Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Vegetarian Lasagna

Some days you are lazy, and you don’t want to spend hours standing over simmering sauce and bubbling béchamel; instead you want to take a nap. Other days, you watch too much Molto Mario and everything must be homemade and fresh and organic and you want to spend the whole afternoon in the kitchen, teensy as it may be. Fret not, mercurial reader, lasagna is there for you whatever your mood.

It all started with this Epicurious recipe and a last minute vegetarian dinner party. Four elements – marinara sauce, no bake noodles, spinach with pesto, and creamy cheese – make up the basic recipe. In a pinch, you can easily make the recipe as written, using jarred sauces and ricotta mixed with parmesan for the cheesy layer, and it’s really pretty tasty.

If you have the time, though, this recipe is the perfect springboard for creating your own lasagna. The key to the homemade version is the béchamel or, since this dish is Italian, besciamella, sauce.

And I have something to say about béchamel. Frankly I'm just sick and tired of hearing people complain, lambasting it as some kind of deadly liquid fat, acting like it's impossible to make, moaning about cream sauce and cholesterol. Just stop it right now, because béchamel's bad rap is totally undeserved. Do the math – this lasagna recipe uses 4 T of butter, 3 cups of milk, and makes 8 to 12 servings. That’s about 1 teaspoon of butter per serving. And milk – milk is good for you! Milk is healthy. Who can argue with milk. So I say bring back the béchamel as the new health food!

(steps off soapbox)

Here's the recipe.

I started by making a double recipe of marinara and a single recipe of pesto

Dad's Marinara

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 T olive oil
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried parsley
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. black pepper

Drizzle oil into a medium size saucepan over medium-low heat, add onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, increase heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the herbs, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, stir and cook for 15 more minutes (still stirring occasionally) or until sauce has reached desired consistency.

Simple Pesto

2 small bunches basil
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts
½ tsp salt
olive oil

Add garlic and salt to mini food processor, process until minced, add other ingredients and process until desired consistency is reached. Alternatively, mince the ingredients by hand and mix together. Mix pesto with two 10oz. packages of frozen spinach (thawed and drained).

Next, prepare the béchamel sauce.


4 T butter
4 T all-purpose flour
3 cups milk, scalded but not boiled
salt to taste

Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan and add the flour. Cook until bubbling and golden brown, stirring constantly. Add milk and lower heat – do not allow the sauce to boil. Keep at a low simmer until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.

I added at least ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano to the béchamel just before taking it off the heat and then let it cool a bit (it will thicken) in preparation for assembly.


Layer as follows:
1.) Marinara

2.) Noodle
3.) Spinach

4.) Bechamel. Repeat 3 or 4 times, ending with noodle. Add one more layer of marinara.

Bake, covered with foil, for 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove foil and top with shredded fontina cheese. Bake for 10 more minutes and then broil for 3-5, until top layer of cheese is crispy and brown. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 - 12 servings (twice amount shown in photo above).

If you're not having vegetarians over for dinner, just substitute browned hot Italian sausage for the spinach pesto mixture and/or bolognese for the marinara.


Blogger s'kat said...

I have tried making vegetarian lasagne before, and while good, it didn't really seem lasagne-like to me. '

And hey... you just can't go wrong with bolognese!!

9:26 AM  

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