Monday, 9 April 2012

Jill and Johnny's Vegetarian Lasagna

            Here we are off on another adventure with my friend Jill and you know what that means: a hopefully tasty dish that is meatless. Whenever I talk to Jill she is always filled with thoughts about what she wants to cook and, for someone who claims she has no skills in the kitchen, she thinks about food preparation more than almost anyone I know. She has a sense of adventure which is awesome and most of our food conversations start off with her saying, “I saw Gordon do this or I read about Laura doing that. Can we do that?” I find that it makes me smile as I try to wrap my head around what she wants to cook. So my mind started to work overtime when she told me she wanted to make vegetarian Lasagna. My trepidation about this suggestion was a two parter.  First, I have my own wonderful and magical memories of this dish all of which include copious amounts of both pig and cow. This was a special occasion meal in my family, and the only thing that I wanted to have for dinner on my birthday from the age of eight until, well, now. My Mom makes a killer lasagna and I love her all the more for it. Secondly, most of the vegetarian lasagnas that I have eaten over the years, well, sucked. I remember getting served plates of mushy, congealed.... stuff that always seemed to come with a disclaimer such as “you can’t even taste the tofu” or “you won’t even miss the meat.” For future reference, I always miss meat and tofu is not and will never be a viable alternative nor is it a replacement for meat. It is a good ingredient that I do use but crumbling it up does not make it hamburger. So there I was trying to come up with a good version of vegetarian lasagna. Here we go, I hope it doesn’t suck.

            So here are a couple of things that we did that seemed to work really well. The addition of some smashed walnuts to your tomato sauce will add some texture to and extra flavor to it. I like it but it may not be for everyone so feel free to omit them if you are not a fan of nuts. We used raw zucchini but if you have the time and the inclination you can grill it to add a roasted flavor. While we are on the subject of vegetables you can add whichever ones you like, grilled eggplant would work great and I have even used roasted carrots which add sweetness to the dish. This is all up to you. Cook your pasta about half way to being done before you layer it in. If you cook it all the way it turns into mush when you bake the lasagna as a whole, if you put it in raw it will still be crunchy when you pull it out of the oven. Let’s get to it.

Jill and Johnny’s Veg. Lasagna to the tune of Orange Sky by Alexi Murdoch

Tomato sauce layer

1 can crushed tomatoes
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 onion finely diced
2 cloves minced garlic
½ cup smashed walnuts toasted
Salt and pepper

Put all of your ingredients into a sauce pan over medium heat and let reduce until thick. Part one is done.

Cheese sauce layer

¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2-3 cups whole milk
1 cup of shredded cheese whatever kind you like I would lean towards a milder cheese.

In a saucepan over medium heat melt your butter and then add your flour to make a roux.

Add your milk heat through, don’t let it boil.

Add your cheese and whisk until smooth. If it gets too thick add more milk and whisk more. It should run off your whisk not congeal on it. Part two is done.

The rest of the layers

2 cups of Ricotta cheese
A big handful of fresh chopped spinach
1 zucchini sliced, enough to make a good overlapping layer in your pan
Mushrooms, enough to make a good overlapping layer in your pan
Lasagna noodles, par cooked enough to make two layers in your pan
2-3 cups Grated mozzarella cheese
Grated parmesan cheese

Combine the ricotta and chopped spinach in a bowl.

Layer the sucker, noodles in first, tomato sauce next, zucchini, noodles, cheese sauce, mushrooms, ricotta and spinach, grated mozzarella and then finish with the parmesan.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45- 60 minutes.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes so that the thing can set up before you cut into it.

There it is. Give it a go and let me know.

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