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Restaurant Review: Terrace Restaurant, National Theatre

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I love going to the theatre; live theatre is one of the most exciting forms of art and for me, little can beat the experience of being at a really excellent play. It was a love instilled in me from birth for I spent the first two years of my life living in London’s Theatreland, literally breathing in all that theatrical atmosphere and perhaps even meeting some of the famous actors who would come into my parents’ pub. Later, in my teens and still at school, West End theatre visits were frequent. My favourite uncle Joe ran the Green Man & French Horn pub in St Martin’s Lane for many years and he’d often ring offering tickets to plays and shows he’d been given. He knew many of the theatre managers and luckily quite a few tickets were passed to his niece and I’d invite school friends to come with me. Now, I no longer have such fine connections but I do pay to be a Priority Member at the National Theatre so that I have the chance to book new productions early and I go regularly. Last night, however, it was a last-minute invitation from Annie to go with her to see Dara, which I hadn’t booked for, that took me into central London. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t book it myself but in the event it was really nice to go with Annie and we enjoyed the play a lot. It was Annie who suggested eating at the Terrace Restaurant beforehand. I’d eaten there recently – before seeing the brilliant Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman – and agreed it was a good idea.

The National Theatre has been undergoing major refurbishment and rebuilding over the last two to three years and it’s all change in many parts. The Cottlesloe Theatre has become the Dorfman Theatre; the shop has moved and the restaurants have undergone a makeover. The Terrace Cafe has become the Terrace Restaurant, suggesting some refinement, but in all honesty, it’s not very different and the small plates menu has been on offer for a while. I used to go to the Terrace in its café form a lot many years ago. It is of course wonderfully convenient. You can even hear the announcements for when the plays are about to begin so there’s no worry about negotiating a way along busy pavements from another restaurant further away; it’s literally a short walk down some stairs – especially if you’re going to the Lyttleton Theatre, as we did last night. I stopped going to the café a few years back because it went through a bad spell and the convenience wasn’t enough to compensate for indifferent food. But with the recent refurbishments, I thought I should give it another try and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements when I saw Man and Superman, hence going back last night.

The service is excellent from the beginning. I was immediately asked which play I was seeing – Man and Superman begins at 7.00 while Dara didn’t start until 7.30. It can be very annoying to be in another restaurant not geared up to a fast turnaround. At the Terrace, that’s almost their raison d’être! And they rise to the demands. Water was brought straight away, menus laid before us. Our order was taken quickly. We chose some wine. Most came in half carafes, which is great. The menu suggests three plates per person but I remembered from my last visit that we hadn’t had that much. We decided to choose two each, which we would share, and we could always add more. I wanted to have the Gnocchi, Parmesan, Squash, Chestnut, Rocket & Garlic Pesto that I’d had on my previous visit, remembering how good it was.

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It was last night too: gorgeous flavours and really delicious. We also chose a red pepper and potato frittata with a goats’ cheese dressing.

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This was OK but not particularly exciting and I didn’t like the dressing much. There was some delicious pork tacos though, which we enjoyed a lot and were wonderfully spicy.

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We both left eating the Courgette Salad, Lemon Dressing, Bocconcini & Red Chilli until last.

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The fresh and clean-tasting salad was an excellent way to end the meal. Two plates each hadn’t perhaps been quite enough … except that it left room for an indulgence of some dessert. With still plenty of time until the play started, we ordered the Chef’s Pudding Selection for Two with some coffee.

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Wow! We were seriously impressed by this – and a chef did actually put it before us! There were some wonderful mouthfuls here: a rich sticky toffee pudding, a gorgeous orange and almond cake, a plum tart on a cake base, ice cream, little meringues, whipped cream and a fabulous gingery crumble scattering. It was slightly weird that although it was a plate ‘for two’ there were some threes or singles of choices. But that didn’t stop us cutting some in half and sharing. It was a really great way to end the meal. Suddenly time had flown, the start of our play was being announced. Payment was swift – the service didn’t falter – and we made our way down the stairs and straight to our seats.

I’m glad I’ve rediscovered the Terrace Restaurant. It’s just right for a pre-theatre meal at the National. The small plates work well. I don’t really want a large and heavy meal before two or more hours of theatre and the Terrace Restaurants offers a wide range of dishes to choose from and it’s always nice to share.

