A few years ago, I got a call from a guest who was about two hours away from coming to dinner. He’d called to tell me that he and his new wife had become vegetarian. Quite frankly, my initial impulse was to continue cooking the dinner I’d planned and let the two of them survive on the baked potatoes I was cooking. They were the only completely vegetarian item on the menu that night. I managed to control myself, eliminated the crisp pancetta from Martha Stewart’s sauteed spinach recipe and ditched making the pie with its Crisco (lard) crust. Instead I served the berries meant for its filling all by their lonesome. I seethed with every change to the menu I made. Since then, I’ve come a long way. I’ve embraced Meatless Mondays and lightened up on meat proteins in our diet. I’ll never be anything other than an omnivore and meat will always find its way onto our table. But today, I’m sharing a classic recipe that might just change even a meat-and-potatoes man into, well, a meat-and-potatoes man who loves his vegetables.
For devoted readers of Chewing the Fat, if this recipe sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it was one that I shared with you when the blog was a lot newer. It’s from this very week in 2011. The recipe has a long list of ingredients but I want to assure you it is not that time-consuming. But it is exceptional. From Saveur’s great “The New Comfort Food–Home Cooking from around the world” (Chronicle Books 2011), here is a lasagna that, with a meat sauce, would have been an almost too-hearty dish for this time of year. Instead, the layers of mushrooms and the meat-y tomatoes, the creamy béchamel, the two cheeses—even the pasta—were light and delicious. Not at all heavy, it was the perfect thing to serve with a simple green salad and some crusty French bread. And believe it or not, I got the whole thing in the oven in under an hour. The lasagna noodles went straight into the dish uncooked which not only saved time, it also gave the lasagna the body to hold together beautifully. Try this. I think you’ll be amazed at how light, delicious and healthy it is. Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Vegetarian Lasagna adapted from Saveur’s “New Comfort Food” (Chronicle Books 2011) Serves 6-8. Prep 1 hour. Baking Time 1 hr;
12 tbsp. unsalted butter
12 sun-dried tomatoes
1 shallot, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1⁄2 cup flour
5 cups milk
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. shiitake and white mushrooms,
2 cups fresh basil leaves
OR 1/2 lb. of baby spinach leaves
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. chopped oregano
1 tbsp. chopped thyme
1 tbsp. chopped rosemary
1 tbsp. tomato paste
5 cups whole canned tomatoes, ( 2- 28 oz. cans) crushed)
1 lb. “no boiling required” lasagna noodles
2 1⁄2 cups grated grana padano
2 1⁄2 cups grated fontina
1. Grease a 9″x 13″ baking pan with 1 tbsp. butter. Cover dried tomatoes with 1 cup boiling water; soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Chop; set aside.
2. Make béchamel: Heat 8 tbsp. butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and carrots; cook 5 minutes. Add flour; cook 2 minutes. Whisk in milk; boil. Reduce to medium-low; simmer, whisking, until thick, 20–25 minutes. Add nutmeg; season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and remaining butter in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 10 minutes. Add dried tomatoes, basil leaves or spinach, garlic, parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and tomato paste; cook 3 minutes. Add canned tomatoes. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set sauce aside.
4. Heat oven to 375˚. Spread 2 cups tomato sauce in baking dish. Cover with a layer of noodles. Spread 1 cup béchamel over top; sprinkle with 1⁄2 cup of each cheese and 2 cups tomato sauce. Repeat layering 2 more times. Top with remaining noodles, tomato sauce, béchamel, and cheeses. Bake covered with foil on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Remove foil; raise oven to 500˚. Bake until golden, 15 minutes more.
5. Serve with a green salad tossed in a simple vinaigrette and crusty country bread.