Ready Meal Revolution: Ready meal lasagne, 75p, vs home made free range pork lasagne, 69p.

20131028-165507.jpg

So I’m home from a much-needed rest in Brighton and back in the kitchen with my sleeves rolled up…

One of the most popular dishes I’ve been asked to take on is the humble lasagne – and I’ve been putting it off, firstly, because I’ve Never Made Lasagne Before. Ever. But, i’ve eaten enough of it to know it’s made up of a meat ragu, a white sauce, and some layers of pasta – how hard could it be?

The ready meal version I based it on was made with beef, and cost 75p per 300g portion.

My lasagne was made with free range pork, and this recipe made 6 portions at just under 69p per portion. (If you use the equivalent ‘basic’ mince, it reduces the cost to 42p per portion.)

In the interests of fairness, both of these meals were cooked before photographing. I’m not sure you can tell with the white one…

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
200ml water
1/2 a mozzarella cheese ball
450g free range pork mince
1 onion
2 tsp mixed herbs
1 small tin double concentrated tomato purée
1 stock cube diluted in 150ml water
9 lasagne sheets

Some people like to cook the pasta sheets first to reduce the cooking time in the oven, I decided immediately that I am one of those people. Lasagne can be cooked from frozen if the pasta sheets are uncooked, but will take around 40 minutes to an hour in the oven from frozen. I decided to cook my pasta sheets first and finish them off in the oven at the end to crisp up, so put them in a large shallow pan of water to boil without sticking together. Lift out with a wooden spoon or one of those egg turner things that probably has a more technical name than that.

While the pasta cooks, make the ragu! Add the onions, mince and herbs to a medium saucepan and cook on a medium heat to brown the mince and soften the onions. (I didn’t add oil as it seeps out of the mince, but add a splash if you want.) When the mince is brown, not pink, add the tomato purée and stock, and bring to the boil. Boil for a few minutes to ensure the mince is cooked through, then transfer to a large bowl to stand, to develop the flavours.

Rinse and dry the saucepan, and make the white sauce by mixing the oil, flour and skimmed milk powder in a saucepan. Stir together on a low heat for a minute or two until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add a splash of water to make a paste. Stir well to eliminate any lumps, add a splash more water, and repeat until only half the water is left, stirring continuously to stop lumps from forming. Tear or cut the cheese into small pieces and add to the pan, and bring to the boil to melt in. Reduce back to a low heat and stir well.

Make the lasagne by layering ragu sauce in the bottom of each foil tray, or one large roasting/Pyrex style dish. Lay the pasta sheets on top (I used 3/4’of a pasta sheet per layer for the foil tins, if making a large lasagne then use half the available sheets). Spread a thin layer of the mozzarella sauce on top.

Add a second layer of ragu, then pasta, then a thick layer of the mozzarella sauce.

To eat immediately: blast in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 200C, or until the cheese is bubbling and golden.

To freeze: allow to cool completely and pop in the freezer. To cook from frozen, pop in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes.

Ingredients cost breakdown, all prices Sainsburys and Sainsburys Basics, correct at time of writing:
1 tbsp oil, 3p (£4/3l). 1 tbsp flour, 3p (65p/1.5kg). 2 tbsp skimmed milk powder, 5p (£1.01/400g). 200ml water. 1/2 a mozzarella cheese ball, 25p (50p each). 450g free range pork mince, £3 (2 for £6). 1 loose onion, 11p. 2 tsp mixed herbs, 3p (30p/jar). 1 small tin double concentrated tomato purée, 35p. 1 stock cube diluted in 150ml water, 2p (20p/10 cubes). 9 lasagne sheets, 25p (39p/14 sheets).

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Advertisements

73 Comments »

  1. “one of those egg turner things that probably has a more technical name than that.”

    Fish slice?

    Nicely done. I thought lasagne (and fish pie) would cause problems because of the cost of the ingredients but your budget ingredients saved the day. 🙂

  2. Once again, yours quite simply blows the “ready meal” out of the water in appearance, and more than likely flavour too.. I detest that CopyDex type gloop they use on supermarket ones!

  3. I know you are trying to duplicate frozen prepared food, but this is the weirdest recipe for lasagne that I’ve ever seen. You melt the cheese? A white sauce with oil, water and powdered milk? Jack, I think you can do better nutritionally than this.

