There is no point pretending otherwise: I love praise.
To be told I have done something well makes my cheeks glow with happiness and my heart want to explode from self-congratulation. I am then, quite obviously, afforded the ability to float around on my cloud of complacency for a minimum of twenty-four hours.
Following this, the primary task at hand is to once again find that little puff of smug air to keep me levitated for another day. It is a vicious, vicious cycle.
I am not necessarily picky when it comes to the topic of praise. However, there is one thing I simply cannot fall flat on – ever. And that is my home cooking.
Whilst I am by no means an expert in the kitchen (one glance at my horrendous knife skills will attest to that), I do pride myself on being able to put together a delicious meal. For any occasion, for any guest and to suit any craving.
So when The Swede casually dropped into conversation last week that he had never had so much ‘Asian food’ in his life, I felt my right eye twitch.
Was that…a challenge?
Of course it wasn’t. But I am difficult at the best of times. So despite being quite late in the day, I immediately set out on a crazed mission to deliver something defiantly non-‘Asian’. Given The Swede’s penchant for pasta (and by no means choosing to compete directly with his go-to kitchen favourite…), I settled on a lasagne. A slow-cooked pork lasagne.
This would be dinner, regardless if it meant we would not be eating until 10:00PM. And it would be the best damn lasagne he had ever eaten.
And now I am sharing it with you! It is not lasagne in the traditional sense, but it is delicious. I couldn’t imagine anything more comforting on a cool autumn evening. As with all my kitchen love, feel free to adapt and change as much as your heart desires. Don’t like carrots in your lasagne? Don’t include them. There are no rules here!
By the way, and by no means barking up my own tree (except that I totally am), The Swede did pronounce the lasagne we had for dinner that night to be the best he had ever eaten. Perhaps he doesn’t eat enough lasagne. Or perhaps he knows me far too well and understood the consequences of stating anything otherwise. Regardless, I took it and was set for another twenty-four hours.
Slow-Cooked Pork Lasagne
1 tbsp olive oil
2kg free-range pork shoulder steaks, cut into large chunks*
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp plain flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup malt vinegar
1/2 bunch thyme, leaves picked
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups good quality chicken stock
2 x 400g chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
4 fresh bay leaves
3 cups mature cheddar, grated
200g fresh lasagne sheets
For the Béchamel Sauce
40g lightly salted butter, chopped
1/4 cup plain flour
2 cups full milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Heat the oil in a heavy-based oven-proof casserole dish (Le Creuset to the rescue!) over medium-high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper and add to the pain in batches, sealing each side until browned (6-7 minutes). Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and cook to soften (5-6 minutes). Add the flour and cook whilst stirring for 1 minute before adding the sugar, vinegar, thyme leaves, paprika and cayenne. Mix to combine. Add the stock, tomatoes, red wine, bay leaves and pork and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook in the over for 2 hours 30 minutes, or until very tender.
Remove the pork pieces from the cooking liquid and shred with two forks – be sure to discard any fat or sinew. Skim any fat off the cooking liquid and discard before returning the shredded pork to the pan.
For the béchamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine for 1-2 minutes. Whisk milk in slowly and continue to cook (keeeeeeep whisking!) for 1 minute or until the sauce has just thickened. Remove from the heat and whisk in the mustard. Set aside to cool slightly**.
Increase the oven temperature to 200 degrees celsius before lining the base of a lightly oiled 25cm x 25cm oven-proof dish (I used disposable because, you know…lazy) with a single layer of lasagne sheets, trimming to fit if necessary. Top with half the pork mixture followed by a good sprinkling of the grated cheddar cheese. Repeat to form another layer and finish with a final layer of lasagne sheets topped with the béchamel sauce and remaining cheddar (be generous – everyone likes cheese).
Place the dish on an oven tray (unless you enjoy scraping burn spillover from the base of your oven, in which case, skip that step) and cook for 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Remove from the oven and allow to sit for ten minutes. Slice and serve.
*A 2kg boneless pork shoulder cut into large chunks would work as well. Shoulder steaks were all I could get my hands on and I simply halved these prior to cooking.
**At this point, I took a wine break (naturally). To prevent a skin forming on top of the sauce, I placed some clingfilm directly across the surface. It did the job!
NB: The lasagne is delicious when reheated for lunch the next day. Simply pop it in the oven at 180 degrees celsius until warmed through (20-25 minutes).