Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vegetarian lasagna, baby

I've been on the hunt for a recipe for vegetarian lasagna for a very long time. It's not that there aren't any around; it's just that none appealed to me. Looking for a good recipe is like looking for a life partner: lotsa good men around but mostly there's just no chemistry. Know what I mean? 

Then along comes Nigel Slater. I bought Kitchen Diaries about a month ago and have been devouring the pages of his cooking journal almost non-stop. I take it with me to the gym (imagine if you will the hard-cover book propped against the counter of the cross trainer as I sweat it out!), to work (I read it as I wait for and  ride the lifts), to the post office (waiting around has never been so pleasant) and to the coffee shop (forget about having a conversation; I'm with Nigel). I am sure that the little gasps,  the oohs and aaahs that escape me uncontrollably as I read  the book make it seem like I'm reading a great book of fiction A romance novel or perhaps.a captivating mystery. 

The book is fantastic. I've come to one conclusion: this man eats really tasty meals. It isn't often that you want to try every single recipe in a book right away but that's kinda what's happened with me and the Kitchen Diaries.  

I decided to review the book for the column (Don't Call Me Chef in The Star: out tomorrow today) and was really spoilt for choice deciding the recipes to include in the review. Everything looked and sounded delicious. EVERYTHING. The desserts will make you want to throw off your diet with nary a thought. Even his take-out dinners (yes there are times he doesn't feel up to cooking) sound divine.

I settled on Slater's brownie (the best I've tasted)  and his zucchini cakes with feta and dill (see pic below). for the review. Superb.  

But what I really wanted to make was his lasagna. And his lime tart. And the no-tears onion soup. And a whole lot more.

Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries isn't a vegetarian cookbook. Hell, no. But it's a very inspiring, easy-to-read, joyful book that charts  Slater's culinary adventures every day in a particular year. There's plenty for vegetarians and plenty more for vegetarians who love to cook. 

So anyway, back to the lasagna. I am not very fond of  lasagna (or pasta, for that matter) that is bathed or tossed in tomato-based sauces. I much prefer white sauces or no sauce at all. Good old olive oil is what I want for my pasta, thank you very much. 

Slater's lasagna is doused with bechamel sauce (milk, flour, butter) and filled with mushrooms-- delicious, plump portabellos and topped with a basil pesto. Are you drooling yet? Are you?

Not a 30-minute meal, this one. There are  three components that make up Slater's lasagna with pesto and mushroom. First you have to make the bechamel sauce. He says store-bought bechamel sauce is fine but I haven't come across any here so I made it myself. Next, the basil pesto. Then you have to cook the mushroom (with onions, garlic, cream and parsley) and of course, you have to cook the lasagna sheets in boiling water .

With a 50-minute baking time, it takes at least an hour-and-a-half to make the lasagna. But it's worth it. Slater combines dried porcini mushrooms with some plump portobellos but I didn't have the former so I used some button whites instead.    

Let's start with the  Bechamel Sauce
500 ml whole milk
2 heaped tablespoons flour
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
45g butter

Heat the milk, bay leaves and peppercorns in a pan until it starts to boil. Take off the heat and let the ingredients sit in the milk for about 30 mins. Strain. Melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk till smooth: low fire, remember. Take off the heat and whisk in the milk. Return to the heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove.
For the pesto:
1/2 cup pine nuts
3-4 handfuls of  basil
3-4 tablespoons grated parmesan
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
I used my mortar and pestle but you can use your food processor/blender. Bash the garlic with some salt. Add the basil and pound till it's a paste. Add the toased pine nuts, cheese and olive oil till it becomes a nice gooey paste.
For the sautéed mushrooms:
A thick slice of butter

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

500g mushrooms, sliced

1 handful chopped parsley

10g porcini mushrooms

1/2 cup cream
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Sauté the onions and garlic in the butter over a medium heat for around 15  minutes until they get transparent and really soft. Once the onions have softened, add the mushrooms and cook till they change colour and get nice and soft. Add the parsley, cream , and  parmesan. Cook for around 15  minutes, until the sauce has thickened. 
Prepare the lasagna sheets:
Cook the sheets in a pot of salted, boiling water till al dente: about 12 mins.
Heat up  the oven: 180C
Get you baking dish ready. Spoon in a bit of the bechamel to cover the bottom and then place  a layer of lasagna sheets on top of the sauce. Pour out half the mushroom mixture onto the sheets, sprinkle with some parmesan and then follow up with another layer of the bechamel sauce. Now place another  layer of pasta, the rest of the mushrooms and then the pesto. Top it with the rest of the bechamel. Right on top, shave or grate some parmesan and you're good to go.
Bake for 40-50 mins or till the top is nice and golden brown and the sauce is bubbling over.


  1. So yummy, mmmm.
    I sometimes watch Mr Slater cooking on TV here (BBC or ITV?) and find him really inspiring.

  2. Cook the lasagne first? Are you sure that's in the recepie? Also the dried mushrooms, will I just put them back in my cupboard?
    Tasted good though.


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