For some reason, veggie lasagna recipes have been popping up all over the place. The Guardian ran a story about “the perfect vegetable lasagna”. Check it out here:
The food supplement in Finland’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, which is also known as the Thursday supplement, just ran a fantastic sounding veggie lasagna recipe… originally from a Swedish cookery blog, http://www.greenkitchenstories.com. And since I’d already thought about trying out lasagnas, I decided to start with this one.
Its special features:
1. Using a ricotta, lemon and basil mix instead of béchamel sauce.
2. Grilling the veg beforehand.
Lasagnas are a bit of work, especially good veggie ones, and this one is no different. It will take you 3 hours (or so) to make. And it’ll taste better, if you let it sit afterwards for 30 minutes, too. In fact, heated leftovers may taste best of all… I halved the original recipe because it was HUGE. My version will feed 2-3 people, easily. It’s quite a hearty meal. Just double the amounts and use a big oven dish, if you want to feed an army (or a large family).
The Veggie & Ricotta Lasagna
- 1 aubergine
- 1 courgette
- 2 bell peppers (the original recipe said red, I also used yellow)
- 200 g mushrooms
- olive oil
- black pepper
- 250g ricotta
- ½ lemon + zest
- fresh basil
- 1 ball of mozzarella (125g)
- 50g parmesan (I used pecorino, which I prefer)
- lasagna pasta (9 sheets, 3 per layer)
+ the tomato sauce:
- ½ onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tin of whole tomatoes
- ½ tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- bit of black pepper
Add the garlic (chopped or pressed) and sauté some more. Then add the tinned tomatoes, season and leave to simmer for 1 hour under a lid. Check on the sauce every now and then, don’t let it stick.
Next, prep the veg.
Cut off the ends of the aubergine and courgette and slice the veg lengthwise into long slips, half a centimetre thick. I found the courgette easier to slice when I halved it.
Place on a baking tin, with baking paper underneath, brush lightly with olive oil and put under the grill in the oven until they have caught a good tan. Meanwhile, deseed and cut the bell peppers into 3-4 bits, and also clean the mushrooms and quarter them. When the aubergine and courgette are done in the oven, take them out to chill and sprinkle salt and pepper on them. Put the bell pepper bits under the grill, skin side up, and allow them to go properly dark.
Put the mushrooms with a little oil on a very hot pan and give them a quick fry. Season with salt and pepper while they’re on the pan. Then set aside to chill.
Take a lemon, wash it carefully, and zest it. I prefer a fine zest and have this amazing little thing that works better than a microplane.
Half the lemon and squeeze the juice into the ricotta, adding the lemon zest. Chop up the fresh basil, finely, and add to the mix. Stir until the mixture looks even.
Take about 50g of Parmesan or Pecorino and grate it finely in a bowl.
Now you’re ready to start assembling your lasagna. My dish was 20 cm by 22 cm, and 5 cm deep. This meant three layers of pasta. If you do the big, doubled version, you’ll need a bigger dish. The deeper, the more layers.
1. Spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom.
2. Place lasagna sheets on top, as many as you can fit.
3. Spread a thin layer of the ricotta mixture over the pasta, covering it entirely.
4. Layer the veg (grilled aubergine, courgette, bell peppers and mushrooms) and sprinkle them with the grated parmesan or pecorino.
5. Begin another layer by spreading some tomato sauce over them and laying down another layer of pasta.
6. Continue as usual: pasta, ricotta, veg & grated cheese, tomato, then pasta, ricotta… etc. until your dish is filled almost to the brim.
Make sure you finish with a layer of pasta, which you then cover with an ample amount of ricotta mix. Make sure you leave some for this stage. I didn’t and slightly panicked… Luckily, in the end, it didn’t make a huge difference. The pasta on top cooked through just fine and wasn’t hard or anything. But just in case.
Once you’ve spread that final layer of ricotta mix on the pasta, take a ball of mozzarella and rip it into little shreds on top of the lasagna, covering the entire dish. It will create a crunchy lid on the whole dish and allow everything underneath to cook and simmer nicely.
At this point, you can either bake your lasagna in the oven immediately or cover it with cling film and place it in the fridge to wait for when you want to have it. You will have spent about 2 hours on the preparation of it, but it can easily be baked the next day. But if you’re hungry already, just pop it in the oven, 200 degrees Celsius, and let it bake for 50 minutes. When it’s done, take it out and let it sit for at least 10 minutes, preferably 30 minutes, so the layers won’t come a part when you start cutting out portions.
I had mine with a glass of red wine, Shiraz-Cabernet to be exact. I immediately regretted this. Clearly, the delicate ricotta-lemon in the lasagna requires a robust white wine. Robust because of the grilled veg and tomato sauce. So I’d say, get a nice round Chardonnay or Riesling that can take the “meaty” side of the veg but still brings out the delicate lemon.
All in all, though, well worth the time and effort. Plus there’s lots of it.
I had some left over, and put it in containers in the fridge. Ate some the following day for lunch, heating it in the oven. It was even better. Lasagna likes to take its time…