Apparently lasagna’s earliest origins can be found in the culinary cultures of both Ancient Greece and Rome. I grew up eating a spicy hybrid version made with tomato sauce and Polish sausage, switching to a bolognese variety when I started cooking for myself in my late teens. I must have been living under a rock in my childhood, though, because it wasn’t until my first trip to Italy that I discovered the delicious delights of ‘authentic’ lasagne, typically made with a bechamel (white) sauce, and sometimes tomato sauce as well. This vegetarian version is so hearty and flavourful thanks to the combination of vegetables and cheese that it might even win over meat lovers. You can make it up to two days ahead and it also freezes beautifully.
- ½ cup (125 mL) butter PLUS 3 tablespoons (45 mL), divided
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt
- 1 large leek (white part only)
- 2 cups (500 mL) finely chopped kale
- 1 pound (454 g) assorted mushrooms
- 5 cups (1.25 L) milk
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
- 3/4 pound (340 g) no-cook lasagna noodles (or equivalent of cooked, cooled noodles)
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan
- 1.5 cups (375 mL) ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) chopped parsley
- 1 cup (250 mL) grated mozzarella
- Split the leek lengthwise using a sharp knife. Gently pry the layers of the leek apart at the top (green end) and run them under cold running water to rinse out the dirt hiding between the layers. Slice the leeks thinly, crosswise.
- Add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil to a large sauté pan and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the leeks, sprinkle with just a little salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and just starting to brown (10 – 15 minutes). Add the kale and sauté for about 3 – 4 minutes until kale has wilted and become tender. Put leeks and kale in a large bowl and set aside.
- Slice the mushrooms ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. Add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil to the same pan you cooked the leeks and kale in; return to medium heat. When the butter has melted, add half the mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt, and cook for about 5 minutes until they are just beginning to brown. Stir regularly to ensure even cooking.
- Add the first batch of mushrooms to the bowl with the kale and leeks; heat another tablespoon each of butter and oil in the same pan and cook the remaining mushrooms in the same way, adding them to the bowl of cooked vegetables when they are done. Set aside.
- Make the béchamel by melting ½ cup (125 mL) of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture is bubbling and smells a bit like cookies baking, pour the milk slowly into the flour and butter mixture, whisking vigorously. Add 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of salt along with the pepper and nutmeg. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.
- To assemble the lasagna, ladle just enough béchamel sauce to cover the bottom of an 8 x 12 inch (20 x 30 cm) baking dish. Arrange a layer of noodles on top of the sauce, then add another generous layer of sauce followed by 1/3 of the cooked vegetables, half the parmesan cheese, and all of the ricotta which has been blended with the parsley, in an even layer.
- Add another layer of noodles, followed by sauce, vegetables and parmesan. Top with one more layer of noodles and sauce.
- Sprinkle mozzarella over the top of the lasagna.
- Bake the lasagna in an oven preheated to 375F for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly and hot. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 – 12 servings.