How a Belgian lasagne created everlasting travel memories

How my love for travel started

I am one of those travellers who has taken extended leave from the ‘daily grind’ choosing to travel as a backpacker.

With a friend from my hometown of Brisbane (known each other since kindergarten) we departed Australia for a six-month European backpacking adventure.  After a week in London carrying a backpack, a Eurail pass, foreign currency, and our Aussie passport, we left the comfort of a mate’s flat and flew to Copenhagen.

jennifer getting ready to travel
©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

The year was 1989. It was pre-internet and mobile phones, so maps were the paper variety and a book called Let’s Go held travel destinations and tips. A mini-book of phrases in different languages was thrown in for good measure.

We were age 24, with minimal overseas travel experiences. 

jennifer johnston travel diary
Jennifer also carried her trusty travel diary with her ©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

Making connections when travelling

Travellers are renowned for making connections during their travels and often gather contacts before they set out. You know, the Aunty, work colleague or neighbour that says,  “oh if you’re going to Germany/ Denmark/ Switzerland, make sure you look up my great friend …….., here let me give you their details”.

We moved from country to country, our accommodation a mixture of youth hostels, guesthouses and friend’s homes. We were blown away with the hospitality of friends of friends. These people, who were strangers would openly welcome us into their homes.

Travelling in Belgium

That was how we arrived in Belgium, in a little town called Lauwe on the French Belgian border.  We’d been on the road for a month travelling through Denmark, Norway, Germany and The Netherlands.

My travel buddy’s brother had suggested contacting his friend, Annemie. After introducing ourselves over the phone a few weeks earlier, we arrived on her doorstep.

My travel diary entry for July 1st reads:

Lauwe, Belgium. Been at Annemie’s place for two nights now. Been very relaxing after Amsterdam.  She and her lovely family have been feeding us the most delicious food. Pily-pily meatballs, leek soup, cheese. We are being spoiled.   

One evening we were invited to Annemie’s sister’s house for dinner. We ate lasagne, followed by chocolate mousse for dessert. 

“Mind-blowing meal,” said my diary entry.

My Belgian lasagne

We asked for the lasagne recipe and both sisters helped us write out the ingredients, including drawing the layers (see picture)

jennifer johnston recipe in travel diary
The famous Belgian lasagne recipe written in the travel diary. ©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

Over the years we have re-created that dish we now refer to as the ‘Belgian Lasagne.’  

When Kerri approached me to contribute to their series: “Travel Stories with a side of cooking”, I knew which recipe to send.  I realise, when it comes to food, you are more likely to associate Belgium with chocolates and frites (their version of French fries with a side of creamy mayonnaise.) For me, it’s my Belgian lasagne!   

This recipe is from my 1989 Travel Diary with a few modifications to suit my family.

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • Butter – two tablespoons
  • 1 brown onion, halved, finely chopped
  • Two tablespoons plain flour
  • ¾ cup of water (to add)
  • Tomato paste (140 grams) 
  • One bay leaf
  • Two teaspoons of sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash of oregano – dried or fresh if you have it (to taste)

White sauce

  • Butter 40 grams (two tablespoons)
  • Two tablespoons of plain flour
  • Two cups of milk 
  • Salt and white pepper
  • One cup tasty grated cheese
  • Two teaspoons of white vinegar

Meat 

  • 500 grams of beef mince (lean mince 4 stars or above) 
  • Dash of olive oil to brown the mince
  • 250 grams of sliced ham (diced into small pieces)
  • 4 fresh lasagne sheets (or you can use pre-cooked sheets in the box)
  • 55g (1/2 cup) coarsely grated mozzarella for topping 

How to make lasagne

Brown the mince by adding a dash of olive oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Stir occasionally breaking up any lumps. Remove the pan once mince changes colour to a light brown and set aside.

Making the tomato sauce for lasagne

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted add chopped onion stirring until slightly brown and soft.  Then add two tablespoons of plain flour stirring quickly for about one minute so it doesn’t burn.

Add the ¾ cup of water (more or less if you think it’s not runny enough or too runny) add tomato paste, bay leaf, two teaspoons of sugar, a little salt and pepper. Stir until thick and boiling.

At the end add a dash of dried oregano. Simmer on a low heat until you have the desired consistency (sauce should thicken and then remove from heat.)  

Making the white sauce for the lasagne

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted and foaming add the flour and cook for one-two minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture is combined. 

Turn the heat to low.

Gradually pour in half the milk (I find it best to warm the milk slightly), whisking constantly with a balloon whisk. Gradually add the remaining milk, whisking until mixture is smooth and combined.

Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for five minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat. Add the grated cheese and stir until cheese melts. Taste and season with salt and white pepper.   Add the vinegar. Set aside.

cooking the white sauce for lasagne
©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a rectangular 2L (8 cup) capacity ovenproof dish with butter to lightly grease.  You can assemble the lasagne in different ways, but always ensure you finish with white sauce then cheese. This is the way that works for me: 

How to assemble the lasagne

Layer 1 – Smear a little of the tomato sauce on the base – helps prevent the lasagne sheets from sliding around

Layer 2 – place lasagne sheets across the base

Layer 3 – top with mincemeat 

Layer 4 – top with tomato sauce

Layer 5 – sprinkle a layer of chopped ham

layering the lasagne
Layering the lasagne ©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

Layer 6 – another layer of lasagne sheets

Layer 7 – a layer of white sauce

Layer 8 – Sprinkle the white sauce with cheese (try a mixture of mozzarella and grated tasty cheese.)

lasagne with cheese
©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

Baking the lasagne

 Place on a baking tray. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cheese melts, is golden brown, and the edges are bubbling. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes to set.

final belgian lasagne baked
©Jennifer Johnston Image used with permission

How to serve lasagne

Cut into serving sizes according to hunger and serve with either salad or vegetables and garlic bread.

Cook’s tip: If you prepare the lasagne the day before and let it sit in the fridge for 12 hours it seems to ‘set’ and become ‘more’ flavoursome! Lasagne can also be frozen and reheated at a later stage.

final belgian lasagne baked

Belgian Lasagne

Yield: 6
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Make this simple and tasty lasagne recipe at home. A great meal for a hungry family.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 brown onion, halved, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • ¾ cup of water (to add)
  • 140g Tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash of oregano - dried or fresh if you have it (to taste)
  • 40g Butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 cups milk 
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 1 cup tasty grated cheese
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • MEAT
  • 500 grams beef mince (lean mince 4 stars or above) 
  • Dash of olive oil to brown the mince
  • 250g sliced ham (diced into small pieces)
  • 4 fresh lasagne sheets (or you can use pre-cooked sheets in the box)
  • 55g (1/2 cup) coarsely grated mozzarella for topping

Instructions

    Brown the mince by adding a dash of olive oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Stir occasionally breaking up any lumps. Remove the pan once mince changes colour to a light brown and set aside.


    For the tomato sauce


    Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted add chopped onion stirring until slightly brown and soft.  Then add two tablespoons of plain flour stirring quickly for about one minute so it doesn’t burn. Add the ¾ cup of water (more or less if you think it’s not runny enough or too runny) add tomato paste, bay leaf, two teaspoons of sugar, a little salt and pepper. Stir until thick and boiling. At the end add a dash of dried oregano. Simmer on a low heat until you have the desired consistency (sauce should thicken and then remove from heat.)  

    For the white sauce


    Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted and foaming add the flour and cook for one-two minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture is combined. 
    Turn the heat to low.
     
    Gradually pour in half the milk (I find it best to warm the milk slightly), whisking constantly with a balloon whisk. Gradually add the remaining milk, whisking until mixture is smooth and combined.
     
    Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for five minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat. Add the grated cheese and stir until cheese melts. Taste and season with salt and white pepper. 
    Add the vinegar. Set aside.
     
    Assembling 
    Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a rectangular 2L (8 cup) capacity ovenproof dish with butter to lightly grease.  You can assemble the lasagne in different ways, but always ensure you finish with white sauce then cheese. This is the way that works for me: 

    Layer 1 - Smear a little of the tomato sauce on the base – helps prevent the lasagne sheets from sliding around
    Layer 2 – place lasagne sheets across the base, 
    Layer 3 top with mincemeat 
    Layer 4 – top with tomato sauce
    Layer 5 – sprinkle a layer of chopped ham
    Layer 6 – another layer of lasagne sheets
    Layer 7 – a layer of white sauce
    Layer 8 - Sprinkle the white sauce with cheese (try a mixture of mozzarella and grated tasty cheese.)

    Baking
     Place on a baking tray. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cheese melts, is golden brown, and the edges are bubbling. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes to set.

    Serving
    Cut into servings sizes according to hunger and serve with either salad or veggies and garlic bread.

Notes

If you prepare the lasagne the day before and let it sit in the fridge for 12 hours it seems to ‘set’ and become ‘more’ flavoursome!

Lasagne can also be frozen and reheated.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 200g
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1067Total Fat: 63gSaturated Fat: 30gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 302mgSodium: 2101mgCarbohydrates: 42gFiber: 4gSugar: 14gProtein: 82g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix.

Did you make this recipe?

We'd love for you to share it and show us how you went. Mention @beerandcroissants or tag #beerandcroissants

simple-and-tasty-homemade-lasagne
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JENNIFER JOHNSTON

Jennifer is a Brisbane based freelance writer and blogger at Travel Bug Within writing stories to inspire others to seek out new destinations and adventures.
With a passion for history, culture and people she loves weaving these elements into her stories.
Her food palette is fairly simple, so her eating experiences are not as adventurous as others, but she still manages to find delicious meals and tasty treats wherever she travels.

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