Longing for Lasagne

Words Harriet Boucher, Images Ashlee DeCaires

Growing up every birthday mum would ask what I wanted her to cook for my celebration dinner. I gave her the same answer each time – lasagne. I am a lasagne fiend and can’t ever go past it.

My usual lasagne normally involves some nearly past it veggies and whatever else I have lying around to make a rich meat sauce. Then of course, a cheesy béchamel and some fresh lasagne sheets from the supermarket. I don’t put too much thought into it, that was until I embarked on finding the perfect recipe.


Vicki Ravlich-Horans Ultimate Lasagne:

What better way to either suck up to your boss, or get yourself in the bad books, than to put their lasagne recipe in the mix. Vicki’s lasagne is from her Nourish cookbook that was published in 2013. The meat sauce is simple but rich, with a mix of beef and pork mince, red wine, tomato passata and onion, celery, carrot and garlic. A hint of allspice in the sauce acts as a flavour enhancer. There isn’t anything over complicated about her bolognaise method and after bubbling away for an hour I had a thick, meaty sauce, packed with flavour. Vic’s béchamel has a twist on your usual recipe with the addition of ricotta and an egg as well as Meyer gouda, resulting in an enriched, fluffy cheese sauce. Starting with the bolognaise, I layered it up using dried sheets in between, finishing with the cheese sauce and some extra gouda.


J. Kenji Lopez, the food lab

I could write the entire article on this one. The bolognaise alone has 30 ingredients, before you even get to the béchamel. The first 6 ingredients are chicken livers, anchovies, soy sauce, marmite, cream and milk- you’d think you were making Pâté. Followed by 3 types of mince, parmesan, fish sauce and an entire bottle of white wine, just to name a few. The process of this sauce was a grueling task which took about 4 hours. The aroma of chicken livers wafting throughout the house made me apprehensive to taste the bolognaise. While the sauce reduced, I made the equally questionable béchamel. The roux uses two tbsp each of butter and flour, then two cups of infused milk, which created a very thin béchamel. With no sign of thickening, I added the mozzarella in (not a cheese I would usually use). It turned into a stretchy, choux like ball, before breaking down into a thin sauce again. The absence of cheddar cheese made for a lackluster tasting béchamel. The recipe called for pre-soaked dried lasagne sheets that irritatingly clumped together. Add to this the mince to béchamel ratio was wrong, leaving me with leftover mince.


Bon Appetits Best Lasagne:

I have been wanting to tackle this lasagne after listening to an hour-long podcast on it. I figured if you can talk about it for an hour, it must be good. Instead of browning off the mince, you turn it into large meatballs which then get seared in hot oil. This seemed like a bit of a waste of time and was quite fiddly. The recipe also calls for whole peeled tomatoes, which you crush with your hands and since I was wearing a white tee, I passed on that step. Once I had my base sauce bubbling, I added the meatballs back in and then placed the pot in a low oven to cook, instead of the traditional stove top. This ended up taking over 3 hours to reduce. Once reduced, you mash the meatballs with a potato masher which just felt wrong destroying all my hard work. Flavoured with parmesan cheese, nutmeg and cayenne pepper, the béchamel was fairly simple. I used dried lasagne sheets, or ‘noodles’ as Americans call them, which I begrudgingly pre-cooked as per the recipe. This lasagne had lots of layers in it, which some could argue was too much pasta, but I love it. The meat sauce was better than Food Labs but with a fraction of the ingredients.


Guy Grossi, from ‘The Recipe’ by Josh Emmett

Guy Grossi is known as Melbourne’s Italian food god. With multiple restaurants and an outstanding reputation, I had high hopes. Italian sauces are often simple, relying on quality ingredients, hence Guy’s recipe having the fewest ingredients of all recipes tested including an inconvenient 100g of pork and chicken mince and then 800g of beef mince. The consistency seemed watery thin and took about two hours to reduce. The milk for the béchamel was infused with fresh nutmeg, bay leaf and onion which gave it a beautiful depth of flavour. I almost quit making this lasagne when I discovered the bechamel had no cheese in it! Thankfully, you sprinkle parmesan between the layers. This is the only recipe that required me to dust off the pasta machine and make the sheets by hand. My little helper Zoe and I made a great lasagne sheet production team, although we had enough pasta to make 3 lasagnes with the overly generous recipe.

