EASY VEGETARIAN LASAGNE: SECRETS OF THE ITALIAN TRADITIONAL RECIPE

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I am meeting my friend Margs at Sainsbury’s to get the ingredients for the dinner party. After the success of the vegan feast she expressed the desire of learning some Italian basic recipes – my first thought was “lasagne”. Making a lasagne is quite easy but it requires some basic knowledge of how to prepare a ragu and a white sauce – yes, we use white sauce no ricotta.

In the spirit of using veggies instead of meat I proposed to cook a mushroom ragu lasagne which, to be fair, I like it even more than the carnivore version. The earthiness / umami of the mushrooms combined with the creamy, sweet white sauce and the parmesan is such a flavour bomb.

Before continuing I should reveal some granny’s secrets that are going to make your lasagne a hit with your friends.

  1. THE CRUST: great lasagne means great crust. We love those burnt, crispy, cheesy corners of lasagne. We fight over them. We make poems on them. We create 3 Michelin stars dishes like “The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna” by chef Massimo Bottura. It’s a collective childhood memory that every Italian cherishes in the heart.
  2. THE WHITE SAUCE: as I said we don’t use ricotta or mozzarella – unless you are making parmigiana di melanzane which is a completely different world – we use white sauce and you should too. White sauce, bechamel in French, is just a perfect canvas of creaminess and sweetness that you can pair with any sauce into your lasagne and it will make the difference. 
  3. THE NUTMEG: that je ne sais quoi to add to your white sauce or a tortellini filling that brings all the flavours to life.
  4. THE MISO: !!disclaimer for all the Italians reading…I know this is not a traditional, I know some of you are horrified at the idea of introducing miso into your grandma’s recipe but hold your horses and listen up!! Miso is my personal secret ingredient that I use pretty much in everything and it’s just that x factor that brings the dish to the next level. Miso is a fermented soybean paste from Asia that is widely used in many dishes to enhance flavours and add umami. If you don’t know how to use miso think of it like a stock cube, you can add it to soups, sauces, stews, marinates etc. 

Now that we have established some ground rules of DO and DON’TS when making lasagne it’s time to take that apron out and cook!

Lasagne crust.

INGREDIENTS x 6 people

1 pack lasagne sheet – 500 gr

180 gr grated parmesan

Mushroom sauce

500 gr tomato passata

Oregano

Basil

1 tablespoon Tomato paste

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon Miso

1.2 kg mixed mushroom

3 tablespoons Olive Oil

1 carrot

½ onion

Thyme

3 garlic cloves

White sauce

1 lt milk + ⅓ cup

100 gr butter

100 gr flour

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Salt

Black pepper


METHOD

Mushroom sauce 

  1. Chop the mushrooms in small pieces and set aside.
  2. In a heavy pot heat up 3 tablespoon of olive oil, add the peeled garlic cloves gently smashed and let them gently fry until golden brown then remove.
  3. Chop the carrot and the onion in 1 cm cubes and add to the pan with 1 tablespoon of tomato concentrate, cook on medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, turn up the heat to help the alcohol evaporate. Then add the mushrooms, reduce to medium heat and cook the mushrooms until they are reduced to half of the initial volume.
  5. Add the tomato passata, 3 sprigs of thyme, 1 tablespoon of oregano and 6/7 basil leaves roughly chopped. Let the sauce simmer for 30 mins then add a heaped tablespoon of miso and regulate with salt and black pepper to taste. Remove the thyme sprigs.

White sauce

  1. In a saucepan let the butter melt on medium heat, then add the flour and immediately stir to avoid big clumps. You will get a thick paste consistency, keep stirring for 5 minutes until the butter and flour mixture reaches a golden colour.
  2. Add the milk little by little, keep stirring to fully incorporate the milk before adding more. Once all the milk is added, cook the sauce on a slow gentle heat. Stirring to prevent scorching at the bottom. Add ½ teaspoon of grounded nutmeg, salt and black pepper to taste.
  3. Turn off the heat when you reach a loose custard consistency, move into a bowl to cool down and cover with cling film.

Assembly

  1. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of mushroom sauce at the bottom of the baking tray. Now cover the whole surface with the first layer of uncooked lasagne sheets, break them into smaller pieces to fill the gaps. 
  2. On the pasta sheets pour an even layer of white sauce, enough to cover the pasta but not too thick. Add a layer of mushroom sauce, then sprinkle a generous handful of grated parmesan. Repeat again the layering: pasta -> white sauce-> mushroom sauce-> parmesan. You need to use your ingredients carefully, without overfilling the first layers otherwise you will not have enough left for the top layer.
  3. You should be able to make 3 to 4 layers before the last layer. Now you are almost done, you still have few tablespoons of all the ingredients. Lay the remaining pasta sheets, then the white sauce, mushroom sauce and parmesan as before but this time we leave the top layer uncovered, no more pasta sheets. The top is going to get brown and crispy in the oven, a nice cheesy and creamy crust….. 
  4. Pour the remaining milk in the gaps along the perimeter of the lasagne. Because we are using uncooked pasta the milk helps to not dry out the lasagne  sheets while cooking.
  5. Cook in a preheated oven at 180 degrees celsius for 35-40 mins. Cover with foil halfway through if the top is getting too dark.
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool down for at least 10 mins before serving. 
  7. Enjoy!

TIP: The mushroom ragu is a delicious sauce to use with pasta as well!


Let me know if you liked the recipe in the comments! I would love to hear from you about your favourite lasagne, do you have a family recipe? What ingredients do you use in your lasagne? Have you ever tried a vegetarian lasagne? Do you use ricotta or white sauce? Have you ever used miso before?

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN TRADITIONAL ITALIAN RECIPES HAVE A LOOK AT MY PAST ARTICLE:

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