from one generation to the next
This dish has been a regular on our dinner table for close to 30 years. There was never a written down recipe (until now.) I set out to make a Bolognese style sauce without meat, so the complete dish would emulate a more traditional lasagne. There are core sauce ingredients and there are other vegetables which vary. Sometimes I sprinkle shredded cheese over each sauce layer, sometimes I grill slices of eggplant to layer with the pasta and sauce or I might add a layer of ricotta cheese with spinach or chard.
Bechamel sauce topping is the one constant of my lasagne, that and best quality egg lasagne sheets imported from Italy. In my opinion instant pasta lacks flavour and texture, no matter how convenient it is!
It’s important not to shred the vegetables too finely or cook the sauce too long, so that the sauce retains some firm textures.
BASIC VEGETABLE LASAGNE
For the basic sauce:
1 onion, diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 eggplant, (aubergine) cut into 2cm cubes
¼ cup water
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 large carrot, thickly shredded
125g Portobello mushrooms thickly sliced
1 red capsicum cut into 1cm cubes
2 zucchinis, (courgette) thickly shredded
2 X 400g cans crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste (thick concentrate)
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, basil, oregano
Sugar, sea salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil, add the onion, celery and eggplant. Saute until the eggplant has absorbed the oil then add the water, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid then add the remainder of the ingredients, including any extras. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 – 20 minutes.
To construct the lasagne:
125g shredded tasty cheese
250g dried lasagne noodles
Cook the lasagne noodles on a large pot of water so that they have plenty of room to move around. The package should tell you the optimum cooking time. Drain the noodles, refresh in cold water, drain again.
Grease a shallow oblong ovenproof dish the spoon a thick layer of sauce over the bottom. Cover the sauce with a single layer of pasta, then add a thin layer of sauce, a scattering of cheese, another layer of pasta and continue until the dish is almost full, finishing with a vegetable sauce layer.
To finish the lasagne: béchamel
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons plain flour
500 mls hot milk
Nutmeg, sea salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
60g freshly grated parmesan cheese
Melt the butter over a low heat then stir in the flour. Cook the flour for 3-4 minutes. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until the sauce thickens. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, season to taste, then stir in the cheese. Pour the sauce over the top of the lasagne. Sprinkle the surface of the sauce with a little paprika, black pepper and dried oregano. At this stage the lasagne can be refrigerated until the next day, or frozen for up to 3 months. Bake the lasagne in a moderate oven 170C for about 45 minutes until golden brown on top. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6
Optional extras for the sauce:
1 cup cooked cannellini beans
OR 1 cup red kidney beans
½ sweet potato, thickly shredded
OR 1 cup coarsely shredded pumpkin
1 green capsicum
1 bulb fennel, finely sliced
2 cups chopped chard or spinach leaves
Optional extra layer:
400g fresh ricotta
60g freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ bunch chard leaves, washed and chopped
OR ½ bunch spinach, washed and chopped
Freshly ground pepper and nutmeg to taste
Mash the ricotta thoroughly, beat in the eggs, cheese and seasonings. Stir in the spinach. Spread a single layer of the ricotta cheese over a sauce layer.