The perfect lasagne

The secret to a great lasagne is in boosting the flavours. Proper seasoning of the pasta, bolognaise and white sauce, plus fresh herbs, red wine and good-quality beef stock are key to this comfort-food classic.


2 peeled large onions
2 peeled large carrots
4 crushed cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg lean beef mince
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or rosemary, basil or bay leaves)
¼ cup red wine
1 x 410g tomato purée
1 x 410g chopped tomatoes
½ cup beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and ground pepper
75g butter
75g flour
2 cups milk
300-400g dried lasagne sheets
Handful of grated cheddar
Handful of grated parmesan
Pinch of ground paprika
Handful of breadcrumbs


A splash of balsamic vinegar balances the sweet and acidic elements, while grating fresh nutmeg between layers gives a unique flavour boost. Frying bacon with the onions adds another level of tastiness. Make your own breadcrumbs by blending stale breads (baguette, sourdough, ciabatta) with parsley or thyme for an extra-tasty crust.

  • Finely chop onions and carrots. Add with garlic to a large saucepan and cook gently in olive oil over a low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Brown the mince in the same pan at medium heat for about 5 minutes, adding the thyme after the first minute.
  • Add the red wine and cook for 2 minutes, then stir through the canned tomatoes, stock and tomato paste and season to taste. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • When it has reduced slightly, add a little more seasoning and simmer for 30-40 minutes, then remove from heat and stir through balsamic vinegar.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  • Melt butter in a pan over low heat, then whisk in flour and cook for a minute to form a roux (paste).
  • Slowly add a bit of milk to the pan, whisking it into the roux to prevent lumps. Keep adding a little more milk and whisking until the sauce is the right thickness and silky consistency (you don’t have to use all the milk). Simmer sauce for a minute, stirring continuously, then remove from heat and season to taste.
  • Partially cook the pasta sheets in salted boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain and run under cold water. Always cook the pasta after the sauces are prepared – it shouldn’t stand around.
  • Place a layer of bolognaise sauce in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, top with a layer of pasta sheets and evenly spoon some white sauce over. Repeat until the dish is full, finishing off with white sauce.
  • Garnish the top with a generous sprinkling of cheeses, ground paprika and breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes, until bubbling and the top is golden and crispy. Let it rest and cool slightly for 10 minutes before serving.

Tip: for a vegetarian lasagne, add cubed butternut and sliced brown mushrooms instead of beef mince to the onions, carrots and garlic, fry for 5 minutes and prepare as normal. Spreading a layer of cooked lentils and lots of feta between each layer of pasta with the tomato sauce and white sauce is delicious too.

Recipe by Hannah Lewry. First published in City Press.


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