The Tasting Panel

For this ‘How to’, I hosted a tasting panel to critique what ended up being 6 versions of lasagne. I invited award winning food writer, Denise Irvine, Riccardo Carminati from Alpino Cambridge and Mum of 4 (making her a qualified lasagne judge), Anna Sinclair.

I was bold with my first choice in the line-up and started with my final recipe, a blend of BA’s, Vicki’s and my own touch. They loved the pancetta in the bolognaise, its cheesy topping and robust flavour. Denise kept going back to this one.

Food labs was next, which I picked would be Riccardos favourite and I wasn’t wrong. He loved the intensely rich bolognaise but mentioned it wasn’t traditional like his Nonna would make.

Anna loved the balanced meat sauce of lasagne number 3, her sister Vicki’s. The crunchy topping peaked Denise’s interest and she noticed this was a more tomato based, hearty bolognaise.

BA’s best lasagne wasn’t a winner with it’s overwhelming pasta layers and chunky ‘mashed meatball’ bolognaise. Anna found it “quite different”, and it was her least favourite.

The handmade pasta was a hit in the Guy Grossi recipe, but the other components were in need of some body to them. Riccardo loved the saucy bolognaise and fresh pasta but again, it wasn’t traditional.


Vicki’s béchamel was the stand out of the lot with its fluffy texture and three cheeses. My ultimate lasagne, first in the line-up, was the unanimous favourite of the panel. I’ve drawn out my favourite bits of each lasagne and tweaked the method so it’s less of a marathon. By no means is this a quick weeknight meal though. Get organised and make the bolognaise in advance, the flavour will intensify if left in the fridge for a few days!

Harriets Ultimate Lasagne


1kg Pork Mince

500g beef mince

3 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil

200g Panetta, cubed (available at Vetro)

150-200g mushrooms, sliced

1 Large Onion, finely died

1 Large Celery stalk, finely diced

1 Large Carrot, finely diced

6 Plump Garlic Cloves, grated or crushed

2 tbsp Tomato Paste

1 Cup White Wine

2 Tins Chopped Tomatoes

2 Cups Chicken Stock

1 Cup Milk



100g Butter

½ cup Flour

3 cups milk

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (use a bit less if pre-ground)

½ cup grated parmesan

1 cup ricotta

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 lightly whisked egg


500g Dried Lasagne Sheets (available at La Cave or Vetro)

Generous Handful of Grated mozzarella



Mix pork and beef mince with 2 large pinches of salt and a really generous grinding of pepper.

Heat oil over a medium-high heat in a large cast iron pot. Working in batches, brown off the meat. Make sure you let some bits get really crispy for extra flavour. Transfer to a bowl until it’s all browned off.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the pancetta and cook stirring often until the fat has rendered down and it’s beginning to crisp up, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, carrot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Increase the heat slightly, add the wine and cook until it’s almost evaporated. Add tomatoes and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the liquid is starting to reduce and become jammy. Add chicken stock, milk and browned-off mince and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat to low and cook for 2-3 hours until flavoursome and rich. In the first two hours add extra water if the sauce is thickening too fast or the bottom is sticking. After the two-hour mark, let the sauce reduce to a thick Bolognese. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed.

While the Bolognese is cooking, make the béchamel. In a medium sized pot, melt the butter over a medium heat until foaming. Add the flour in and stir with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute. Add the milk 1/3 of a cup at a time, stirring constantly. Continue to stir for 3-4 minutes until thickened. Add cheeses and egg and stir until well combined. Taste for seasoning, adding more nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to use.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees. In a large/deep dish (about 25x30cm), start with 1/3 of the meat sauce on the bottom, then pour over ¼ of the béchamel. Add a layer of lasagne sheets. Repeat this twice more and spread the last ¼ of the béchamel on the top layer of lasagne sheets. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the pasta is cooked through and the top is golden brown.

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