LASAGNA Day has just passed and while this isn’t a common celebration in Malaysia, it really should be. Because celebrating Lasagna Day just involves one simple and delicious act— eating lasagna. It’s probably something we’ve always wanted to partake in ever since we read our very first Garfield comic.
And eating lasagne these days is really easy. Restaurants, grocery stores and even home delivery services offer this rich Italian dish. But while it’s relatively common, it’s not something that’s in most Malaysians’ cooking repertoire. But why not? This dish has been around since the Middle Ages. It’s globally popular and is rather impressive when you whip it out for guests during gatherings.
Suffice to say, it’s a dish worth learning to make. Before you begin your frantic search online about how to make the best lasagna, you must remember one thing —we are Malaysians. This means that we don’t necessarily have access to the same type of ingredients that the Americans or Italians have. We’re also culturally different, meaning that we might not even want to use the same ingredients. So unlike other recipes, lasagna requires a little more know-how and editing skills to get it right.
I’ve been making lasagna for years and have picked up a trick-or-two about how to make the “best” lasagna — in a Malaysian setting. The first thing you need to know is that you need to make the sauce. Traditionally, the sauce is a bolognaise that’s made with equal parts ground beef and ground pork. A lot of chefs truly believe that we can’t make a good bolognaise without the two meats. But this is untrue.
Pork can be replaced with a number of different ingredients although ironically, you can’t use another type of meat. Instead, you should be focusing on vegetables. Veggies like mushrooms and eggplant add a deep flavour to your dish, which complements the beef. So, if you don’t feel like using the pork, it’s really no problem.
Another important thing is that you should never attempt to make your sauce with fresh tomatoes. Sadly, we’re not a country that grows the best tomatoes and unless you intend to buy imported ones, use canned tomatoes instead. The reason behind this is that canned tomatoes are ripe international tomatoes that have had time to develop flavour, which means that you’ll already have a great base to start your dish with—at a fraction of the cost. All you need to do is add a little sugar in to bring out a tad more flavour — not enough to make it sweet but just enough so people think you’ve used the ripest tomatoes you can find. Just a tablespoon for a large stew pot will be sufficient.
Now, the pasta. A lot of people believe that you need to make your pasta from scratch. But most Malaysians do not have the right tools or know-how to make pasta dough. To top it off, who on earth has the time? So, forget it. Just use the dried stuff. Make sure that your sauce isn’t too thick. Making your pasta sauce a little watery ensures that your pasta gets boiled in the oven. As the water is going to evaporate anyway, it’s really not an issue.
As for the cheese filling, there’s one thing you should know. Italians typically use a mixture of ricotta, fresh parmesan and eggs to make a filling that goes in between the pasta sheets and the sauce. For us, this is an exorbitant price to pay. Do you really want to make a lasagna that costs over RM200 just to impress a few guests? Doubt it.
So how about making a “bechamel sauce”, or more commonly known as a “cheese sauce”. All you need to do is cook white flour in a pan with equal amounts of butter, add in milk and grated cheddar cheese to make your sauce.
Finally, what kind of cheese can you use to layer your lasagna with? Many people believe that you need to use at least four types of cheeses to make the best lasagna — cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan and ricotta. While they are available here, they’re just too expensive to use. A mixture of cheddar and mozzarella is adequate enough to give you a good dish. Just make sure to use blocks of cheese and grate them yourself. The pre-grated ones are not pure and have less flavour to add to your dish. So, what are you waiting for? Make your own lasagna!
2 Onion, diced
5 Garlic Cloves, Minced
500g Ground Beef
500g Mushrooms & Eggplant, diced
500ml Beef Stock
3 Cans Chopped Tomato/Tomato Puree
10 Basil Leaves
1 tbsp Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
BECHAMEL/ CHEESE SAUCE
3 tbsp Unsalted Butter
3 tbsp White Flour
300g Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Salt and Pepper to taste
CHEESE & LASAGNA SHEETS
400g Mozarella Cheese, shredded
400g Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1-2pkt Dried Lasagna (No need to “pre-cook” variety)*
* You might need more or less lasagna sheets, depending on the shape of your casserole dish.
1. In a large stewing pot, sautee onions and garlic until soft. Add in beef, mushrooms and eggplant and cook through.
2. Pour in tomatoes, beef stock, sugar and basil leaves and let it simmer for1— 2 hours. Add in water as needed to make sure sauce is not too thick.
3. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
1. In a heavy bottomed pot, on low heat, melt the butter.
2. Cook flour in butter for 3 — 5 minutes.
3. Add in milk slowly and whisk to make sure there are no lumps.
4. Add in cheese, salt and pepper.
5. Set aside.
*Cheese sauce and meat sauce can be made in advance and kept in the fridge 3 — 7 days in advance.
1. In a 13 by 9 casserole dish, add in a layer of meat sauce and cheese sauce.
2. Place dried lasagne sheets on top, making sure each part touches the sauce. Break them to smaller pieces if you have to.
3. Place another layer of the meat and cheese sauce with a little bit of the mixture of the mozzarella & cheddar on top.
4. Continue the process until you’re finished with the lasagna sheets and meat sauce & cheese.
5. Make sure to leave extra cheese for the top of the dish.
6. Bake in a pre-heated oven, according to the lasagne sheets’ cooking instructions. Usually 45minutes—1hour.
7. Only take it out of the oven when you can easily pierce through the lasagna sheets using a fork.