Sumac Spiced Lamb Cutlets with Fennel Dauphinoise

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The blog has been a bit neglected since the arrival of Jonathan and Lyndsey’s baby nearly 4 weeks ago. A lot of cooking has been going on, providing food being one good way to help the new family, but I’ve tended to rely on old favourites and dishes that will wait a while rather than any that need instant eating, as new babies tend not to run to time but have their own plan for the day. With things settling down, I’m back to cooking mainly just for myself and for tonight, I decided to take two rack of lamb cutlets from my freezer that had been there for a few weeks and I thought I should use. I don’t like to leave fresh meat in the freezer for too long, even though my freezer is a pretty good one that can probably keep anything in a good state for months. In M&S Simply Food, just down the road in Twickenham high street, I spied a gorgeous, large and healthy looking fennel and couldn’t resist buying that to cook too.

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I love fennel. I love its strong aniseed taste. Of course, it’s a bit like Marmite – you love it or hate it. But then, I like Marmite too! There’s something wonderfully fresh tasting about fennel and I often slice it into salads. But I’ve also often parboiled it in segments, drained it and then laid the segments in a gratin dish, covered in a mix of fresh breadcrumbs and lots of grated Parmesan, dotted it with plenty of butter, and baked in the oven till browned. So simple but very delicious. Today I decided to go the Dauphinoise route, normally a method for potatoes but of course lots of other vegetables love being enfolded in a garlicky cream mixture, topped with cheese and baked. In Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets I found a Dauphinoise recipe for turnips. First of all, I sliced the fennel fairly thinly and then laid the slices in a small ovenproof dish.

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I brought a small pot of single cream (170ml) to a simmer, with a clove of garlic in it and some seasoning of salt and pepper.

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Once it reached a simmer, I turned off the heat and let it infuse for a few minutes. Then I poured it over the sliced fennel, through a strainer so the garlic didn’t go in. I grated some Gruyere cheese (or use Parmesan) and scattered some over the top.

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I put it in a 200C/180 Fan oven for about 20-30 minutes – until the top was nicely brown and the fennel tender when tested with a sharp knife.

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Meanwhile, I’d marinated the lamb cutlets for a while. I coated them in a generous amount of olive oil then shaken over some sumac, salt and freshly ground black pepper. I love that citrusy, sweet and sour flavour of sumac and it goes beautifully with lamb.

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When my fennel was nearly ready, I heated a griddle. When it was hot, I put the lamb cutlets on and browned well both sides. I wanted them nice and brown and slightly crisp on the outside, beautifully pink and juicy inside – and that’s exactly how they turned out!

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I let them rest for a couple of minutes and then served up: the cutlets, fennel and a salad of rocket leaves and tomato, dressed in olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.

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It was a gorgeous supper, and quite simple. The lamb was so juicy and tender and the sumac added a lovely exotic taste. The rich and creamy fennel was a wonderful accompaniment; the aniseed still strong but softened with the cream and cheese. The rocket and tomato salad added a fresh, complementary taste. A very good start to the weekend!

DFDS 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award – Shortlist Nomination

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I’m very excited to have been shortlisted for a DFDS Seaways 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award.

DFDS Seaways is a leading ferry company operating ferries across the Channel to France and Holland – see: www.dfdsseaways.co.uk for more information. There are five categories in the awards – Travel, Culture & History, Food & Drink, Newcomer, and Travel Photos. I’ve been nominated in the Food & Drink category and if you follow this link: http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/Documents/dfds-blogger/categories/index.html – you’ll find me listed there under ‘Kay Gale’. I really hope that you enjoy my blog enough to vote for me and many thanks to all of you for following me and hopefully casting that important vote! :) Voting is open until 24 April. And, of course, the link will put you in touch with a number of great food and travel blogs that you may enjoy taking a look at.

 

TV Review: Kew on a Plate

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Regular readers of the blog will know how much I love Kew Gardens, which are local to me, just a couple of miles down the road. I’m currently recording a ‘year at Kew Gardens’ in mainly photos on the blog, month by month, and feel so privileged to have these world famous gardens on my doorstep. So any programme about Kew is going to excite me, but add one of my favourite TV chefs, Raymond Blanc, to the menu and then a slice of TV heaven was delivered – ‘on a plate’! – to my home last night.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, were founded in 1840. The 300-acre site houses one of the world’s largest collection of plants. It is renowned worldwide for its botanical research, its preservation of plants at risk of extinction and its educational facility. Many of our well-known TV gardeners, like Alan Titchmarsh and James Wong, trained at Kew.

