Lasagna: layers of noodles blending hearty Bolognese sauce, melted cheese or bechamel sauce with mushrooms, chicken, sausage…whatever your palate craves, then baked until bubbly and browned on top. The creator of this dish deserves a place in the Gastronomic Hall of Fame. I like to think it was a grandma from Firenze, but some sources indicate that she was actually born in Greece! Whatever the origin, today you will find all sorts of lasagnas, some so streamlined that it’s inappropriate to even keep the name. If you google “vegetarian lasagna” you’ll find yourself sorting through many thousands of hits. I browsed through a few pages for inspiration, but then I made my own version, which even that old Italian grandma would be pleased with.
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)
1 package of lasagna noodles
4 cups white mushrooms, sliced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups milk
3 T butter
4.5 T flour
3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise 1/8 inch thick
lemon juice and zest
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 small package of frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1 ounce shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
Boil the noodles according to the instructions on the package (don’t overcook). Plunge the noodles in ice cold water to stop them cooking, drain well and spread on a towel to remove excess moisture. Lay them on a baking sheet brushing them ever so slightly with olive oil if you want to keep the cooked noodles in the fridge for assembling the lasagna later. Cover well with plastic wrap.
Saute the mushrooms in olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, until soft and all moisture has been released and evaporated. Reserve. Mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with some lemon juice, brush the zucchini slices, season with salt and pepper and grill until nicely marked on both sides. Reserve.
Prepare the ricotta filling by mixing the ricotta with the beaten egg and the spinach, seasoning with salt, pepper, and a little lemon zest. Reserve.
Prepare the béchamel sauce: warm the milk in the microwave. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the hot milk all at once, whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Season with salt, pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg. Cook until thickened (about 5 minutes). Reserve (dot with butter and place a plastic wrap over it to prevent a thick film from forming).
Assemble the lasagna: Spread some of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Layer noodles to cover the surface with a slight overlap. Add the mushrooms, and moisten them slightly with a few tablespoons of béchamel sauce. Add another layer of noodles. Layer the zucchini slices over them, add another layer of noodles. Spoon the ricotta mixture carefully on top, add noodles to cover it, and spread the béchamel sauce on top, making sure to cover the whole surface. Add the shredded mozzarella, sprinkle some Parmiggiano, and cover with aluminum foil.
Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes, uncover, and bake for 15 minutes more to brown the surface. If necessary, increase the oven temperature or turn the broiler in the last few minutes. Remove from the oven, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: Most current recipes call for no-boil lasagna noodles. I’ve used them, and in a pinch I’d do it again, but not for a special dinner. It is a little extra work to boil the pasta, but your guests (and you) deserve it. With boiled noodles the lasagna bakes more uniformly and the different layers better enrich each other, so that the final dish becomes more than the simple sum of its parts. It’s gastronomic synergy in action ;-). If you don’t believe me, make two small, identical lasagnas, one by boiling the pasta and the other using the “no-boil” method. Then, let your taste buds be the judge.
Most vegetarian lasagnas use eggplant and mushrooms, a tasty combination. I kept the mushrooms as one layer, but substituted grilled zucchini for the eggplant, because the texture of its skin is much better. My version is lighter on cheese and the béchamel sauce filling, which I mostly reserved to the top of the dish with an appetizing gratin cover.
There’s something inexplicably nice about spending a Saturday afternoon preparing the fillings, cooking the noodles and assembling the lasagna, especially on a huge kitchen counter top with nice music in the background… 😉 I am very pleased with the way my veggie lasagna turned out, and hope that you’ll love it too.
Lasagna freezes extremely well, so we have leftovers conveniently packed in the freezer for our next trip home. They’ll come in handy when we arrive from the airport, a perfect antidote for the “peanut & pretzel treatment” that the airlines inflict on their passengers… 😉
ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Pao de Queijo (which happens to be one of my favorite posts)