    • I use oil in place of butter because I don’t usually have butter in, same with powdered milk because it’s cheaper than fresh milk and essentially the same thing… And putting the mozzarella in the white sauce makes it go further. I don’t think that changes the nutritional content too much, in fact powdered milk has added vitamins in it. I could make a luxury version, but I’d be missing my own point. People are free to use butter, milk, or any kind of cheese they like…

    • How does melting the cheese or using oil instead of water or powdered milk instead of fresh in any way reduce the nutritional value? It’s lasagne for god sake not one of life’s healthiest meals.

      • I meant oil instead of butter… Anyway Jack I think it’s great. People complain and they don’t realise there is a really good reason for every ingredient you choose!

    • There’s nothing unusual if budget cooking in using these ingredients, I’ve done it myself more times than I could count! Dried milk reconstituted, used in a well seasoned sauce is hardly discernible from any other low fat milk. And while butter is undeniably tastier than oil or cooking marge, using the latter is a matter of pragmatics. The point is that for people living on a very low income, minor luxuries like butter and fresh milk are often sacrificed for longer lasting and cheaper alternatives, those are the kind of necessary but savvy choices we make.

  4. Hi Jack – I really like your recipes and am grateful for your hard work on them. Also incredibly appreciating seeing more things suitable for work lunches and exhaustion-meals! Could I ask where you buy the foil containers and cardboard tops from? Do you re-use?

    • They’re 99p for 10 from the 99p store, or I’ve seen them in Wilkinsons for a similar price, and most large supermarkets have them by the tin foil or kitchen dept. I reuse them by carefully washing them out as they’re a bit frail, until they aren’t usable any more, then replace them. You can get plastic containers 8 for £1 too from the 99p shop, similar to the ones you get takeaways in, and they can be microwaved – but they’re wider so will hold closer to 2 portions each. Hope this helps!

      • I totally understand the use of the foil containers, so this isn’t any kind of criticism, however other posters might find small enamel tins like those I myself use of interest for ‘freezer to oven’ home-cooked gratins, lasagnes, fish pie, cottage pie etc. They are of course re-usable indefinitely but you need to buy a few in at once which will cost a tenner or so as a one off outlay. Lakeland do them, but they can also often be found at markets.

  5. When will our ‘leaders’ do something about the damage, physical and emotional, caused by cheap ready meals? Well they won’t will they, because of massive vested interests in the food industry.
    Keep spreading the word though. Every little helps, as they say

  6. If you make this in the summer when garden produce is ridiculously cheep you can add slices of tomato (raw) any summer squash (fried or baked leftover eggplant dishes go in well too.), peppers, and a fav in the USA is spinach (or any cooked green).

    If you do not have lasagna noodles or they are to expensive sub out macaroni of any shape esp spirals and elbows. Just layer in sauces and cheeses.

    When block or shredded cheese goes on sale I stick it in the freezer (which makes it crubbley) to stock up for the days I need an ounce to stretch a dish.

    However I am going to try the white sauce and ragu method Jack described. It is almost a 1 pot meal.

  7. Lasagne – noodles layered with marinara sauce (canned is OK, tomato puree could substitute), grated cheese, and lightly sauteed (or canned) vegetables (i.e. zucchini, mushrooms, but you can use almost anything). You can also crumble cooked sausage or ground beef (as little as one Italian sausage or 1/4 lb ground beet) in a layer to make it a meat version. Put all the layers together and cook for 25 mins at 375 degrees. This is healthy and can be a complete meal.

  8. Turning things over… when you can next afford it buy some cooking tongs (In a Pound Shop or discount store) very useful for grappling with floppy lasagne sheets, I would think as well as bacon rashers, sausages,chops or a multitude of hot things. I learned this from watching chefs. Tongs now seem to have silicone blades and clean easily.

