Sprawling in the shadows of the majestic Groot Drakenstein mountains in the Franschhoek valley, you’ll find Anthonij Rupert Wines. Their wine range is a favourite of mine, especially their incredibly pocket-friendly Protea range and equally budget-conscious Terra Del Capo range. What I really love, other than the quality offered at the price, is that they flirt with the more unusual grape varieties too. Not many estates bother with Pinot Grigio (aka Pinot Gris, if you’re feeling French instead of Italian). Even fewer bother with Sangiovese. So I was rather excited when they asked me to come up with my version of the ultimate lasagna to pair with their Terra Del Capo Sangiovese.
Now as you know (or maybe you don’t, and that’s OK too!), Sangiovese is the grape associated with Chianti. And Chianti (as you hopefully know) is in Tuscany. I was fortunate enough some years back to go on a Vespa trip through Tuscany with good friends. The food of course was sublime. But above all I remember the wild boar and truffles that were available in some form on every menu – even in the humblest nonna-run kitchen in the middle of pretty much nowhere.
Now normally I use 100% beef mince for my lasagna ragu. But I know the late, great Antonio Carluccio had a fondness for using both beef and pork mince. And so it was a hop skip and a jump from that to my wild boar memories of Tuscany. Of course we have our own version of wild boar here, only we tend to call it bush pig. It’s a bad tempered beastie, so if you hunt it, you need to use caution. I don’t hunt, so I asked my very accommodating local specialist butcher to get me some.
My Tuscan truffle memories found expression in a mixture of dried Porcini and fresh Portabellini mushrooms. I punched up the intensity of my ragu with a pinch of cloves, which is rather unusual, and of course a generous glug of the Terra Del Capo Sangiovese. My béchamel (aka besciamella as my semi-Italian nonna used to say) gets a very generous pinch of nutmeg, and for extra richness the yolk of an egg. Into the oven it goes until bubbly, golden perfection. This is lasagna al forno my way, in honour of one of my favourite places in the world.
All you need is…
FOR THE RAGU
1 large onion, very finely chopped
1 stick celery, very finely chopped
1 extra large carrot, very finely chopped
3 strips streaky bacon, very finely chopped
300g wild boar/bush pig or warthog (or just good old plain pork) mince
300g beef mince
2 fat cloves garlic, finely minced
1 x 70g tin of tomato paste
⅔ cup Anthonij Rupert Terra Del Capo Sangiovese
1 beef stock cube
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
250g Portabellini mushrooms
½ cup dried Porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water for half an hour
olive oil and butter, for frying
FOR THE BECHAMEL
4 tbs salted butter
½ cup cake flour
3 cups hot milk
1 egg yolk, whisked
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp black pepper
1 cup freshly grated good quality parmesan or pecorino cheese – the more aged the better!
fresh pasta sheets (or cooked dried pasta sheets – see tips for this lower down)
Fry the onion, carrot, bacon and celery (let’s be properly Italian and call it soffritto) in a good few tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until soft but not browned – it takes about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside. Turn the heat right up, add another splash of olive oil to the same pan and tumble in the mince. Do not stir it immediately. You want the mince to get a good caramelized layer on the bottom before you start breaking it up – this is pure flavour folks, what I like to call umami magic. Then add the soffritto back to the pan along with the garlic and tomato paste. Fry for a few minutes, then in goes the red wine. Allow it to bubble up and boil vigorously for a few seconds, then crumble in the stock cube and add a cup of water, the pepper, salt and cloves.
Cover the saucepan, put it on our smallest plate on its lowest setting and walk away. This needs a minimum of two hours to mature. Three is of course better. If your heat is low enough and the lid fits tight, there should be enough liquid, but check it from time to time and add only a few tablespoons of water if need be. At the end of cooking you want a meat ragu that is thick and nicely moist but not watery. Taste and adjust salt, you most likely will need quite a bit more. How much depends on the sodium levels of the stock cube you used.
Finely slice and fry the mushrooms in a generous bit of butter and set aside. To make the béchamel, melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon while you cook it over gentle heat for two minutes. Remove from the heat and add the hot milk little by little while you whisk it vigorously with a balloon whisk. Place it back on the heat and stir until it comes to the boil. Simmer for a good 10 minutes to thicken and allow the flour to cook. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, spices and egg yolk. Take care to do this fast so the yolk does not scramble.
Now it’s time to assemble your lasagna. NB: you want your lasagna to have as many layers as possible, so rather choose a smaller deep ovenproof dish, than a larger shallow one. Spoon some ragu in the bottom of the dish. Then top it with a sheet of fresh pasta, another layer of ragu, a layer of béchamel, a good sprinkling of parmesan, then another sheet of pasta, and on you go. Be sure to pop your layer of mushrooms in there somewhere as well. Your final layer should be béchamel, topped off with the last bit of parmesan. Bake the lasagna at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. Enjoy steaming hot with a green salad and a generous glass of two of that Terra Del Capo Sangiovese. Buon appetito!
Cook’s note: I much prefer fresh pasta pretty much always, but you can make your lasagna with dried pasta sheets if you prefer. Now many a dried lasagna pasta packet will say it’s OK to use the sheets dry and let your oven do all the work. I disagree. I have never liked the result when I’ve done this. If I do use dried pasta sheets, I pre-cook them for a good 8-10 minutes in plenty of vigorously boiling salted water and then lay them out flat on a tea towel to drain before I start assembling the lasagna. I also cover the lasagna dish with tinfoil for the first 20 minutes of cooking to keep it moist.