The Red Folder

cropped-p1100839.jpgBest Ever Lasagne

I have made so many versions of Lasagne, large catering trays full of the ever popular dish have punctuated my life.  Search the internet and there are pages and pages of lasagne recipes, so I feel that it should not be necessary to include this.  It is however in the Red Folder and shall be included for that reason, it is the one I use at home.  Mum gave me this and I think Delia gave it to her, I have changed it slightly, to suit my family. Tasters always say it is the best they have tasted, creamier somehow, but they would say that, they are at my table.  You decide.

Before we begin a quick note.  Until I broke my pasta machine I used to make my own egg pasta.  I now use the dried packet sheets, they are not as meltingly soft and lack taste, in my opinion, but do the job for a busy hand.  I pre-cook the pasta, even if the packet tells me there is no need.  If you can not be bothered, then up the liquid of the bolognese by adding a little beef stock, and allow more time for the bake to set when it comes out of the oven.  I use a 200mm x 300mm deep lasagne dish.

  • 250g of dried lasagne – your dish size will determine how much you use
  • 80g grated parmesan cheese
  • 30g butter

Bolognese Sauce

  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 25g pancetta – I have alway used 3 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large stick of celery
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 350g prime minced beef
  • 150ml red wine
  • 125ml milk
  • I can of tomatoes, chopped plum is best, but I grab what is in the cupboard
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried oregano – I am fairly liberal here
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Bechamel sauce

  • 600ml milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp mace/nutmeg – I often leave this out
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 65g plain white flour
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste


The first thing I do is make the meat bolognese.  This can actually be made  anytime, it stores well and can be frozen.  I normally chop everything first but the recipe states:

  1. Finely chop the onion. Heat the olive oil, add the onion and cook on a  medium heat for about 3 mins.
  2. Finely chop the pancetta/bacon and add to the onion  and cook until the onion is translucent
  3. Finely chop the carrot, celery and add to the pan.  Chop or press the garlic clove in now too.  Cook for another 3 – 4 mins
  4. Remove with a slotted spoon (I usually put into the lasagne dish to save on washing up) and raise the temperature slightly, throw in the mince and cook until brown.  Separate any large lumps.  If there is any excess oil released at this stage drain off.  If you are using premium mince, there should be no need for this. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Return the vegetables to the pan, mix and add the wine.  Cook until the liquid evaporates.
  6. Add the milk and cook until it evaporates
  7. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, add the herbs. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered for 1 ½ – 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Correct the seasoning and set aside.  You should be looking at a rich well-combined sauce.

The milk balances the acidity’s of the tomatoes, do not worry if it looks a little curdled during this process.

Butter your chosen dish and preheat your oven to 200ºC

  1. Make the bechamel sauce by gently heating the milk with the bay leaf and mace/ nutmeg, if using, in a small saucepan.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium heavy pan. Add the flour, and mix it in well with a wire whisk.
  3. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Strain the hot milk into the flour and butter mixture, and combine smoothly with the whisk.
  5. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
  6. Bring a very large pan of water to a boil.  Add salt if you wish.  Place a large bowl of cold water near the stove or fill a very clean sink with cold water.
  7. Cover a large work surface with a clean tea towel or paper towels.
  8. The water must be boiling when you drop your pasta sheets in slowly one at a time.  Do this in  batches, no more than 4 sheets at a time and cook for 4 – 5 mins.  You are partly cooking so do not worry what the packet instructions are.
  9. Remove the sheets from the pan with a slotted spoon or tongs and drop straight into the cold water, this will stop the cooking process.
  10. Pull them out of the water and put onto the tea towel or paper. Repeat until the pasta is cooked.  Do not leave the pasta in the cold water it will stick together and take on more liquid.

    A three layer lasagne


Cover the base of your dish with a thin of meat sauce, then one of béchamel. Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese. Repeat the layers in the same order, ending with a layer of pasta coated with béchamel. Do not make more than about 6 layers of pasta and make sure the is a gap at the top of your dish or it will bubble and spit all over your oven. If there is anything left make little cannoli rolls in individual dishes. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan, and dot with butter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until brown on top. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for at least 10 mins before serving.  Undoubtedly much more effort than opening a jar but so worth that effort.   Lasagne actually get better with time, so do not be afraid to make it the day before you want to serve.


2 thoughts on “The Red Folder

  1. Thanks for this Elaine, looks scrumptious & I will definitely try next time I am making lasagne. Two questions:
    1) why do you use dried pasta and not the fresh stuff from Farro/supermarket?
    2) why do you state unsalted butter (which I often see in recipes but never have on hand)?
    Many thanks!


    1. Good questions. I use dried pasta as a matter of personal taste. I like the less obtrusive wholemeal, I find the fresh too thick and demanding. Fresh gourmet is totally fine, I would still pre cook, just knock the time back to 2 mins in the boiling water. Cooking the pasta, simply brings it back to the ‘just made’ state.
      Salt was added to butter to increase the shelf life originally, we have got used to it being salty in flavor now. I use unsalted in almost everything, buying packets at a time when on special. The recipes have accounted for the seasoning and you are simply adding more salt which is out of your control. Different brands,contain more or less than others. Mute point, again a matter of taste. I was trained to always use unsalted and only buy it that way, but whatever is in your cupboard is fine.


Is anybody out there listening to me??

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