Friday, June 29, 2012

The Everything's Wonderful Pasta Sauce- Tuesday's in the Kitchen

I think the perfect winter's comfort food is a great pasta sauce over some spaghetti. This recipe was inspired by my friend Amber who often made this for her then little Miss Two to get her to eat her vegetables. I loved how many vegetables she'd pack into the sauce so over the years it's become a staple in our household. We had a couple of vegetable plots at a community garden that supplied us with veggies all year round and now our front garden veggie patch gives us much of what we need. I've loved cooking up a big batch in the slow cooker when l was working and knowing that we always had something really healthy and hearty in the freezer to eat when things got crazy. Nothing has really changed being a stay at home mumma with a toddler things often get crazy too. I sometimes make a pot every week or so or if l have freezer space I'll fill my 8L slowcooker and let it simmer away for eight hours on low. The longer you let this pasta sauce cook l think the better it is. It keeps up to three months in the freezer and is the base for my lasanga, pasta dishes or I add it to rice for a cottage pie. I made this on tuesday and had lasanga, pasta sauce and a casserole all going at the same time. I find having a major cooking session at home especially when Miss Two is sick is a great way to organise the freezer, knock out multiple dinners and keep my sanity. I just break everything into stages and go from there. Then l let it cook on low for a couple of hours and go on to the next thing on my list.

1kg Beef Mince Bulk Pack
4 Onions (red and brown)
4-5 cloves of garlic
a leek if you have it
4 fresh tomatoes (optional)
2 cans of diced Tomatoes
2 zucchinis
6-8 mushrooms
4 carrots (I like using yellow and orange)
1 tblsp/ a dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 cup of red wine (optional)
Olive Oil
2-3 tblsp of Mixed dried Italtian Herbs
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

How to make
Chop finely the onions, leek and garlic use a sharp knife for this to reduce the onion juices making you cry. I chop finely the red, brown onions and a leek to add sweetness and depth to the dish as they all taste slightly different when cooked. I then skin the garlic cloves and crush them with the back of my knife and then chop them finely to release the garlic oils. I add this to a pot with 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil. I then sweat the onions and garlic till they are translucant and starting to get a golden colour to them. I then add the beef mince and break this up with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the mince in the pot and break down the big clumps. You don't want big mince clumps in your sauce or your Lasagna.

Cook mince and onion on a medium heat until meat start to look cooked. While this is happening l chop the rest of the vegetables. Chop or finely dice the zucchinis, mushrooms, carrots and tomatoes and add them to pot. Add vegetables to pot along with the diced can tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, red wine, a pinch of nutmeg, mixed herbs (I usually use my hand as a guage of how much to add to the dish) and ground salt flakes and pepper. I stir it a couple of times to make sure ingredients are well combined then l turn it down to a low heat and put the lid on. I let it cook for 2-3 hours or longer if l have time on a very low heat. Very 30 mins or so l give it a stir and then leave it. If l need to reduce the liquid towards the end l turn the heat up slightly take the lid off and let it simmer for 15-20 mins stirring occasionally to make sure if doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.
Then serve it with pasta.

How to make Meat Lasagna
Meat Sauce
is made from the above recipe so leave in the pot on the stove to retain heat and organise the rest of the elements to your lasagna.
Cheese sauce
(if you are making a big tray double cheese sauce recipe).
Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a saucepan and add 2 tbsp of plain flour and cook for 2 mins over a gentle or low heat. stir to make sure it's well combined. Remove from heat and stir in the milk. Return it to a gentle heat and stir until sauce is thick and smooth it should coat the back of a spoon without lumpy bits. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg and add 250 g of cheese (you can use mozzarella, cheddar or tasty cheese). I often double cheese sauce and add 400g of cheese to make it really tasty but that's me.
Putting it all together
Preheat oven on 180 degrees. Make sure the Lasagna tray will go in the middle of the oven and have even heat throughout cooking. Butter Lasagna baking dish. pour in 1/2 cup of meat sauce in the baking dish and with back of spoon fill the tray evenly with meat mixture. Sometimes this takes more than 1/2 cup to achieve that's ok. Alternate layers of lasagna sheets, meat and cheese sauces making sure you end with a top layer of cheese sauce. Most recipes tell you to allow for four layers that means at least two layers of lasagna sheets to make sure it stays in space. My tray allows for two to three layers of lasagna sheets with the meat and cheese sauces depending on how thinly l spread the layers.
Sprinkle leftover grated cheese and parmesan to the top cheese sauce layer. Bake in oven for 40 mins or until cooked through and golden on top. Let stand for 5-10 mins before serving. You can serve this on it's own or with a simple green salad.

Some Tips +
Variations to pasta sauce recipe
I finely dice the vegetables for the pasta sauce as kids enjoy the sauce more if it's not too chunky and it's great for the lasagna layers if you choose to make lasanga at the same time. I always do this because lasagna can be a messy chore and this way you make both and have the same level of mess. Key to place all dirty dishes as you go in the dishwasher and wipe down benches that way it's not to out of control in the kitchen.
You can add what ever vegetables you have to this sauce recipe but l think simple is best, some Capiscum would be a great addition but l would skin the red pepper before chopping it. Or try grating carrot and pumpkin to the recipe instead of finely chopping or dicing the carrots. Anything goes that's why it a great dish because you can adjust it to what you have in the fridge. I often use a good shake of herb salt towards the end of cooking from CeresOrganics (available at Maxi foods and health food shops) it's great for adding a herbie taste to dishes with ingredients of dried celery, carrot, leek, parsley, Celery leaves, Thyme, Basil, Lovage, Dill and Savory.
I usually make 6-8 frozen meal containers of sauce for the freezer each time l make this along with making spaghetti on the night l have made the sauce.
lasagna is better cooled and put in the fridge for a day before cutting into frozen meals it allows for easier cutting and lasagna won't lose it's shape. I usually get 10 portions out of my baking dish but it depends on serving sizes. I always set aside a portion for dinner the next night of cooking. That way it's spaghetti bolognese one night and then lasagna and salad the next and I only have to reheat it.

Have a go I promise you if my Miss Two loves it your kids are bound to too. Let me know how it goes.
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