Friday, January 29, 2010

Vegetarian Lasagna

Vegetarian Lasagna
Home Cooking


I've been very slack with this post. The photos, recipe, act-of-making this dish all date back to new years eve (nearing a month ago). Other posts kept getting in the way...

Left-overs enjoyed with a book

Ok, the real reason is that I suspect this post will take actual effort to compile. The recipe is a self-invention and whilst that is a benefit at the time of cooking (no measuring quantities, just improvise), it's not great when you're referring to memory and need to type out a recipe for your blog. So, I've been lazy.

I have a special relationship with the vegetarian lasagna. My first taste might have occurred during my short stint as a vegetarian. Or, it might have occurred after. Regardless, this is a food item that convinces me that vegetarians don't have it too tough.


Some vegetarian items are a compromise. I remember eating certain salads and things and just thinking 'this would be awesome, if only it had a MEAT item in it'. To me, a well-made vegetarian lasagna is not a compromise at ALL. Not in the slightest!

In short, I become somewhat obsessed with them. I'd spy out the offerings from various cafes and vegetarian joints, mentally cataloging which ones had the nicest layers, most complimentary ingredients etc. For at least a few weeks, whenever I asked myself "what is it that I am craving RIGHT NOW" the answer would inadvertently be "vegetarian lasagna".

Then came along new years eve (does this event warrant capital letters?)

I decided a few days beforehand that rather than getting drunk out of my mind and spending the first day of 2010 poor and sickly, I'd actually spend the evening reflecting on 09. Sounds cheesy and spiritual and if it was that alone, I might even feel sorry for myself. However, I'm not one to push away an excuse for celebration so I sort of treated myself to some fun. Enter project: "Make an Epic Vegetarian Lasagna".

The entire process took practically 4-5 hours. Don't let that deter you. I was slow because I wasn't 100% committed to the cooking process... I was also intermittently watching TV, reading, doing other doings. It IS a complicated lasagna and I gave it the works but the thing with lasagna is that most components are optional.

This is why I've separated the recipe into sections explaining how I made the components for the lasagna. In the end, it was just a matter of layering the components. If you decide to make a veggie lasagna yourself, you can decide what components to include in your own. The sky's the limit and there's no hard and fast rule as to how complicated or how simple you can be... so long as you pick flavors and ingredients you like.

Vegetarian Lasagna
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 butternut pumpkin
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 Lebanese eggplant
  • 250g baby spinach
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/2-1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 80g brie cheese (can use other cheese as long as it melts)
  • instant lasagna sheets
  • 200g grated tasty cheese
Procedure:

For the pumpkin layer...
1. Steam, boil, microwave or bake the pumpkin. I chopped it into cubes first and baked mine but it would be fine to cook in any other method.
2. Once the pumpkin is cooked, mash it up.
For the zucchini and eggplant...
3. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
4. Slice the zucchini and eggplant and arrange in a single layer on a baking tray.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.6. Grill for ~ 10min or until slightly charred.

For the spinach...
7. Blanch in hot water until wilted. Drain thoroughly.

For the vegetarian bolognaise sauce...
8. Grate the carrot and put aside in a bowl.
9. Bring the canned tomatos and about 1/2 cup of water to the boil. Reduce the heat.
10. Add the carrot and pop the lid on. Cook until the carrot is soft.11. If the sauce is too watery, remove the lid and allow it to thicken.
12. Season with the oregano, salt and pepper. Put aside until needed.

For the bechamel sauce...
13. In a non-stick saucepan on medium-high heat, stir together the butter and flour until it forms a buttery dough ball.
14. Gradually add the milk whilst stirring until it achieves a sauce consistency. You might need to add a bit of flour if it becomes too watery.
15. Break up the cheese and stir into the sauce until melted throughout.16. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

To assemble...
17. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a large dish, layer the ingredients. There's no rule as to what order the layers should be in. Generally, place a layer of vegetable, some sauce, some cheese, a layer of lasagna sheets and repeat with a different vegetable and different sauce. I wanted the layers to look distinct so I kept adjacent layers different in color.18. Finish with a final layer of lasagna sheets and loads of tasty cheese.19. Bake in oven for about 40min or so. Most of the components in this lasagna are already cooked so you're really just waiting for them to reheat evenly and for the lasagna sheets to soften and the cheese to bubble.
20. Let it rest for 10min or so before serving (this allows the flavors to develop).


I should say at this point that I am very honest to myself about my cooking. I've never, ever felt that I'm a 'good cook'. Sorry if you're reading this blog because you're mistakenly under the impression that I'm a domestic queen imparting wisdom via the internet. The cooking component of my food blog basically documents my attempts at meal-making and I haven't had a lot of experience. Baking and dessert-making are areas I am more confident in but making dinner is a gray zone.

After the lasagna is cut into

That aside, I will say right now that my vegetarian lasagna was delicious. As a connoisseur of this dish, I think I have some authority on the matter. I mentioned at the start that it was an improvised self-creation so there quantities in my published recipe are estimates and I can't guarantee that it will duplicate results (maybe I just fluked it?) but in any case, my method worked out well and the chosen flavors and vegetables were perfectly complimentary.

The textural contrasts between the soft, sweet pumpkin, tender spinach, slightly crisp bits of grilled eggplant and melted cheese was absolutely amazing. I was skeptical about my sauces but they worked wonderfully too.

It so happened that on the night, I had just broken my old digital camera and hadn't bought a new one yet. All the photos in this blog (minus the ones below) are from my iPhone. Far from ideal quality/lighting so I know they are the most appealing plate pics, from a visual sense. Whilst my pictures illustrate mush, I defend by claiming that in real life I saw nice, distinct layers in the cross-section. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Plated

The greatest thing is... because I made this dish myself, I know what went in it and I can honestly say it's really a healthy meal. People frequently mislead themselves into believing that all vegetarian dishes are healthy or beneficial for weight loss. This is disregarding the fact that there might be loads of oil, vegetable fats etc. I kept the amount of naughty stuff in my lasagna to a minimal (and used olive oil where I had to use any oil) so I know that it's all good stuff.

Guilt-free, delicious, filling...

The downside is the preparation time but because this lasagna is quite impressive to bear (considering the size and complexity), it'd be great to serve at a family function.

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