Since it’s the weekend, I thought I would offer a weekend recipe. Vegetable lasagna or lasagne? Grammarians, please help! I’m not sure if you can get these veggies right now. I do know you can plant seeds right now and grow some of them – at least the basil. I have a cart full of seeds from Botanical Interests so I can effectively feed
our family the deer again this summer.
Let me give you the story of how this vegetable lasagna came into my world. We have dear friends who we would often get together with for dinner and sometimes intense euchre games as Mary J Blige serenaded us in the background. One night, they invited us over and asked if we would be ok to eat some of a leftover vegetable lasagna they had. This was prior to kids for us, and also prior to my commitment to eat my veggies. But of course we said yes, even though I wasn’t so sure about vegetable lasagna. I was even less sure as we were being served and my friend was describing all the steps and vegetables involved. Mushrooms, peppers, eggplant… none of those were in my diet at the time. And goat cheese?! I think it might have been the first time I had goat cheese. Lasagna was served, I took a bite, and to my astonishment, I LOVED it! There’s a chance I asked for seconds…
Fast forward to the birth of our first baby – this dear friend delivered us a meal of this vegetable lasagna. And she did so again after our second baby, after our third, and after our fourth. Did I keep having babies in order to have a continual delivery of vegetable lasagna? Maybe…
This lasagna really is a labor of love. You make two homemade sauces: a red tomato sauce and a white béchamel. There’s a lot of vegetable cutting, sautéing, eggplant marinating and breading, and noodle cooking. But it’s all so incredibly worth it. Unless you ask my youngest two boys – they’re primarily on the roasted vegetable train. One gagged a good bit, but ate it with a sweet smile in between gags. The other flat out refused and went to bed in tears. He did eat it the next day. But I feel like most kids seem to be fine with their vegetables these days and even like them. We failed vegetable consumption in our parenting.
There are ways you can make this recipe easier. You can use jarred pasta sauce. Trader Joe’s sells shredded carrots which you could use and in their freezer section, I think you can find breaded eggplant slices. Also, if you haven’t discovered the tubes of tomato paste yet (Trader Joes, Whole Foods has it), you must find it. I used to use the little cans and freeze tablespoon-sized scoops that were leftover. I don’t know why that seemed so annoying to me, but the tubes of tomato paste cause me to smile each time I use them.
Ok, now you have something to do this weekend! Or whenever you can locate the ingredients. The recipe says it serves 6. Maybe 6 giants? I say 12 normal appetites, or 8-10 hungrier people. You will have extra tomato sauce – use it within a few days or freeze it for later use. I probably used closer to 4 cups in this recipe.
Vegetable Garden Lasagna
- 1 eggplant
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 8 tbsp olive oil
- 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
- 1 large onion, cut in slivers
- 12 ounces fresh cultivated mushrooms, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 8 ounces lasagne noodles
- 3 cups New Basic Tomato Sauce (I used closer to 4 cups)
- 1½ cups Béchamel Sauce
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 5 ounces chèvre (goat cheese)
- ½ cup slivered fresh basil leaves
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
For the New Basic Tomato Sauce (Yields 6 cups)
- 2 cans 35 ounces each plum tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onions
- ½ cup finely chopped carrot
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried basil
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Salt, to taste
- pinch of dried red pepper flakes optional
For the Béchamel Sauce (Yields 1 3/4 cups)
- 4 tbsp ½ stick unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups milk
- pinch of paprika
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- Salt and ground white pepper, to taste
Make the Tomato Sauce
Drain the tomatoes, reserving 1 cup of the juice. Crush the tomatoes with the back of a spoon, and set aside.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrot, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onions and garlic have wilted, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, reserved juice, wine, tomato paste, and remaining ingredients. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring once.
Remove the cover and simmer another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Make the Béchamel Sauce
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook over low, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Raise heat to medium and slowly add the milk, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Continue whisking until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste; stir well. Remove from the heat. To cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a film of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.
Make the Lasagna
Slice the eggplant into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle them with the coarse salt, and let drain in a colander for 1 hour. Wipe off the salt and pat dry.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the bell peppers and onion, and sauté over medium-low heat until cooked through but not browned, 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the peppers and onion from the skillet. Add another 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté the mushrooms until cooked, 5 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from the skillet, and add 3 more tablespoons olive oil. Dredge the eggplant with the flour, shaking off the excess, and sauté the slices on both sides, over medium heat, until lightly browned, adding more olive oil as needed. Transfer the cooked eggplant to paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the lasagne, and cook at a rolling boil until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again.
Spread a small amount of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 13 × 9 inch baking dish. Arrange half the lasagne noodles over the sauce. Cover with the peppers, onion, mushrooms, and eggplant, in layers. Mix the béchamel and Parmesan together, and spoon half on top of the vegetables. Crumble the chèvre over the béchamel, and sprinkle with half the basil. Top with more tomato sauce, and then another layer of lasagne noodles. Spread the remaining béchamel over the lasagne, and sprinkle with the remaining basil. Top with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the mozzarella.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until brown and bubbly, another 15 minutes.