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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 7 December, 2019
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Make-ahead marvels: 2 crowd-pleasing recipes that actually taste better the next day

A foolproof lasagne that’s packed with veggies, and tomato bruschetta that’s perfect for a light dinner.

Image: GastroGays

WE TRY TO make as much homemade from scratch as we can. Fresher food that’s made with love just tastes better, it’s the most delicious way to eat.

As more and more people are trying to ‘grow their own’ and making a point of buying and supporting local produce, it’s great to see the emphasis on home cooking.

A sort of kitchen alchemy happens every so often, where dishes have this tendency to taste better a day or two later. Properly covered and stored in the fridge, the flavours of a dish mingle, merge, lift and come alive when they’ve been left to develop. These are great ideas for weekend batch-cooking or meal prep to see you through the week.

Anything with a hefty mix of flavours, textures and levels of spice – soups, chillis and stews, for example – will probably lend itself to sitting and soaking in its flavours. Some desserts are make-ahead marvels too, like the glorious, if a little dated, tiramisu.

Italian food, in particular, is perfect for making ahead and enjoying the next day. One ingredient we have found that often benefits from a little patience is the tomato. When you show a little love and give tomatoes some time, you’ll be amazed how intense the flavour can become.

With Italian inspiration and an impromptu celebration of the tomato (at their very, very best at this time of year), here are two recipes which compliment each other, and benefit from being made ahead of time.

Source: GastroGays

Veg-Heavy Lasagne

Serves 4-6 people

If ever people are asked to name a crowd pleaser of a dish, you can bet the comforting, filling and flavour-packed lasagne would be among the first.

We, like many people, are more than ever acutely aware of our reliance on meat so we’re often trying to adapt recipes to bring down the amount of meat in a dish, without eradicating it completely.

In this instance, we’ve reduced the meatiness of the ragu for a vegetable-bulked version that’s lighter but still intense and full of flavour. Often there’s a mix of both beef and pork mince, but we’re using just 350g of organic beef mince and bulking it out with lots of different veg – adding more flavour, more colour, less sluggishness and a great swap-out for fussy eaters.

Ingredients

  • 350g beef mince (We use Lidl Organic Beef Mince, about 10% fat)
  • 1 large courgette, cubed
  • 4 sticks of celery, cubed
  • 1 red pepper, cubed
  • 1 large carrot, cubed
  • 2 red onions, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 2 glasses of red wine
  • 2 tsp Italian dried herbs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 720ml passata
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 pack fresh lasagne sheets (or dried will do, cook to packet instructions)
  • 60g plain flour
  • 75g real Irish butter
  • 450ml milk
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Parmesan cheese (or Grana Padano, grated)

 

Method

Begin by making the ragu. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil into a large pot, then in two batches, brown the mince off. Remove and leave to one side.

In the same pan, on a medium heat with a little more olive oil, add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot. Allow to sweat down for a minute or two before adding the diced courgette and pepper.

Add the tomato paste, cooking out for 20 seconds or so, followed by the wine. Allow this to almost reduce entirely before adding in the passata. Follow with the sugar, seasoning and herbs as you bring to the boil. When boiling, reduce to the lowest setting, clamp on a lid and allow to cook down for 90 minutes to two hours, when it will be thickened and rich.

Meanwhile for the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan and when melted and foaming, add in the flour. Whisk together to a roux and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute on a medium heat, without colouring but just to eliminate the raw flour taste. Then add the milk in 50ml increments, whisking all the time to keep it smooth and remove lumps. Add in the nutmeg before allowing to cool slightly.

Arrange a greased baking dish with a thin layer of the ragu at the bottom, before adding a layer of bechamel, then a layer of the lasagne sheets to cover the top. Repeat twice (ragu, bechamel, pasta) before finishing with a thick layer of bechamel and lots and lots of grated hard cheese.

Bake in the middle shelf of the oven at 180ºC for 30 minutes, amping up the heat to 200ºC for a further ten minutes. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating either whole or in portions. Trust us, this will smell amazing when removed from the oven, but it really stands on its own with flavour a day or two later!

Simply reheat by placing into a hot oven (about 200C) with the top covered by foil for about 10-15 minutes.

Source: GastroGays

Tomato Bruschetta
Makes 6-8 toasts

Many might imagine the perfect side dish to enjoy alongside lasagne would be garlic bread, but as controversial as this might sound, we really don’t enjoy a day-old garlicky baguette! We’re bigger fans of bruschetta, which is similar in the crispy bread stakes but is better adorned with macerated tomatoes – which are the star of the show.

Everyone has their own interpretation of bruschetta and this is not an exact science – it all comes down to taste. Many cooks will go a bit heavy handed on adding the likes of balsamic vinegar or salt & pepper to a bruschetta, almost masking the tomato flavour. But here’s a tip: tomatoes love salt. There’s something about salt that balances and elevates the natural sweetness of tomatoes. Better yet, tomatoes that have been prepared, seasoned and allowed to sit and develop that beautiful balance of flavour.

Make this ahead and all it requires is a bit of assembly. Using some fresh vine tomatoes, some fresh herbs, a touch of seasoning and the most important ingredient, time, you will have a refreshing bruschetta that will leave you wanting more.

Ingredients

  • 450-500g tomatoes on the vine
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp grated black pepper
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 baguette or ciabatta (or bread of your choice)
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)
  • Parmesan (optional)

Method

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Scrape a faint line down the side of each tomato. This will make it easier to peel the skin off them. then blanch in the hot water for 1 minute. Remove each tomato to a bowl of iced water to shock and cool them. Peel the skin off and cut each in half, removing most of the juice and the seeds, but don’t fret if some remain. Tomatoes are wet in their make up, so this is just to help remove excess moisture. Then cut into a dice, or thereabouts.

Mince the garlic into the bowl, add the oil and the balsamic vinegar. Bunch together the basil leaves, rolling them up like a cigar, then cut into thin strips – this is known as ‘julienne’. Add to the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. We’d recommend not adding as much salt as you’d think, purely as you can add more later when finding the dish. Taste the mixture, adjust if necessary. Leave in a bowl, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge overnight.

When it comes close to serving, slice the baguette into diagonal slices, about half an inch thick. If you like extra garlicky flavour, cut open a clove and rub each slice with the exposed end. Brush some olive oil on top of each slice. Toast under a medium heat grill on one side.

Top with the tomato mixture, sprinkle with some flaked sea salt and a small shaving of Parmesan cheese on top.

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