Everybody likes a lasagne, right? Especially when it’s getting colder out. I certainly do, but I often find that by the time I have made the bolognese sauce, I often run out of time and end up just having that, rather than add on all the extra stages afterwards. In fact, that is my problem with an awful lot of dishes that have meat in them mid-week, I honestly don’t have the time. Unless we’re talking about a stew, where you can bung it all in a pot and let it slowly develop, or making do with the leftover meat that you have cooked on a Sunday. This is very easily avoided if you make a vegetarian one.
Now the lasagne that I made yesterday does take longer than other veggie ones, but I still think it is do-able as a mid-week meal, and it makes the most of all the delicious ingredients that are around at this time of year. The original recipe I saw for this was in the River Cottage Veg Every Day Cookbook, but (as usual) I have adapted it, and even if I say so myself, I think it’s better this way. Still, the original is very good, and if you only have kale and mushrooms to hand, you’ll have a delicious meal anyway. I didn’t though, but I did have loads of leeks and cavolo nero.
I really love leeks; I think they are one of the most under-rated vegetables around. Delicious just softened for ages in a bit of olive oil with some garlic and sage as a side dish if you want to keep it simple, but versatile enough to use in practically every other dish from risottos to pasta sauces, to soups and stews. So I started by softening down a couple of large leeks in some olive oil with some garlic, for ages until they were meltingly soft. I used cavolo nero simply because it was what I had, but I do think spinach or kale would work equally well, although I would cut down the initial cooking time if I were using spinach. I think we all know how good for us dark leafy green vegetables are for us, and cavolo nero and kale are no exceptions, but how many of us consider mushrooms to be that beneficial? Not only do mushrooms add a really nice texture to most dishes, especially if you are looking to replace the meat, but they are also high in fibre, B vitamins and several minerals, including zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. So resist the temptation to add some bacon all you meat lovers out there! It will take over, however little you use, then you won’t notice how good the vegetables taste on their own. The other alterations I made will come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of my other posts before; I added more herbs and a can of flageolet beans. It is autumn after all, and beans do add a comfort value to most meals, and leave you pleasantly full for a lot longer. And of course extra cheese, that goes without saying. If you’re not convinced, give it a go and let me know how you get on; quite apart from one meat free day being good for you, think of the good we’d be doing the planet if we all gave it a go.
Cavolo Nero and Mushroom Lasagne
2 large leeks
500g cavolo nero
4 cloves of garlic
1 400g can of flageolet beans
1 large handful of basil
500g of mushrooms (I used 150g of chestnuts and the rest Shitake)
A couple of tbsps fresh thyme
800 ml milk
60g plain flour
salt and pepper
a tsp or so of dijon mustard
About 40g of parmesan (vegetarian if possible)
Between 8 to 10 sheets of lasagne, depending on the size of your dish.
Start off by softening your leeks on a very low heat for at least 20 mins in a large pan with a bit of olive oil. Crush your garlic and leave in the fresh air for 10 mins or whilst you get on with the next stage.
After about 15 mins or so, add 2 cloves of crushed garlic.
Add your washed and roughly chopped cavolo nero, or whatever kale you are using. Pour in about4 tbsps of water, cover and let sweat down for about 10 minutes. This can be reduced if you are using spinach as you’ll just need to wilt it.
Remove the lid and cook off any residual water, then stir through the basil, shredded.
Meanwhile, fry your mushrooms in some olive oil. When they are cooked, chuck in the rest of the garlic and the thyme and cook for another minute or so.
Then you just need to make your béchamel; melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. Turn up the heat and cook the mixture for about a minute.
Then take your pan off the heat and stir in your milk (or you could use a milk and vegetable stock mixture) in about 5 loads, beating each time until you have a smooth sauce.
Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, then season and stir through the mustard, and half the cheese.
To assemble your lasagne, mix about half of the sauce with the kale and leek mixture, along with the can of beans. Put this in the bottom of your oven proof lasagne dish, then top with several sheets of lasagne. Next add in the mushroom layer, and top with pasta sheets again.
Finally, pour over your sauce and sprinkle over the rest of the cheese.
Bake for around 35 minutes at 180 deg C, and serve with a tomato and cucumber salad and, if you are really hungry, some garlic bread.