Kew on a Plate follows a year in the life of Kew Gardens during which Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc and TV presenter Kate Humble re-establish the long-lost kitchen gardens that existed during the time of George II, George III and Queen Victoria. As we follow Raymond and Kate through the seasons, they plan to tell the unknown stories behind our everyday fruits and vegetables and Raymond, of course, will show us the best way to cook what is grown. Of course, Raymond Blanc is well known for his wonderful kitchen garden at Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in which he grows produce for his restaurant, so this makes him the ideal chef for the series. His extensive knowledge is evident as he discusses with the gardener in charge of the project the 250 varieties of the 50 vegetables they will grow.

The show is a pleasant mix of things: from the decision of what to grow, the planting, the momentary panic of dealing with potato blight and how the crop is saved, to the actual harvesting of the spring – in the first programme – crop. Both Raymond and Kate head off to trace the stories behind their chosen fruits and vegetables. Raymond visits the famous rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire to see how forced rhubarb is grown, the method ensuring its tender sweetness, then later comparing this to the kind you pull up in your garden. Kate follows the watercress story back to 5-year-old Eliza James selling watercress in Covent Garden in Victorian times. Kate also looked at the orchids grown at Kew. For those of you who have been to their annual Orchid Festival, you’ll see that what’s on display then is very much the tip of a huge orchid iceberg. There are over 26,000 species of orchids in the world and a lot of space is given to their cultivation at Kew. What surprised me was finding out that vanilla comes from an orchid. We learnt how a 12-year slave found a way of pollinating them in the 19th century, which meant they could be grown outside their native Mexico and travel to Europe and thus become one of our favourite and most used spices.

Back in the kitchen – a temporary kitchen set up in one of the conservatories – Raymond does his magic. Rhubarb and custard – even if the rhubarb and vanilla were Kew grown – didn’t sound very exciting but one should never underestimate Monsieur Blanc. Oh my word, what an amazing dessert he prepared. See this and you will never be satisfied with simple rhubarb and custard again. As he prepared asparagus and peas he talked of the ‘delicate and gentle’ flavours of spring, comparing them to the robust and bright colours of summer. This was an interesting thought too: how seasonal flavours match their season. And then we learnt about potatoes. So how do you boil potatoes? I bet you think there can’t be a wrong way. But there can! Raymond tells us that having so carefully grown, tended and harvested our crop of gorgeous little new potatoes – why would we not cook them in the best way possible? And that isn’t just throwing them in a pan with some salt and leaving them to boil till soft. Oh no! They must be treated with care; gently brought to a simmer, never boiled. The cooking must be timed. Then you will have the perfect potato.

Kew on a Plate was packed with lots of wonderful information, presented in a great way by two of TV’s most enthusiastic and likeable presenters. How could you not be excited by food when Raymond Blanc is talking to you about tender asparagus stems, fresh peas from a pod, or the delightful varieties and tastes of different potatoes. The programme aimed to do a lot and it achieved a very watchable but also delightfully informative show. I can’t wait to see what next week’s programme has to offer!

Kew on a Plate is a 4-part series on BBC2, Tuesday at 9.00pm.

To find out more about Kew Gardens visit: www.kew.org

A Sunday Morning Walk in Kew Gardens: March

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I woke to a beautiful sunny morning and since it’s four weeks since I wrote my February post about ‘life at Kew Gardens through 2015′, it seemed an ideal time to write the March edition. As always, I got there just as the gardens opened at 9.30am. I noticed immediately that it was busier, even that early, than the previous two months, with people obviously keen to enjoy what Kew has to offer in the spring. I was expecting quite a change since my visit a month ago. In my garden I’ve seen my camellia blossom and even a rose has produced some flowers. With the mild winter everything is coming to life early. I was a bit surprised to find Kew still quite wintry. Yes there were more signs of life blossoming into colour than last month but overall colour was still in little evidence. But what makes a visit at this time of year so wonderful are the carpets of crocuses that greet you as you go in through the Victoria Gate entrance and at other places as you walk around.

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The snowdrops from last month were disappearing and instead clumps of gorgeous crocuses from the palest lilac through to deep purple were everywhere.

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And of course there were daffodils too, planted in the gardens …

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or to buy in pots in the shop …

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Viburnums, not the most exciting of shrubs, I think, still looked pretty …

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especially set against the clear blue sky.

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The prunus – cherry trees – were starting to blossom too. In a few weeks’ time they’ll be magnificent.

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As in February, there were still bold and beautiful camellias to see:

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By the lake I found Mr and Mrs Duck possibly starting to prepare a nest for ducklings? Or maybe she was just digging deep for breakfast!

