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Wednesday 12 June 2013

Sluttishly Savoury: Sicilian Chocolate Lasagne

Putting a square or two of dark chocolate in chilli con carne is pretty standard these days, but I hadn't thought to add any to my lasagne until I read about it over on FX Cuisine. Apparently, this is an old Sicilian thing, the combining of chocolate and cinnamon with pasta and meat sauces - and not being one to risk upsetting any Sicilians, I decided to defer to their wisdom and try it.

My verdict? DELISH. Quite unlike 'normal' lasagne, though. Yes, the beef mince is there, so are the tomatoes and the garlic, so's the pasta and the béchamel and the herbs. But there's a new depth of flavour thanks to the chocolate, and a really satisfying texture to the whole dish (not the ceramic bit, I didn't eat that). The cinnamon lends an almost Middle Eastern taste, and the garlicky-herbiness brings everything firmly back into savoury territory.

Throw in whatever veggies you feel like adding - I went for mushrooms only, but carrots, aubergine or squash would be perfect in this.

Sicilian Chocolate Lasagne (serves 6)
You will need:
For the ragù
  • A glug of olive oil
  • 5 slices pancetta, roughly snipped or chopped
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 100g mixed wild mushrooms or tiny button mushrooms, whole
  • 1 large handful thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage, chopped
  • 750g beef mince, extra-lean for preference
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 1 can peeled plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 60g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
For the béchamel sauce
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 85g plain flour
  • 750ml full-fat milk
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
To assemble
  • 3 large fresh lasagne sheets, or 6-9 smaller easy-cook dried ones (depending on the size of your lasagne dish)
  • 150g mozzarella 
  • A couple of sprigs of rosemary (optional)
  • A sprinkling of pine nuts (optional)
Make it!
  1. Heat a little oil in a large saucepan, and quickly fry the pancetta and cinnamon. Add the onion, garlic, mushrooms and herbs, and keep a-sizzlin' for a minute or two until the onion has softened. 
  2. Brown the mince in the same pan, chucking in the wine, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, bay leaves, and Worcestershire sauce. Give everything a good stir.
  3. Crumble in the stock cube, and add the chocolate. Stir until it's all mixed together, season to taste, and leave to simmer gently for 30-40 minutes. 
  4. While the ragù is simmering, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Now make a start on the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a low heat, and add the flour. Stir to form a roux. Gradually whisk in the milk, making sure to get rid of any lumps that may gather to take in the view. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring continuously. Add the nutmeg and a little salt and pepper, then simmer until the sauce is thick and glossy.
  5. By now, your ragù should be done, so it's time to assemble your lasagne! Remove the bay leaves, otherwise URGH. Grease a lasagne dish (anything square or rectangular - and um, oven-proof - will do) with a little oil or butter. How you proceed from this moment is up to you, and might depend on the size and shape of your dish. If you prefer to have a pasta base, layer a lasagne sheet (or as many as you need to cover the surface) onto the bottom of the dish. If you prefer to start with meat, do that. You might choose to have two or three layers of pasta (each pasta layer should be covered with béchamel before topping with more meat), but either way, make sure you have a pasta layer on top, and enough béchamel sauce left over to cover the completed dish. 
  6. Shred up the mozzarella and sprinkle it all over the top layer of béchamel. Pop the dish in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes (perhaps slightly longer if you're using dried pasta), adding the rosemary and pine nuts about halfway through the cooking time. The top will be a mass of golden bubbles when the lasagne is done. 

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