  9. I have lots of thoughts/comments/questions on this one.
    Does mozzarella taste as ‘cheesy’ as tasty cheese in cheese sauce? I buy a block of tasty on special at $6 per kg slice some thinly for sandwiches etc and grate about 1/2 and freeze for using in recipes.Another hint is to add a little mustard to the white sauce for extra flavour. I belong to a website called cheapskates that I get a lot of hints like that from, like making bulk white sauce mix you just need to add water to and keeping in the fridge or freezer.
    I add grated veges to my meat for added nutrition, whatever is in the fridge, garden etc but usually carrot, onion, celery zucchini and garlic, pumpkin is OK too, adds extra flavour and bulks it out. From 1kg of mince ($5 basic at Coles) I can usually get 5-6 meals for 4 by adding veges, I fry the meat and onion as you do, with garlic put aside one portion for kai se ming (Chinese stew type dish), and one portion for shepherds pie, add tomato paste to the rest and cook a bit longer, add chopped tomatoes (mainly in summer when the garden is bursting with them, or if I’ve frozen them I use frozen) and grated veggies, put aside one portion for tacos/burritos/nachos add tomato soup or passata to the rest. Some becomes that nights spag bol and the rest gets made into lasagne. I actually put a layer of noodles between each layer of sauce, eg red, noodle,white, noodle, it makes the sauce go further and is more filling, that way I make it stretch to 2 dishes of lasagne.
    Re the dishes- have you ever tried lining your baking dish with foil or a freezer bag if you’re going to freeze a dish, then when its frozen you pop it out the dish and wrap and can use the dish for the next meal.
    I started doing a lot of these things when I was bringing up 3 children, sick husband and elderly MIL on a part pension, and even though I’m working now it’s a habit. Love this blog, it has great ideas, I know things aren’t half as bad in Oz as they are over there, but the co-operation and sharing is fantastic and keep up the good work.

    • Great tip about lining the dish before freezing – have done something similar with soup in a bag, but never thought to do it with lasagne or bakes. Thanks

  10. Hello from spain,

    I think there’s a little mistake. At some point you say your recipe has done 6 portions, but according to the ingredient list and the cost breakdown I think you’ve done 3 portions. I mention it only in order to avoid surprises in case someone prepares the recipe using the listed amounts expecting getting 6 portions out of it.

    By the way, I’ve been following your blog since summer and I think is very interesting, both recipes and political thoughts.

    Congratulations for jour job and for your courage!

    • Hello! I definitely made 6 portions, they’re in the freezer! They’re not restaurant sized portions but they are the same size as the ready meal was, which is what I aim for with these recipes. I would serve it with two portions of green veg as a side.

      • Ops! You are right (of course) I misread the cost breakdown!!! Sorry for that.

        Even though, looking at the ingredients, it still seems to me a bit too short for preparing 6 portions (specially for a one dish meal) but is the same for the ready made meal, and this is not the point here. I understand the purpose of your exercise, so sorry again for the confusion.

        And is a very good idea to compare the cost of free range meat to the “basic” choice.

  11. Hi Jack. love following your recipes. What does adding skimmed milk powder do as its not an ingredient that i have ever used . Can you use normal milk instead and flour ?

    • Yes of course, just use 200ml milk instead of the milk powder and water. I use it because my fridge is a bit temperamental, the fan doesn’t work brilliantly so milk tends to ice up or go sour and clumpy, so I’ve stopped buying it until I can sort my fridge out. Also a 400g bag of milk powder makes around 10 pints of milk for £1.01, compared to a fresh pint which is around 50p these days!

  12. No need cook pasta sheets first. I did for years before reeducated by my daughter-in-law fabulous veggie cook. She makes the tomato sauce extra sloppy assembles the lasagne does something else for roughly an hour before cooking the lasagne. You definitely would never know. Makes very fine mushroom /spinach lasagne too. Also uses oil to make bechamel as butter so expensive in Spain.

    • That’s true, but I find if you need to cut them to size (as here) its easier if they are soft as otherwise they just seem to crack into shards and you lose some. I don’t actually cook them, just soak them (if I’m making a large lasagne I just soak the 2 or 3 I’ll need to cut for gaps) in a bowl of boiling water until soft enough to cut.

