The earliest recipe for lasagne was recorded as far back as the 14th century in Liber de Coquina (The Book of Cookery/Cooking), reported to be one of the oldest medieval cookbooks; perhaps it was the Hairy Biker’s British Classics of that era. In the seven centuries since the medieval best seller, the Italian dish has been presented with a wide variety of variations and fillings. So I don’t think I’m denigrating a beloved ethnic cuisine.
What I’m offering on Foodie Friday is a vegetarian dish, not vegan. Undoubtedly you can find lasagne recipes for most all dietary needs. For example, there is a raw vegan lasagne, if that floats your boat. It looks wholesome and nutritious. I’ll give it a shot between now and my best before date and review it on a Foodie Friday.
There have been gazillions of tweaked lasagne recipes since the 14th century, when the Black Death swept across Europe, unlike, ahem, ‘happier’ times today. So what’s the original? Who knows, who cares! My first recipe was from a cookbook long forgotten. In the quest to perfect a meal harmonious to the family’s taste, I added or removed spices, chucked walnuts and almonds, fooled around with celery and courgettes, and dabbled with mushrooms and tomatoes.
I also frequently changed the preparation process.
In the late 1980s, my wife and I came out of the cupboard and told everyone we were vegetarian. We didn’t label ourselves at first, we just said we did not eat fish, fowl or meat and the by-products of same. It was a different era for herbivores 35 years ago in beautiful downtown North America. Hunting for good food, intently reading ingredients on labels and trying strange new recipes was a pretty steep learning curve. Although our biggest challenge was stultus populus.
Out of the hunt for new meal variations emerged Lasagne Vegetariana. Sure, it’s Italian for vegetarian lasagne but I thought I’d dress up the name to honour the origin of the dish.
How does one create this scrumptious meal that I lovingly prepare and present to my family at least twice every three months? As with any meal, time is the biggest contribution.
How long will it take from preparation to serving?
For the gathering, chopping, measuring of ingredients, putting it all together in a dish and making it ready to cook you’re looking at 90 minutes. Add an hour for actually cooking my beloved masterpiece, then 5-10 minutes of rest so everything can set. So plan for 2 hours and 40 minutes, 3 hours tops, from preparation to serving.
Speaking of serving, using the size of the serving dish noted below, this recipe makes a full serving for six, or more in smaller portions if served with a salad or other accompaniment, such as Sue Dymond’s Red Cabbage Slaw.
You’re going to need these items and ingredients
- Pot for tomato sauce mixture, large
- Bowl for cheese sauce mixture, large
- Bowl for mixture, large – it’ll make sense as we go along, trust me.
- Frying pan, large
- Serving dish, large. For this recipe I use a dish measuring 34.29cm (13.5in) long x 23.5cm (9.25in) wide x 6.35cm (2.5in) deep. It is one of my wife’s favourite serving dishes that has travelled with us across oceans and continents. I am aware that if I drop it I must open the front door and keeping running.
- Measuring cup with increments to 500ml
- Whisk and stirring spoons
- Microwave (optional)
- Oven and hob (not optional)
- 500 – 525ml Bolognese pasta sauce. If you make your own Bolognese sauce, bonus! If you don’t, hop on down to your shopping mart and pick up a 500g jar of Bolognese sauce. Only the Bolognese purists will know, and if they discover your shortcut just say, “Not my problem.”
- Veggie cubes, 2
- Vegetarian mince, 454g, thawed
- Onions, 2 medium, quartered and sliced. You can speed up the tendering process by putting the slices in a bowl, covering with cling film and microwaving them for three minutes.
- Spice and herb combination of 3 tbsp oregano, 2 tbsp basil, 1 tbsp chilli powder, then thoroughly mix together in a bowl.
- Garlic, one bulb (8 to 10 cloves) chopped. If you use garlic in a jar, not a problem, at least with me. Your product jar, if you can read the very fine print print without resorting to the James Webb Telescope, should tell you how many teaspoons or tablespoons there are to a clove. Do the maths.
