Melanzane lasagne to melt in your mouth

Melanzane lasagne

When Father’s Day rolled around, we spent the evening with beloved daughter Alexandra and son-in-law Wayne on “The Farm”. (They live in an idyllic cottage, replete with bucolic splendour, on a Stellenbosch wine farm.)

Dinner that evening was made just for Dad – gluten-free lasagne, using sliced aubergine instead of the traditional durum wheat lasagne sheets, making it a whole new take on melanzane lasagne, usually a vegetarian dish that substitutes the ground beef with aubergine.

It’s a tad more time-consuming to make, because you have to fry the aubergine slices in a super-hot pan, but it is well worth the time and effort.

The gluten-free version uses a bechamel sauce thickened with corn starch, rather than the traditional white roux, made with flour and butter, so that is an easy switch.

The other advantage to the dish for an evening meal, is the much lower carb load: we endeavour to restrict carb consumption to daytime meals.

The quantities give here, make a medium sized lasagne – I used a casserole dish 200mm x 300mm x 50mm – but they scale well.

Ingredients, selection and preparation

500g ground beef

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes

1 x 70g can tomato paste

200ml fresh cream

1 plump clove garlic

1tsp dried origanum

2 sprigs thyme: leaves picked

6 sage leaves: finely chopped

1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 large or 2-3 medium aubergines: washed and sliced lengthwise about 4mm thick, but only when you are ready to fry them or they will oxidise

Canola oil

200gm white cheddar: grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Mirepoix

1 large carrot: grated

1 stalk of soup celery: finely chopped

1 medium onion: finely chopped

Bechamel sauce

650ml milk: preferably full cream

3tsp (heaped) corn starch

300g white cheddar : grated

Method

Heat a medium saucepan and add the mince. Cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly, until all the moisture cooks off. Add some canola oil and fry the mince for about five minutes. Remove from the saucepan and set aside.

Add some canola oil and the mirepoix ingredients and sweat until translucent.

Add back the cooked mince along with the tomatoes, tomato paste, cream, garlic, origanum, thyme, sage leaves and parsley.

Mix well, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for the next hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, fry the aubergine slices. Heat a ribbed skillet. Paint the aubergine slices with canola oil, and fry them until done through with those lovely skillet scars on both sides.

Make the bechamel sauce using your preferred thickening. For the gluten-free version, add the corn starch to 50ml of cold milk, stirring it in well.

Heat the remaining milk until it comes to the boil, then add the milk/cornstarch thickening and cook until it thickens nicely, then remove from the heat. Stir in the 300g of cheddar cheese.

By now, the meat sauce will be ready. Spoon and spread a thin layer into the casserole dish, add a layer of aubergine slices, then pour over and spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce.

Repeat until you’ve exhausted the ingredients, typically two layers.

Sprinkle the top layer with grated cheddar cheese, ensuring it is evenly covered.

Bake in mid-oven at 200ºC for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese coating is golden brown and heading for crispy.

Serve with a crisp salad.

Preparation time: 45 minutes.

Cooking time: 2 hours.

Yield: 4 large or 6 moderate servings.