      • It’s actually quite easy to make lasagne sheets and it can be made with ordinary flour, it doesn’t have to be the extra fine flour. After kneading, roll and fold, roll and fold several times, then roll it out very thin and cut to the shape you want. No need to pre cook and it cooks in minutes. And it tastes so delicious.
        You can re-roll the off cuts and slice it long and thin for another pasta meal, or make ravioli. So versatile!
        J x

    • That’s how I bulk my mince based recipes. One extra onion, 2 carrots and 1 or two sticks of celery, minced as finely as possible and cooked until soft, comfortably doubles the quantity on a 400 – 500g pack of mince intended for a meal for 4 – allowing me to eat half and freeze half. I usually bulk the protein with some pulses or peas or cheese, depending on the meal. It makes it taste fabulous, it sneaks a massive amount of veggies past those who may otherwise try and dodge them and it thickens a tomato sauce beautifully.

      • This is a good tip, I use finely diced mirepoix in quite a few things; it not only helps to bulk out frozen mince (both the meat and the veggie kind!) but adds some nice extra textures and flavour too. I usually use whole brown lentils (easy, cheap and healthy) for recipes that traditionally use mince, though a great way to *quickly* bulk out mince is to use about the same volume of grated carrot; add it to the cooked onions and give it a quick saute before adding in your mince and then tinned toms or chilli powder or bisto or whatever you’re using for extra flavour.

    • I usually add red lentils and some oats to a savoury mince. They both enrich and thicken, taste good (the oats take on the meaty flavour) and make it go such a lot further. Really delicious.

    • Depending on what texture you’re going for, I find (cooked/tinned) lentils can be a good substitution for mince – otherwise there’s just chucking in whatever veg is in season?

  13. fab. although my colleague who I requested this for is still fighting her corner for the ready meal, which is disappointing. but at least I’ve proved to her that it can be made cheaper 😀

  14. Great thanks for this, loving the ready meal/homemade comparisons and your blog. Just wanted to share an alternative vegetarian lasagne recipe that is very quick and very tasty.

    Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne

    Makes 8 medium portions/ 6 large

    400g mushrooms

    500g bag baby spinach

    1 clove garlic

    1 tub ricotta

    1 tube tomato puree or bottle passata

    100g Mature cheddar

    Marjoram

    Salt & Pepper

    Egg lasagne

    Preheat oven to 190 degrees c

    Chop garlic finely, sauté in pan with olive oil, add chopped mushroom sautee till slightly browned

    Transfer to bowl

    Add spinach and generous pinches of marjoram mix in 2/3 pot of ricotta and generous handful of mature grated cheddar and salt and pepper

    Add spinach to mushroom and cheese mix, mix until begins to wilt

    Then take pyrex oblong / rectangular dish
    Squeeze tom puree into a measuring jug add boiling water to thin
    Add puree to line the bottom of dish

    Add pasta to cover

    Place spinach cheese mushroom mix on top of pasta sheets

    More pasta sheets

    Add more purée

    More mix and then top with grated cheese and the rest of the ricotta

    Cook for 35/40 mins approx (until brown on top) 190 degrees c

    Serve with rocket, beetroot and parmesan salad (with olive oil and balsamic) and flat garlic bread
    Delicious!

  15. I use a 500g pack of extra lean mince (£4) with 120g of dried soya mince (40p) to make 8 lasagnes in silicone loaf trays (£1 each in pound shop) each plenty for one adult and one child 🙂 once frozen pop out of silicone, wrap in cling film and use silicone for different recipe. Makes a less fatty lasagne and the mince gives flavour to the soya and cheaper than fatty value mince 🙂

  16. If I make pancakes, then I will keep some to one side and use them instead of lasagne sheets – I have been making pancake lasagne for years with quorn, pilchards, beef, vege mince – but never sausages! Live and learn!

  17. Mince dishes can be cheaply extended by adding a couple of tablespoons of ordinary porridge oats. I often do this in shepherds pie, adding the oats when the meat is nearly browned. The starch helps to thicken the dish too.

    • Fab recipe for meatloaf – mince, handful oats, can of tomatoes, grated veg (eg. carrot, parsnip), finely chopped onion, stock cube. Mix together and put in suitable dish to bake. Would be good marrow filling too. Celery good in meatloaf, but can be costly.

  18. Sainsburys do a 230g (just over half can) can of Italian chopped tomatoes with herbs for 35p. I highly recommend them – possible alternative to puree. I make basic tomato sauce with 1 can, equal volume water, carrot, onion and stock cube.

