This is probably pretty much the same as the lasagne we used to make in Domestic Science classes in the early 80s, those funny old days when garlic and basil were exotic ingredients, and it seemed very daring to do anything to mince except add some carrots, an onion and a spoonful of Bisto. However, since I’ve included Double Gloucester cheese as an ingredient, I can’t make any claims to Italian authenticity.
At sixteen, I always used to hope, on the bus home from my Saturday job, that Mum had rustled this up for tea.
Whoosh up 2 onions, 3 cloves of garlic, a carrot and a stick of celery in the processor, but don’t let it turn to mush. Soften these vegetables in a large frying pan with some olive oil, then add 100g finely chopped mushrooms and fry for about 5 minutes more. Add 500g of good, lean beef mince and turn the heat up a little, stirring all the time, until it’s completely browned. Stir in a teaspoon of dried basil, a teaspoon of paprika, a bay leaf, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and some pepper. Now add 2 tins of chopped tomatoes and half a tin of water. Put the lid on and simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir in a little fresh basil, if you like.
Meanwhile, make your sauce. First, grate some cheese, either Double Gloucester or cheddar, about 175g.
Then, put a decent knob of butter into a medium-sized pan with 2 rounded dessertspoons of cornflour and a pint of semi-skimmed milk. Whisk these together over a medium heat. When the butter is melted and the sauce is starting to boil, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 2 minutes, stirring often. If the sauce is too thick, and a little more milk and stir in; if it is too thin, mix 2 teaspoons of cornflour to a paste with a tiny bit of water or milk, and stir in. Either way, reheat gently before adding half of your cheese. Leave the rest for sprinkling.
You need a rectangular, ovenproof dish about 20×30 cm. Spread 3 tablespoons of cheese sauce over the bottom, then cover the base with a single layer of lasagne sheets, dried or fresh. Pour half of your ragu evenly over the top, then cover with lasagne sheets. Pour half of your cheese sauce evenly over this, then the rest of the mince. Take care with your last layer of lasagne to cover all of the mince without overlapping too much. Finish with a thin layer of cheese sauce. Make sure that you cover all of the gaps and joins extra carefully.
Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, doing the edges of your dish first. Put this beauty to one side for as long as you want (it can even be frozen), then cook from room temperature at about 170 degrees for 45 – 60 minutes.
For the full 80s effect, serve with iceberg lettuce.