A couple of weeks ago, I had a relatively free weekend and I decided that I needed a bit of a project. Whilst I could have done something ‘useful’ like clear out the drawers under the bed or (finally) put up some pictures on the walls of our flat, what I decided to to was to make the Lasagna Bolognese from the October issue of Bon Appetit.
Normally, I avoid any kind of recipe that has multiple stages or requires any fancier equipment than a wooden spoon but I couldn’t shake the idea of the tissue-paper thin layers of homemade pasta, slowly-simmered ragu, nutmeg-spiked bechamel and more parmesan than you can shake a stick at. It seemed like a much better use of my time than any of the other options even if it it did seem a little bit daunting.
I got home from work on Friday and started with the ragu. By the time we went to bed, it had been gently cooking on the stove for several hours and was ready to spend the night in the fridge so that the flavours could deepen and intensify.
On Saturday afternoon, I gathered my ingredients for the pasta dough. I love fresh pasta but without a machine, I normally resort to making gnocchi or shapes like orecchiette at home. Getting the sheets of dough so that they were thin enough to almost see through was one of the more tedious parts of the process but there was something quite therapeutic about the repeated stretching and rolling.
By Sunday afternoon, it was time to start assembling the beast. I didn’t quite get the eight layers of pasta demanded in the recipe but I did pretty well, layering generous spoonfuls of ragu and bechamel and cheese in between the noodles until my oven dish was close to overflowing. At which point, I had to summon my boyfriend to transfer it to the oven as I could barely lift the thing.
A mere hour and a half later, we were finally ready to eat.
Sometimes, when you’re just bunging some vegetables in a pan to make a quick stir fry or boiling a pan of pasta to have with a dollop of pesto, it’s hard to feel much of a sense of achievement as you gobble your dinner down in front of the TV. Most evenings, the challenge is to get the food on the table as quickly and with as little effort as possible. But when you finally sit down to eat something that you’ve made from scratch – and properly from scratch, no shortcuts here – and which has been nothing short of a labour of love, it’s a pretty good feeling.
But this post isn’t really about how to make a lasagna though. This is a recipe for what we ate after the lasagna.
Not content with consuming most of my daily calorie allowance in lasagna form, I decided that the only way to round off a meal that was gradually taking on epic proportions was with a pot of what can only be described as liquid gold. I’ve been meaning to have a go at this recipe ever since I tasted the original in our favourite LA restaurant, Gjelina, last summer.
For those of a similar generation to me, this is like a very decadent version of my beloved butterscotch angel delight but better in every way. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, heavy with caramel and vanilla and all balanced with a healthy dash of salt. Normally, it’s the kind of recipe I’d not bother with (it involves at least two cooking methods and complicated things like tempering eggs) but after a weekend of lasagna-making, I was ready to tackle anything.
The original recipe has other bits on top (cream, caramel, a scattering of sea salt). This is great when you're in a restaurant but perhaps too much on a rainy Sunday evening. I used coconut sugar here more for the flavour than anything else but regular brown sugar would also be fine.
- 3 egg yolks
- 30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 60g (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 360ml (1 1/2 cups) double/heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 1500C/300F (fan) and place four small ramekins in a baking dish. Whisk together the egg yolks until creamy in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
- In a medium sauce pan, heat the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla bean paste over a medium-low heat until the sugar has started to dissolved and the mixture has become dark amber in colour. Gradually add the cream, whisking all the time, and continue to cook over the heat until all of the sugar has dissolved and you have a golden liquid.
- Remove from the heat and add a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream mixture to the eggs, whisking as you go. Gradually add the rest of the cream, continuing to whisk, until combined.
- Divide the liquid between the four ramekins and fill the baking tray up with barely boiling water until the water reaches about halfway up the side of the ramekins. Cover the baking tray with foil and (carefully!) place in the oven. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes until just set.
- Remove from the oven and set aside until cool. We enjoyed these as they are but a dollop of creme fraiche on top would have been pretty good.
Barely adapted from Gjelina, LA