  19. The ready meal looks vile, yours looks much better!
    Whenever I cook anything with minced meat I add a load of vegetables to bulk it out, todays minced beef had 11 hidden vegetables in, even my anti-vegetable husband doesn’t notice and says how nice it is 😉 If I have quorn or soya mince I add that in too. Today I added red lentils, onion, carrot, tomato, courgette, mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, celery, leek and chinese leaf, what can’t be grated is finely chopped. I have also added swede, squash, pumpkin, parsnip… You can add anything really, it all adds flavour! Good for fussy eaters too 🙂

  20. Enjoy your writing style and recipes so much! Keep up the good work (and give small boy an extra hug today; soon he will be taller than you!)

  21. Hi there, the lasagne looks magnificent (that shop-bought one is very unappetsing), great job! I have a question that is slightly off topic, but would be interested in yours or others’ thoughts. I was wondering how you shop? I prefer to get as much as I can (as cheaply as I can) for the month, using a list I do my utmost to stick to religiously, then shop in the week only for perishables, whereas my other half prefers to pop out 2-3 times a week and pick up what we need, when we need it. Both of us think our way is cheaper. Do you have a particular strategy that you find works out costs less? Sorry if it’s a silly question! *Scheens*

  22. I used to shop monthly and stick to my list religiously, but I found I was having cans etc left over that I didn’t use that month and my cupboard had a stockpile which got to be embarrassing. So now I shop twice a week for exactly what we need. I do have a small store cupboard but nothing like before and we use up what we have. I have always shopped for items that are cheap and cooked everything from scratch. Not a silly question at all either.

  23. I made this last night and currently have four portions stowed neatly away in the freezer which gives me a very satisfied feeling. People, it is utterly delicious. One extra thing I added because I saw it on the shelf is a can of ratatouille. I got it for 69p from Waitrose (it’s my only walkable supermarket…) and it had a mix of courgette and peppers I think? It was very nice anyway and bulked the whole thing out quite a bit so if anyone out there doesn’t mind inflating the price by about 12p per portion I’d recommend it! Also frozen spinach, which I put in literally everything.

  24. Re the monthly v twice weekly shop, I do a big shop roughly monthly and little top ups as it suits my working life not to have to shop every Saturday etc and the family can pick up the top ups. To Tricia with the embarrassing stockpile, google $21 challenge and it will explain how to use up the stockpile by not shopping one week and cooking around the ingredients in your cupboard. thanks for the home-made lasagne idea Joy Clark, it made me think I might look up the recipe in the bread machine book. One more thing to MOO.

  25. You could save a tiny bit by skipping the cream sauce on top. I had never heard of that in the states, lasagna there is laters of pasta and cheese, i used to add whatever minced veg i could manage, and red lentils were usually in my all purpose red sauce, though if i could add a bit of any ground meat, my kids were happy.

    I do see where the white sauce helps stretch a limited amount of cheese though.

  26. This is a great idea. Thankfully I am quite a good cook but I’m constantly looking for cheap healthier meals for my partner, toddler and myself on £23/week. Seems like alot, it’s not.

    I think people have missed the point, if you have milk/butter/ chedder in your fridge then use that it the cheese sauce. That is the CHEAPEST alternative, so Taylor it to your budget/fridge contents.

    Luckily I work for sainsburys so I can splash out on basics cheddar/milk and after staff discount it costs the same mozzarella and I chuck in some salad in the side. That’s about as far as my extravagance stretches!

    I think people are become quite ignorant to the struggles of young working families.

    Keep up the great work!

  27. I discovered your blog through the Guardian, and have to say, I’m hooked! As a student who loves cooking, the idea of being able to do so much whilst spending so little is music to my ears. Currently in the process of placing an online order consisting of 99% Sainsbury’s Basics items. Sunday lunch will be lasagne with pork mince. Wish me luck!

  28. Hello Jack!

    I just tried your lasagne recipe and it worked great. I wasn’t
    too sure on the milk powder but it was good. Also I have added
    a little bit of nutmeg for the mozzarella-sauce.

    thank you!!!!

    I can’t wait to try the muffizzas!

Any thoughts? Comment below!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s