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On my way out I stopped to talk to a lady sitting at the Friends of Kew desk and told her about my project. She was really friendly and when I said I’d been surprised there wasn’t more in blossom yet she recommended doing one of their guided tours that take you to see things slightly off the main track and I said I’d do that another time. She also told me about a wonderfully scented shrub not far from where we were, so I made my way back to see it.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha is also known as the Oriental Paperbush. It’s native to the Himalayas and China. In Japan the bark is used to make high-quality paper.

As I made my way out, the crowds were arriving. I expect many people had come to see the crocuses; it was also the final day of the orchid exhibition. To find out more about what’s happening at Kew take a look at their website: www.kew.org

Beef Cooked in Leffe Beer with Mustard Mash

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I’m still cooking meals for the new family and it’s great to have this practical way to help as Jonathan and Lyndsey adjust to the new baby’s arrival. It’s challenging me in a nice way to come up with different meals each evening; meals that are hearty and full of goodness. It reminded me that when my kids were small, cooking a good meal each suppertime was only difficult in terms of deciding what to cook and not the actual cooking. At a time when obviously my creative cooking faculties were particularly challenged I can remember my kids telling me they knew what day of the week it was by what I cooked for supper!

A Boeuf Bourguignon last week was a great success so I decided to ring the changes a little by cooking some beef in beer Flemish style for this evening rather than red wine: Carbonnade de Boeuf Flamande. My recipe isn’t quite a classic one: I didn’t caramelise the onions in sugar and vinegar, and I added mushrooms – partly because I had so many in my fridge but also because I love the deep earthy flavour that mushrooms bring to a beef stew. I did, however, use one of my favourite Belgian beers – Leffe – and this of course was a great way to bring the Flemish into my stew.

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I’m not a great beer drinker. I quite like beer and will often have a small lager at lunchtime on holiday if I’m somewhere hot as it’s such a refreshing and cooling drink, but it’s the only time I drink lager. I do like real ales and Jonathan has been buying bottles from a great local shop specialising in them so I’ve been tasting a few recently. But when it comes to buying beer myself, it’s nearly always Leffe I keep in my fridge. I drink it only occasionally though, perhaps with a curry. Many of my Italian friends like beer with their pizza, but I usually choose wine. Cooking beef in beer is something I used to do a lot many years ago when I was first married and it went through a fashionable phase. Then about 14 years ago when I spent a lot of time in Brussels, I remember going to restaurants where the real choice was which beer you had your meat cooked in! Sometimes there’d be a long list of beers but little choice of meat. It was also in Belgium that I first experienced mussels served with beer and frites. Fabulous!

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I bought some lovely best braising steak (800g) from my local Laverstoke Park Farm shop which I cut into nice chunks and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I roughly chopped about 6 slices of fairly lean streaky bacon. I heated some olive oil in a large saucepan and then browned the meat to seal the juices and add to the flavour. Do this in small batches otherwise the oil is too cool to brown the meat well and it steams rather than fries. Remove them to a plate as they’re done. Now, add a little more oil to the pan if necessary and add the bacon, 1 large onion chopped, 1 large carrot chopped and 1 stick celery chopped.

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Although many recipes for Carbonnade use just onion, I wanted a proper soffritto to bring a depth of flavour. I gently cooked them until colouring but not brown.

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Then I added 1 tablespoon plain flour and mixed in before adding 2 x 330ml bottles of Leffe.

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Mix well and then return the meat to the pan. Add 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence. Bring it all up to just starting to boil – you’ll see bubbles at the edge. Pop a lid on and transfer it to a 160C/140 Fan/Gas Mark 3 oven for an hour.

Meanwhile, soften some mushrooms in olive oil. I had 3 huge Portabello ones that I chopped into bite-sized pieces; often I use chestnut. But do use some with a good nutty flavour – not those tasteless white ones! Also roughly chop a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley. After an hour’s cooking remove the meat from the oven and add the mushrooms and parsley.

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Give it all a good stir and return to the oven for another hour. Remove from the oven again and check the meat is tender. I thought my sauce was a bit runny even though I’d added the flour at the beginning. I like a slightly thick sauce/gravy for a dish like this; I think it enhances the flavour. I removed the meat and vegetables to a plate with a slotted spoon. Then I made a beurre manié. This is a classic French way to thicken a stew or sauce. Combine equal quantities of plain flour and butter into a paste (I had 2 teaspoons of each).

