As I write it is 9.55am on Saturday May 2nd and it is a balmy 6 degrees outside. 6 degrees. These cold mornings are playing havoc with my springtime fitness regime of running every morning. (I’ve managed twice this week). There are a number of reasons why I’m not ready to fully embrace Spring themed food:
1. I don’t really know what’s in season as I don’t live in rural Italy and depend on Ocado for vegetables. (I wished I lived in rural Italy but would really miss daily school runs dodging six lanes of commuter traffic under the M4 flyover)
2. I don’t think I have sufficient culinary knowledge to do so
3. It’s just too cold right now
Vegetable lasagne- an inferior version of the real thing- or is it? My kids love it as much as the meaty kind and it’s the best way of getting an enormous quantity of green matter into the fussy eaters.
I also love it- sure there’s a fair bit of chopping involved, but we ate it on Thursday for tea, Friday for the two year-old’s lunch and the kid’s tea on Friday evening. And we all had second helpings.
This dish is also a great way of clearing the sad, limp vegetables in the fridge. Mushrooms, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, aubergines, onions, carrots, celery- you name it. That half-eaten tin of sweetcorn that always gets binned? Chuck it in the mix. Wilting spinach? It will add iron. Got kids who love peas? Throw them in- still frozen. Even a tin of beans.
There are schools of thought around bothering with a proper bechamel sauce in lasagne. Jamie Oliver recommends substituting a tub of creme fraiche and grating some cheese into it. Me, I like a proper bechamel– the end result is far yummier and I timed myself the other day- it took 6 minutes to make.
Here’s a basic recipe- you can freestyle depending on whatever’s in the fridge, but I would stick with the onions, carrots and celery bit as this gives the whole dish its flavour.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 ribs celery
2 tins tomatoes or 1 tin and 1 carton passata
Salt and pepper
Packet lasagne sheets
1 tbsp flour
300 ml milk (add more if sauce too thick)
100g cheese, grated (anything in the fridge- cheddar, parmesan, pecorino etc) obvs you can never use too much cheese….
Or a large tub of creme fraiche
Chop the vegetables into fairly small dice. Heat the oil in a large casserole or pan and add the onions, carrots and celery. Sweat over a low heat until soft and add everything else. (I add stuff as I’m finished chopping them). Cook for a further 10-15 minutes and add the tinned tomatoes and passata. Season well and simmer until sauce has thickened and vegetables are soft. You can add a little stock (or water) at this stage if you think the sauce too thick. I sometimes squish the sauce with a potato masher lest my offspring take umbrage at the sight of a chunky pepper- but don’t liquidise- it’s not very nice.
Heat the oven to 170C and grease a lasagne tray.
Melt the butter in a small pan and add the flour. Cook on a low heat, stirring for a minute until it starts to resemble scrambled egg. (if it goes brown and biscuity you’ve gone too far). Add the milk and whisk until you see bubbles and the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and add cheese.
If you are using the creme fraiche- just mix with the cheese and hey presto- you have a cheese sauce.
Using a large spoon or ladle, pour a few spoonfuls of bechamel (about a quarter of your sauce) over the bottom of the lasagne dish. Layer the pasta sheets (don’t overlap) making sure there are no gaps. Follow with a layer of the vegetable mixture and repeat two or three times ending with a layer of pasta, covered in bechamel and finished with oodles of grated cheese.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until bubbling and golden.