What is the Italian national sport? Not football, but complaining about current and past governments. Indeed, the favourite pastime of most Italians is talking about politics. They are obsessed with it.
If you listen to Italian people, they will be complaining either about how hot or cold it is, or about how corrupt politicians are. Or otherwise about the state of the nation and the high levels of taxes. This is further revealed by the common Italian saying Piove, governo ladro! roughly translated as it’s raining – blame the thieving government.
And, of course, it’s always someone else’s fault. The cause is external, a form of divine retribution in response to – I am not quite sure – what kind of national sin. Clearly, a legacy of the Catholic Church.
Moreover, there is a weak civic sense, which manifests in the dichotomy between citizens and government. But whose fault is it? Is it the politicians or those who voted for them?
Well, if most of Italians see the root of all evil well rooted in their country, in their governo ladro, I am inclined to disagree. Italy is still a land with abundance of both resources and very creative minds. Bill Emmott, former Economist editor, calls it “buona Italia” and “mala Italia”, good Italy and bad Italy. If the former is the better known of the two, there are numerous positive examples which show a country that can look forward to a bright and challenging future.
Because I love this weird and wonderful country and to say it with Emmott’s words, this is “My journey to find La Buona Italia, as distinct from La Mala Italia, and to see what can be done to unleash more of the good.”
And today’s recipe is lasagne, a good old Italian classic, perfect for the winter time, complex and multi layered like Italian culture.
For the ragu
4 tbsp olive oil
4 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 sprig rosemary
700g/1lb 9oz beef mince
340g/12oz pork mince
1 bottle red wine (750ml/26½fl oz)
2 x 400g/14oz cans tomatoes, roughly chopped
200ml/7fl oz beef stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the bechamel sauce
1 litre/1¾ pints whole milk
2 bay leaves
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
50g/2oz plain flour
For the lasagne
14 sheets fresh lasagne pasta
3 125g/4½oz balls mozzarella, cut into small cubes
small handful grated parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp butter
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. For the ragu, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a low heat and fry the celery, carrots and onion for approximately 15 minutes, until softened and golden. Add the garlic and rosemary and fry for two more minutes.
3. Add the beef and pork mince and cook until the liquid from the meat has been absorbed.
4. Pour in approximately 400ml/14fl oz of red wine and stir well. Cook for approximately 45 minutes.
5. Once the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stock. Leave the mixture uncovered to cook slowly for two hours. Top up with more warm stock if necessary. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
6. To make the bechamel sauce, place the milk in a large non-stick saucepan, add the bay leaves, onion and nutmeg and gently bring to the boil.
7. In a separate saucepan melt the butter and add the flour. Beat well and cook for two minutes. Remove the milk from the heat and add a little to the flour mixture. Combine well, and when all the milk has been absorbed, add a little more. Continue to do this until all the milk has been added, whisking continually.
8. For the lasagne, blanch the pasta in salted boiling water for three minutes. Spoon a third of the bechamel sauce into the bottom of a lasagne dish in a layer, then place some of the pasta strips over the top. Follow this with some of the mozzarella and parmesan, and sprinkle over freshly ground black pepper. Follow with a layer of ragu. Repeat this step twice until all the ingredients have been used up. Dot knobs of butter over the surface and cook in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and completely cooked through.
For more lasagne recipes check my Rock ‘n’ Lasagne.