This lasagne recipe is from Michael Volpe. He works with my husband at Opera Holland Park and a highlight through all the seasons they’ve now done together is the weekend when Mike says he’s going to make his mum’s traditional lasagne and bring it in for everyone to share.
Mike’s family – and therefore this recipe – are from a mountain village in southern Italy in the province of Salerno. (Find Napoli on the map and you’re nearly there.) He describes how his mother learnt to make this from hers and back and back it goes. Seems like it’s not just the girls, though. Mike learned too “from watching Mum a thousand or more times”.
The name ‘lasagne’ really just means the type of pasta rather than anything else about how the dish is made up. Like a tagliatelle or a penne there could be many different ways of having it. Forget about soggy lasagne with béchamel sauce – this one isn’t like that at all. Mike describes it as:
“More of a cake. The critical difference that people first notice is the presence of salami and sliced egg. It is moist without being wet, the ragu is rich and smokey. Traditionally, the meat used would be a blend of whatever they could get; rabbit, pork, horse etc. I make it now with a mixture of pork and beef mince, both of which should be as lean and of the highest possible quality. You don’t want the meat to reduce in the way poor mince does. The sauce needs a solid structure.“
Lidia’s Lasagne (recipe from Michael Volpe)
Makes a large lasagne for several people, cooked in a roasting tin.
For the ragu sauce:
3 onions, finely chopped
750g pork mince
750g beef mince
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Two 750 ml jars of good passata
Six large fresh plum tomatoes, chopped
Red wine – approx 100ml
A handful of black olives
Two big handfuls of basil
Pinch of cinnamon
Larger pinch of cayenne pepper
1tbsp caster sugar
Then to build your lasagne:
9 eggs, hard boiled and sliced
6” length of good salami – the best is Cremona salami but if you can’t find that, Napoli or Felino is good. Slice the salami to about 3mm thickness and then into semi circles
4 balls of mozzarella
Egg lasagne sheets – I don’t pre-soak or wet the pasta. You want the layers to be al dente
1. Gently cook the onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil and begin to add the meat, cooking it gently. Stir in the garlic, passata, tomatoes, a good glug of red wine, the oregano and olives. Season well. Tear up half the basil and add that in too (the rest of the basil you’ll need for constructing the lasagne). Then the cinnamon, cayenne and the sugar
2. Bring it all to the boil whilst stirring and then let it simmer slowly with the lid on. The longer you can do this the better. I generally give it about three to four hours but don’t let it dry out; you want a good level of liquid that sits about an inch above the meat.
I always prepare the lasagne when the sauce is still hot.
3. Smear olive oil into the base of your roasting tin and put down your first layer of egg lasagne sheets. Then cover that sheet with a good helping of the ragu – not too much juice – then scatter some sliced egg and salami around on top of that. Tear some fresh basil and put that in too and then the mozzarella slice, randomly but evenly spread. Lay more pasta on top, gently pressing down the layer beneath. If a drizzle of sauce emerges at the edges, you have the right consistency of sauce! Then repeat the process to the top of the tin with the last layer of sauce, salami, mozzarella, egg and basil sitting open.
4. Leave it to stand for about ten minutes before putting it in the oven, allowing the pasta to soften. Then you put it in the oven, covered with foil, at 190C for about 45 minutes to an hour. For the last ten minutes, take the foil off – you want it a bit crispy on the top.