Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Berny's Ultimate Lasagne

Yup this is MY recipe.  Many people claim to make the worlds greatest Lasagne but i mean it and have proven it to such people on many occasions.  One bite into my Lasagne and they are raising their little white flags.  This is the combination of various recipes and Italian delights eaten in back street cafes in Italy and "world's greatest" Lasagnes cooked for me by friends and family.  More specifically it combines a fantastic vegetarian Lasagne cooked by a friend back at university and a beautiful bolognaise cooked by a housemate whilst i was training for my PGCE.  It is a half and half Lasagne with two layers of meat and one layer of veg.  This really is the Ultimate.  Please note that i have no idea of specific quantities so you will need to use your better judgement.  Also note that the picture shows measly layers of meat and i recommend that you make them much thicker.


The meat layers -  (better prepared the night before)
Minced Beef
Diced Onion
Diced carrot, celery and courgette.   (a bowl of beef needs a bowl of these mixed diced vegetables)
Tinned chopped tomatoes
2 red peppers (blended with some of the tinned tomatoes)
Garlic paste
Tomato Puree
Balsamic vinegar
Red wine
Dried mixed Italian Herbs

The vegetable layer -
Spinach (a lot! i always fall short)
Sliced Courgette
buffalo Mozzarella

The rest -
Pasta sheets
White sauce
Cottage cheese
Grated cheddar cheese


Fry the onion in some oil until browned and add the meat and garlic.  Add the diced vegetables and sweat for a bit.  Once cooked and browned, pour in the blended tomato/pepper mix and add the mixed herbs.  Cook this down for a while.  Now add the rest of the tomatoes, a glug of wine and balsamic vinegar to taste.  Reduce it down and cook on a low heat for a long time.  A good couple of hours.  Season and add tomato puree as you feel required.  You should have a thick consistency with very little liquid.  For the veg layer you need to blanch the spinach in hot water and saute the sliced courgettes in butter.

Now we just assemble.  Put a layer of your cooled meat sauce (thicker than the layers in my picture) and place on your pasta sheets.  repeat this for the second layer.  For the veg layer you need to spread the blanched spinach evenly with a decent thickness.  this is usually where you realise that you havn't bought enough spinach.  Layer on chunks of the buffalo mozzarella (for ultimate stringy mess) and then the sauteed courgettes.  Season and put on your final layer of pasta sheets.  Whatever white sauce you choose to use; spread it on top.  I shamefully use a bottle and mix cottage cheese into it.  Sprinkle with the cheddar and it is ready for the oven.

Some people prefer to have a white sauce layer between all the layers but i think that shadows the fact the we have two completely different layers going on.  Bake, covered with foil, on a medium heat for 30-40 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for a further 10-20 minutes for a crispy brown top. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

Mysore's RRR Lamb Biryani

I never realised the delicacy of a proper Biryani until my trip to India.  It is not simply rice and curry mixed together.  It is a lengthy process that takes dedication and a good spice rack.  For this reason, most restaurants in England will make it completely incorrectly to save time which results in a dish no where near as satisfying.  Like microwaving a jacket potato instead of baking it slowly.  It makes ALL the difference.  

Ingredients: (feeds 6)

One Lamb shoulder (cut into pieces - bone and all)
4 Onions (sliced)
2 Star Anise
2 big sticks of Cinnamon
8 Cloves
2 Teaspoons of Cumin seeds
3 Black Cardamom Pods
6 Green Cardamom Pods
8 Whole Black Peppercorns
Whole Dried Red Chillies (2 for flavour or more for heat)
2 large Dry Bay Leaves
2 teaspoons of crushed ginger
3 teaspoons of crushed garlic
2 cups of plain yogurt
3 cups of dried Rice
4 large potatoes quartered and boiled
Couple of drops of red food colouring mixed with 2 tablespoons of water (optional)


Fry the meat in oil (need quite a lot of oil) and set aside.  This seems pointless but believe me it is essential to seal the meat for flavour.  Use the same oil to fry the 4 sliced onions until golden and then throw in all your whole spices (star anise, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black cardamom, green cardamom, peppercorns, chillies, bay leaves).  There should be enough oil in the pan to fry these spices rather than steam/boil.  The dish will start to smell like a proper biryani already. 

Once you are happy that the onions are fried and the spices nicely toasted, add the fried meat along with the ginger and garlic.  Give it 10 minutes and add the boiled potatoes and the yogurt.  Cook it through until the oil separates and the meat is soft.  Add some water if it is going dry before the meat is cooked but be careful as our end product needs to have a thick sauce with little liquid remaining.

Cook the rice "al dente" (remove from the heat a few minutes before usual).  Use a casserole style dish or anything that is oven proof, big enough to fit it all in and has a lid (use foil if not).  Now you need to layer your rice and meat mix into the oven dish. A layer of rice, a drizzle of colouring, layer of meat.  Go again and finish with a layer of rice and drizzle once more (if you really want to push the boat out you can top it with fried onions).  Finally bake for 30-40 minutes on a very low heat.  Phew... 

As a biryani is quite dry it is often served with a basic vegetable curry and/or an onion Raita.  If you want to get closer to the Biryani in Hotel RRR (above) then you need to get a flight booked and head over to Mysore.  Good luck...