As a linguist and a language teacher, I’ve always loved playing with letters and sounds, but lately it’s my son who’s been getting into rhyme. He’ll start conversations with, “Train, plane, crane… also cane! Cane sounds a bit like crane!” The other day, he enlisted my help to come up with words that rhyme with ‘caught’. “Bought, mort… what else, Mum?” “Lort, taught, dort, wort, fought, naught, sought, port…” Funny, crazy words, words that don’t exist, words that don’t make sense. It’s all part of his learning.
It was only later that a kindy teacher told me that the ability to rhyme is an indicator of readiness to read. Or in other words, those children who ‘get’ rhyming are much more likely to ‘get’ reading or learn to read easily. Others who struggle with the concept of rhyming are also more likely to struggle with reading. According to this website, a fun, easy way to promote rhyme is to play games that involve the sound and rhythm of words. Games like ‘I Spy’ and tongue twisters such as ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’.
We like to read rhyming books, such as The Cat in the Hat or Doodledum Dancing. My husband has a particular love of Dr Seuss books from his own childhood, and introduced our son to them very early on. I also, in those first few months as a new mum, had very little idea what activities to do with a newborn, so we sat and read many, many books together before he began to crawl. If my son has excellent language skills now, that early introduction to books and reading may have something to do with it.
But what does all that have to do with lasagne? I’ll give you a clue: Easy, Peasy, Cheesy Lasagne. It rhymes, but even better, it is a cinch to make! If you don’t already have a favourite baked lasagne recipe, or even if you do, try ours! I think you’ll agree that it’s worth making again and again… and again!
Easy Cheesy Lasagne
The easiest lasagne is made with lots of mozzarella and no béchamel sauce!
500g beef mince (pork and veal mince is also good)
3 cloves garlic, crushed*
1 medium zucchini, coarsely grated
1 medium eggplant, diced
150g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 bottle passata (tomato puree) (700g)
140g tomato paste
2 cups water
1-2 teaspoons sugar, to taste
375g packet fresh lasagne
600g packet grated mozzarella cheese
In a large, heavy based pot, fry crushed garlic in olive oil until fragrant, adding mince before garlic begins to burn. Fry meat and garlic together until meat is well-browned. Add herbs and vegetables, passata, tomato paste, water and sugar to taste. Bring to boil and then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, for a minimum 30 minutes, uncovered.
Preheat oven to 180degC/350F.
When sauce is ready, remove from heat. Spoon half a cup of sauce and 2 tablespoons boiling water into the bottom of an oblong baking pan (base measures 7 x 12 inches) and then line with fresh lasagne sheets in a single layer. Top lasagne with more meat sauce, and then with handfuls of grated mozzarella. Continue layering pasta, sauce and cheese until you have about 1 ½ cups sauce left in the pot. At this point add your final layer of lasagne and cover with sauce, finally sprinkling with more mozzarella cheese. (You will have some lasagne sheets and grated cheese left over; just store in the freezer for next time!)
Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to rest for up to 30 minutes before cutting into slices to serve. Best served at room temperature, and leftovers are arguably better.
*I don’t cook with onion, but feel free to add one finely chopped onion to the mix, adding it into the cooking process along with the garlic.