- Cooking oil, approximately 100ml
- Eggs, 4, whisked until golden
- Mozzarella cheese, 500g, grated
- Parmesan, 200g, grated; buy a chunk of Parmesan that you have to grate which is better than the packaged ready-grated product.
- Cottage cheese, 600g
- Lasagne sheets, 16 to 18, preferably whole-wheat. I purchase sheets that don’t need to be pre-cooked. I half-arsed do it anyway. We’ll explain how in the next section.
Preparing the lasagne dish and mince
- Pour about 100ml of the Bolognese sauce into the serving dish, just enough to cover the bottom.
- Dissolve the veggie cube in 500 ml (2 cups) of hot water to make veggie cube stock.
- Pour half of the remaining veggie cube stock and about 100ml cooking oil into a large frying pan and heat to simmer. Do not boil.
- Put the mince in a large enough bowl and pour over the remainder of the veggie cube stock.
- Mix the mince well with the veggie cube stock, ensuring the mince absorbs the liquid, then drain thoroughly.
- Add a third of the spice combination to the mince and mix well.
- Set aside.
Preparing the tomato sauce
- If you haven’t cooked the sliced onions in the microwave, per the instructions under ingredients, do so now. If you’re going commando (letting it tenderise in the cooking process) then wait for step three (below).
- On the hob, on medium heat, pour half of the remaining Bolognese sauce into a large pot. When stock is just starting to get warm add the onions and cook until tender.
- Add garlic; mix in and stir for a minute or two.
- Add half the remaining spice combination.
- Add the mince and the rest of the Bolognese sauce.
- Give everything a good stir and add the remainder of the spice combination.
- Stir constantly – lightly – until mixture starts to bubble.
- Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat.
- Turn the oven on to 180˚C.
Time to prepare the cheese sauce
- Grate the Parmesan (if you haven’t done so beforehand).
- Whisk all eggs until well combined and golden.
Add the following to bowl #1, stirring in each ingredient one at a time until thoroughly combined.
- Half of the cottage cheese
- Half of the mozzarella cheese
- A third of the Parmesan (note, no more than a third)
- Remainder of the cottage cheese
- Remainder of the mozzarella cheese
Add the following to bowl #2
- Scoop a third of the of the cheese sauce from bowl #1 into bowl #2.
- Add a third of the tomato sauce from the pot into bowl #2 and mix the two sauces together.
Putting it all together
- Make sure you covered the bottom of the dish with Bolognese sauce per item #1 under Preparing the lasagne dish and mince.
- Put six Lasagne sheets into the frying pan and simmer on a low heat. Place in a star pattern and wait for about three minutes so the Lasagne sheets soften just slightly.
- Take the Lasagne sheets out of the frying pan and place them into the serving dish as a layer; a wee bit of overlap is expected and OK. If there are gaps along the edges of the serving dish cook a spare Lasagne sheet and cut to size.
- Add six more Lasagne sheets to the frying pan.
- Cover the Lasagne sheets in the serving dish with the cheese sauce from bowl #1.
- Add another Lasagne sheet layer and put seven more Lasagne sheets into the frying pan.
- Cover the Lasagne sheet layer in the serving dish with the combined tomato sauce and cheese sauce from bowl #2.
- Sprinkle no more than half of the remaining Parmesan evenly over the bowl #2 mixture.
- Add the final Lasagne sheet layer.
- Cover the final Lasagne sheet layer with the remaining tomato sauce from the pot.
- Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan evenly over the tomato sauce mixture.
- Cover the serving dish with foil.
Deliver your creation to the oven
- Cook for one hour at 180˚C
- After 45 minutes, remove the foil.
- Leave in the oven for another 15 minutes.
- After one hour, remove from the oven and let stand, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Leftovers can be frozen for up to three months. For re-use, thaw, then microwave on high for two or three minutes.
Foodie Friday is published weekly. If you have a favourite recipe you’d like to share with Bylines Scotland’s readership then please email your contributions to [email protected] and be sure to type Foodie Friday in the subject field. Thank you for sharing.