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Then break it in small pieces into the sauce you want to thicken and mix with a whisk. It may look at first as if it won’t mix in well and stay lumpy but I promise you it works. Just keep whisking and pretty quickly it will be absorbed and your sauce will be beautifully thickened. Return the meat and vegetables to the pan. At this point, I turned it all off as I made it early in the day, which is a good thing to do if you can because I think it really helps the flavour to develop. Then, near suppertime, I brought it to a simmer again and then popped it back into the oven for a while – at least quarter of an hour – to allow the meat to properly heat through and then stay warm. If you’re cooking for entertaining a few guests, you can turn keep it warm in a low oven for some time without it spoiling.

To accompany it I made a potato mash which I flavoured with Dijon mustard: nice floury potatoes boiled in salted water until tender, then drained and beaten until smooth with butter, milk and the mustard. The idea for this came from some of the Carbonnade recipes I looked at that included mustard in the stew, but I didn’t really fancy that so decided mustardy potatoes would make a great accompaniment. For my 3 very large potatoes for 3 people I added 2 teaspoons mustard, but adjust to your taste and the number of people you are cooking for. I also cooked some mangetout with petit pois.

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Wow! It was so delicious – and a huge success with my guests. The flavour was so deep and rich. The beer, which had still tasted a little harsh when I checked the flavour halfway through as I added the mushrooms and parsley, had softened. It may not be quite a classic Carbonnade recipe, but close enough, and the thing about classics is they are classic because they are so good!!

Vegetable Lasagna with Aubergine, Courgette & Tomato

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These pages may have been silent for a couple of weeks but it’s been far from silent in the Single Gourmet Traveller’s household. A temporary homemade food delivery service started up a week ago and pans with boeuf bourguignon, lamb tagine, shepherd’s pie and the occasional fruit crumble or bought dessert treat made their way from my kitchen to the new parents. Jonathan and Lyndsey’s baby boy arrived last Monday and it’s been a joy to welcome my beautiful grandson into the world.

When Nicola and Rachael arrived on Saturday, I decided to make a vegetable lasagna as Rachael is vegetarian. I wasn’t used to eating all that meat myself for days but hearty meals has been requested by the new dad. Then it turned out that they fancied a vegetable lasagna as well, so I made two.

I rarely venture away from a classic ragu filling when I make lasagna so making a vegetarian one presented a nice challenge. What could I put inside to make it interesting and tasty? And full of goodness? Of course, the combination of aubergines, courgettes and tomatoes is a classic one but I thought making layers with each vegetable distinctly separate would be a nice touch, rather than cook them all together into a vegetable stew. So, first of all, I sliced each vegetable and gently fried them in some olive oil to soften them before adding to the pasta layers. I also had some spinach in my fridge so a layer of that went in too (spinach is full of iron and excellent for the new mum!). I always like to soften lasagne sheets in a big bowl of boiling water for a couple of minutes, even when the packet says they don’t need pre-cooking. It also makes it easier to shape them into the dish you’re using. I then made a big pan – about 2 pints – of béchamel sauce. Once everything was ready, it was time to begin assembling it all. First of all, I put a layer of béchamel in the bottom of the two ovenproof dishes and topped them with a layer of spinach leaves.

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Next, I put the first layer of lasagne sheets in. Then a layer of béchamel followed by a layer of aubergines topped with a layer of tomatoes. I added some seasoning and a sprinkling of dried thyme.

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Then another layer of pasta with some béchamel. On top of this the slices of courgettes. On top of this I crumbled over some mozzarella. I’d bought a tub of baby mozzarella – bocconcini. I topped this with torn basil leaves and some more seasoning of salt and pepper.

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Finally, a last layer of pasta. On top of the final layer of lasagne sheets I put a thick layer of béchamel and sprinkled over lots of freshly grated Parmesan.

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I wanted a good cheesy flavour to the topping and also a nice crisp to it.

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Into the oven it went: 200C/180 Fan for about 45 minutes or until nicely brown on top. The great thing about a dish like this is you can turn the oven down low and keep it hot for some time if you’re not quite ready to eat when it’s done.

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It came out looking just as golden and delicious as I’d planned. Meanwhile, the second one had gone to the new family’s home to be cooked to their timing. Then a bottle of champagne was opened to welcome the new family member while the lasagna patiently waited.

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We finally sat down and I opened a bottle of delicious Primitivo, one of my favourite Italian wines from Puglia. There was a big bowl of green salad to go with the lasagna too. And then we tucked in. Perfect comfort food with a touch of sophistication with those layers. And very delicious indeed.

 

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