese sauce (depending how you want to call it and what calorie content you allow it) is fairly easy to make though time-consuming so I usually put the meat sauce on first and start the white one while the ragù is simmering away.

It’s not hard, only a little boring. You make the roux which is flour cooked in the same amount of butter, then add the milk to it stirring a lot. And it is like cooking risotto: wait till the sauce comes up to a simmer before adding the next glug of milk.

The finishing touches that make it really good are an optional spoonful of cream, an optional handful of grated cheese and an obligatory five-to-ten-minute simmer before it’s taken off the hob. That is to make it really saucy, velvety and smooth.

The ragù, or meat sauce, isn’t difficult either because the whole secret is the longer you cook it, the better it tastes. Anybody (I’m guessing) can bash up a bolognese sauce, cook the mince, add the tomatoes and Bob’s your uncle. But a really tasty meat sauce simmers and bubbles, sputters and percolates for at least two hours. Only then the tomato merges beautifully with the meat creating SAUCE rather than bits of mince floating in tomato soup.

lasagne with ragu and white sauce

The assembly

Even if you buy a special dish to match the size of your pasta sheets they still won’t fit well. Plus, annoyingly, the gratin dishes usually used for lasagne are wider at the top. So whatever way, you’ll need to trim the pasta sheets which is a recipe for a spectacular mess if you use them dried as I tell you to. Scissors produce a fountain of shards showering all over the kitchen and breaking by hand just doesn’t work. But worry not, I’ll let you in for a secret: poultry scissors work like a dream. Okay, you’ll still end up with shards and crumbs but at least you’ll be able to line the dish with lasagne the size and shape you want.

Three or four layers?

There are different schools on lasagne assembly line, but I like to start with the sauce – that way I guarantee the first pasta layer doesn’t stick to the tray. The final topping is the sauce too, so the top layer of lasagne cooks in it. I don’t add cheese to the layers – heaven knows it’s a calorie bomb as it is – but I do sprinkle some Parmesan at the end of the baking.

classic beef lasagne

Lasagna or lasagne?

And finally – the spelling. You can’t enjoy the dish fully if you don’t know how to spell it, right? In Italian the former word is singular, ie. a single lasagna sheet, and the latter is plural, as well as the name of the dish. In the UK we spell it ‘lasagne’ and in North America they use an ‘a’ at the end. Seeing as it’s pronounced identically, it’s not such a huge issue. But as I say, you gotta know what you eat! Buon apetito!

Traditional beef lasagne

Servings: 8Time: 3 hours 30 minutes


  • For the meat sauce:
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 70g (2 oz.) diced pancetta
  • 500g (1 pound) minced beef
  • 300g (10 oz.) minced pork
  • 1 tbsp. salt flakes
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 250ml (1 cup) red wine
  • 2 tins peeled chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp. tomato puree
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 500ml (2 cups) beef stock
  • For the white sauce:
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 4 tbsp. plain flour
  • 1 litre whole milk
  • salt and black pepper
  • grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. double cream (optional)
  • 140g (5 oz.) grated Cheddar or mozzarella
  • For the lasagne:
  • 16 lasagne sheets, dried or fresh
  • grated Parmesan


1. To make the meat sauce, peel the onion, strip the leaves off the rosemary sprigs and peel the garlic. Chop everything very finely or blitz it in a food processor to a puree.

2. Heat the butter in a very large deep sauté pan or a saucepan. Add the pancetta and cook until it starts to turn crisp. Stir in the onion and garlic mix and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add both beef and pork to the pan, sprinkle with the salt and pepper and turn up the heat. Cook it for 5 minutes mashing it with a fork to separate until it browns a little and takes on cooked appearance.

3. Add the wine, turn up the heat and bubble until it evaporates. Pour in the contents of the tomato tins and the tomato puree, add half the basil leaves roughly torn and give it a good stir.

4. Pour in enough stock to cover the meat and cook the sauce for 2 hours on very low heat, covered with a lid from halfway through the time. Add more stock if it gets too thick. At the end of the cooking taste the sauce for salt and tomato flavour, adjust the seasoning and take it off the heat.

how to cook ragu sauce

5. To cook the white sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Stir in the flour and keep stirring until it foams and colours a little. Add the milk gradually, bringing the sauce to a simmer before adding more milk. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg, taste to adjust.

6. When all the milk is in, simmer the sauce, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the cream if using, it will make the sauce extra velvety. Add most of the grated cheese, stir and cook for a couple of minutes longer. Take it off the heat and let it cool down and thicken while the meat sauce finishes cooking.

cooking white sauce

7. Depending on the shape of your lasagne sheets, prepare one or two gratin dishes, ideally the size of one or two slightly overlapping pasta sheets.

8. To build the lasagne, either in one large or 2 dishes, spread four/two tablespoons of the meat sauce over the bottom of the dish. Cover with pasta sheet(s); there’s no need to precook the pasta even if using dried lasagne. Spread the meat sauce over the pasta, not too thickly and top with a layer of the white sauce.

9. Repeat with pasta, meat sauce, white sauce until you have 4 pasta layers stacked up. Sprinkle the final pasta sheet with the remaining grated cheese and cover with the white sauce (you should have some meat sauce left over to freeze for another occasion). Sprinkle with grated Parmesan. At this stage lasagna can be frozen in the dish, covered with foil, or stored in the fridge overnight. If you freeze it, thaw it completely before cooking as below.


10. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Cover the dish with foil if it hadn’t been covered already and bake on the middle rack for 40-45 minutes. Take the foil off halfway through the time.

11. When it’s browned and bubbling and gorgeous, let it stand for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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