Okay, I’ve gotta put it out there. This isn’t the best lasagne ever made, well not by my book. I mean it’s damn tasty but not the one and only. Don’t let my sister hear that though. I’d be labelled a traitor. Blasphemous. Insane. You see, this lasagne is her ‘meal to eat before I die’. It’s cheesy, it’s tomatoey and it has four, yes four, layers of pasta. Her kind of heaven. And no matter what I cook, nothing quite lives up to it. It’s become common for me to ask “what did you think of….?” and for her to reply “well, it was alright but not as good as lasagne”. Attempting to create something that surpasses the ‘holy’ lasagne is daft. It just won’t happen. Despite her slender frame, I’m almost positive that my lil sis is a true reincarnation of Garfield. You can virtually hear her purr after downing a slab of lasagne.
When making this particular lasagne I have a shadow – she follows me around, hovering, waiting for the chance to lick clean the pot for bechamel sauce. I usually make a big batch on a Sunday for her to take for lunches, but by Monday morning appears as though a mouse has been nibbling at the corners. I’m telling you, she can’t help herself. It’s instinctive. Compulsive tendencies aside, the big plus with this dish is that it’s pretty much a platform for whatever veg you have on hand. As long as there’s lentils, kidney beans, plenty of cheese and pasta she’s happy. In her mind the veg is pretty irrelevant – simply something that has to be there. End of story. The recipe below lists the ingredients we most commonly use, however grated pumpkin, corn kernels, green beans, broccoli or spinach would also work well. Just stick the quantities as a guideline so as to ensure that the sauce is – in my sister’s words – sloppy.
The quantities below will make about a litre of extra veggie sauce. But there’s no harm in that. It will freeze for up to three months and is incredibly useful to have on hand. It’s extremely versatile – you can use it to make another lasagne down the track, serve over spaghetti or add sweet chilli sauce and Tabasco and serve over rice. I used to make a similar ‘all-in’ sauce at Oxford and it eat on it’s own (sometimes straight out of the pot to reduce dishes, but let’s pretend I didn’t tell you that) or on a baked potato with melted cheese on top. Quick, easy, healthy and tasty? What more could you want? While we’re on the topic of freezing, the lasagne itself can be frozen. Simply allow to cool completely, then portion & place in freezer bags/airtight containers. It will also keep in the fridge for about four days. This recipe will make enough to serve about eight, depending on how hungry everyone is. You could halve it, but I figure if you’re going to all the trouble to make the darn thing – it takes about 2 hours including cooking time – you may as well make a big batch! And if you have a Garfield like my sister to feed it doesn’t matter how much you make. It will never be quite enough.
Sasha’s Ultimate Lasagne
Serves 6 – 8.
200g (1 cup) red lentils, rinsed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large carrot, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
5 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 red capsicum, chopped into 1 cm dice
100g mushrooms, sliced
140g tomato paste
500g jar tomato pasta sauce or passata.
810g can crushed tomatoes
400g can kidney beans, rinsed & drained
1 tsp dried oregano
90g unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole-meal flour
750ml milk, warmed gently
Scant ½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
100g (1 cup) cheddar cheese, grated
30g parmesan cheese, finely grated
12 large dried ‘instant’ lasagne sheets. Or enough for 4 layers. I use San-Remo brand.
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a 30x20cm oven-proof baking dish.
Heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat. Sauté the onion for 3 minutes or until soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for thirty seconds.
Tip in the carrot, zucchini, celery, capsicum, mushroom & lentils. Cook for 2 minutes then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring for another 2 minutes to caramelise.
Add the pasta sauce, tinned tomatoes, kidney beans and oregano. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 – 40 minutes. Stir every ten minutes or so. The sauce is ready when the veggies and lentils are soft. If the mixture starts to dry out (it should be quite sloppy) add a little boiling water or hot vegetable stock. I usually add about 125ml.
Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or ballon whisk, for one minute. Take the saucepan off the heat and gradually add the milk, stirring constantly to break up any lumps.
Return the saucepan to the stove over a high heat and cook, stirring (make sure you reach all corners of the pot), until the sauce boils and thickens (this may take up to five minutes). Once boiling, reduce the heat and cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and grated cheddar. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
Use a ladle to dollop 2 spoonful’s of tomato sauce into the baking dish. Use the back of the ladle to spread the mixture out evenly. Arrange lasagne sheets to cover the sauce (I use 3 but break one up to fill in the gaps). With a spatula, spread one heaped ½ cup of béchamel sauce over the lasagne sheets. Top with 2 more ladles of tomato sauce and continue the process until you have four layers of pasta sheets. Spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the last layer of lasagne and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
Bake uncovered for 30 – 40 minutes or until golden brown on top and the pasta sheets are tender.
Place dish on a wire rack and rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Source: A Taste Without Waste original.