06 August 2009

Recipe For Vegetarian Lasagne With Spinach

Recipe For Vegetarian Lasagne With Spinach

Personally, I have never been a great fan of lasagne even if it is one of those firm family and probably national favourites.  But then again, I don’t like spaghetti bolognaise.  I am in a minority of 1 versus several hundreds of millions of people in thinking that pasta and meat just do not mix.

So the idea of a vegetarian lasagne seems to me to be a good thing.  In fact, while Britain and America tend to eat lasagne based on the lasagne al bolognaise, many parts of Italy enjoy a vegetarian-style lasagne with aubergine (eggplant) and ricotta replacing the ragu.

Our recipe replaces the traditional ragu with a tomato sauce and a spinach and ricotta cheese filling.  For those of you that are interested the ragu should not be the British idea of a tomato flavoured mince but should be a more flavoursome, more substantial sauce, so I will include a version of this over the weekend for those committed carnivores.

Also, from a spices perspective, it is vital that you put nutmeg within the béchamel sauces as nutmeg is very important in traditional Italian lasagne from Bologna and I really like nutmeg, and sometimes a pinch of chilli or hot paprika, in white sauce.

Tomato sauce

½ tbsp              Olive oil

1                      Small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves            Garlic, minced

1tsp                  Steenbergs organic dried oregano

½ tsp                Steenbergs sea salt

¼ tsp                Steenbergs coarse ground pepper

3 x 400g            Chopped tinned tomatoes (we use Suma brand)

1 tbsp               Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Béchamel sauce

500ml                Organic whole milk

2                      Steenbergs Organic bay leaves

¼                     Onion, finely chopped

¼ tsp                Steenbergs Fairtrade nutmeg powder

50g                   Organic butter

50g                   Organic plain flour, sieved

Spinach & ricotta filling

340g                 Fresh spinach, trimmed

450g                 Ricotta cheese

2                      Large free range eggs, beaten

2                      Cloves of garlic, minced

30g                   Grated Parmesan cheese

Sea salt & pepper to taste

For the lasagne

400g                 Fresh lasagne pasta or 12 lasagne sheets

3 big balls         Mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 180oC.  Prepare your lasagne dish by lightly greasing the sides with a sunflower oil.

To make the tomato sauce: heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed non-stick saucepan.  Cook the onion and garlic, stirring for about 5 minutes until translucent.  Add the oregano, sea salt, organic Fairtrade black pepper and tinned organic tomatoes.  Cook over a medium heat for 30 - 45 minutes until the tomatoes have become a nice thick texture.  Add the chopped parsley and set aside.

To make the béchamel sauce: pour the milk into a large, heavy-bottomed non-stick saucepan.  Add the bay leaves, onion and organic Fairtrade nutmeg powder and gently bring to the boil and then take off the heat just as the bubbles start appearing.  In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour.  Beat well with a wooden spoon and cook for 2 minutes.  Now this is the bit to be patient with, to ensure that you get a good smooth sauce.  Add a little bit of the milk to the flour mixture and combine really well.  When all the milk has been absorbed and the lumps are gone, add a little bit more.  Continue with this until all the milk has been added, blending in with your wooden spoon all the time.

To make spinach & ricotta filling: steam the spinach until wilted (if fresh) or if frozen heat through either in a saucepan or the microwave.  Drain, squeeze out any excess water and chop coarsely.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add the ricotta, beaten eggs, garlic and Parmesan.  Season with sea salt, black pepper and a big pinch of Fairtrade nutmeg powder.  Mix well and set aside.  As an alternative you could use aubergine which has been thinly sliced and shallow fried, together with the ricotta and other ingredients.

Blanch the pasta in salted boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain.

Spread half the béchamel sauce over the bottom of the lasagne dish.  Layer ¼ of the pasta over the sauce, overlapping them slightly.  Spread half of the tomato sauce over the pasta and top with half of the mozzarella.  Layer another quarter of the pasta over this and spread half of the spinach & ricotta.  Continue to layer with pasta, tomato sauce, mozzarella, pasta and spinach & ricotta mixture.  Spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the top and dot with mozarella.  Cover with foil.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking until bubbling which should take another 15 minutes or so.  Remove from the oven and serve.