One dish I remember loving as a child is my mum’s vegetarian lasagne, made with alternating layers of ratatouille and red lentils, topped with a rich cheese sauce. I made a version for dinner last night and was instantly reminded how warm and comforting this dish is. A rare thing for a meal that is pretty damn virtuous to boot. It’s not the season for ratatouille so for the vegetable layers I used the bulk from the River Cafe winter minestrone that I had made for lunch. I didn’t follow the recipe to a T, so I feel it’s okay to post my version on here for reference.
Mum’s vegetarian lasagne, winter remix
Serves 4, generously
Vegetable layer (winter minestrone, makes plenty for lasagne plus 3-4 servings of soup)
Olive oil for frying
1 head fresh chard, slice fine and keep stalks separate from leaves
3/4 head of green cabbage, sliced thinly
Celery heart, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 leek, sliced
1 head of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 litre vegetable stock
1 tin flageolet beans
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Black pepper and salt (be sparing with salt if using powdered stock)
Heat olive oil in a deep casserole and fry onion, leek, carrot and celery for 20 mins until well cooked.
Add tomatoes, chard stalks, rosemary and garlic and cook down for a further ten minutes.
Add the hot stock along with half the chard greens, half the cabbage and three quarters of the flageolet beans. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Puree the remaining flageolet beans and a little olive oil with a hand blender.
Stir in the remaining greens and pureed beans and cook for just 3-4 minutes so that the greens retain their colour and bite.
Season with salt and pepper. If serving as a soup, coursely grate some parmesan or pecorino over the top first.
For the lentil layer
1/2 pint red split lentils
2 pints water
1 can plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
Par-boil the lentils by bringing to the boil in 2 pints of unsalted cold water, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes from boiling.
While you cook the lentils, heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and fry the garlic for 1-2 minutes until just starting to colour. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopped, and the oregano and leave to reduce over a low heat while the lentils cook.
Strain the cooked lentils thoroughly in a sieve and add to the tomato mixture. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes until the flavours have combined and the sauce is loose but not watery.
For the cheese topping
(omit the cheese for a lower fat version)
25g plain flour
1/2 pint whole milk (approx)
4-5 tablespoons grated cheese, I tend to use strong cheddar
Dash Worcester sauce
Good grating fresh nutmeg
Good grinding of black pepper
Melt the butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Stir in flour to form a smooth paste.
Add the milk a dribble at a time, stirring constantly, until you have a smooth, glossy white sauce that is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Stir in cheese and melt slowly into the sauce, stirring constantly.
Season with pepper, Worcester sauce and nutmeg.
Cover with cling film until needed to stop the top from congealing while you assemble the lasagne.
To assemble the lasagne
1 box plain lasagne sheets
Large rectangular oven-proof dish
Preheat oven to 200c
Spoon a layer of lentils to cover the bottom of your ovenproof dish, then top with lasagne sheets and then a layer of winter veg. Repeat until the dish is full or you have run out of lasagne sheets.
The top should be a final layer of pasta, followed by the cheese sauce. Make sure you spread the sauce to the edges of the pasta. If you like you can grate on some extra cheese before cooking in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is browned and the pasta, soft.
Serve with a fresh salad.
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