We all know lasagna is such a grand dish, the classic of the classics, I mean, who doesn’t like lasagna, right? deliciously gooey, oozing with cheese and personality like the land it came from. Just saying its name makes you feel cozy like seating in front of a fire, sipping wine on a cold rainy day. When you think about lasagna, greens and beans is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, in fact is probably something that I’m sure will have some lasagna purists shaking their heads in horror. Well, let me tell you, vegetarian lasagnas are so good and totally underrated. Don’t believe those who say they are boring, tasteless and nutritionally inferior… they are not. They are super versatile too so you can get really creative with them. I like to play around with different vegetables: I love cavolo nero, spinach, sweet potato, aubergine and chard in my lasagna and I always add legumes or pulses to it to bulk it up and pack a real punch of fiber and protein. And of course, cheese… what’s a lasagna without cheese! Parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta, aged cheddar… or for the vegans out there: macadamia or cashew ‘ricotta’ works a treat. Yes, indulgence every now and then is ok in fact, it’s absolutely necessary!
I’ll be posting quite a few vegetarian lasagna recipes on the blog because I think they are awesome. They are nutritious, comforty, cheap and they make great leftovers for the freezer. Seriously, what’s not to like.
GREENS AND BEANS LASAGNA
A generous bunch of cavolo nero, stalks removed A generous bunch of swiss chard, stalks removed 1 large onion chopped 6 cloves of garlic grated 2 cups cooked black beans or 2 x 400g tins 2 x 400g tin tomatoes 9 dry lasagna sheets 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (or to taste) About 100g grated cheese (parmesan and aged cheddar work best here) Salt and pepper
For the bechamel sauce
50g butter (or 50ml of olive oil but I recommend butter) 50g plain flour 500ml whole milk, heated 1/2 grated nutmeg Salt and pepper
1 – Start by blanching the cavolo nero and chard in boiling water for 1 – 2 mins max then drain and rinse under a tap with cold water to stop the cooking. Chop and set aside.
2 – Next, fry the chopped onion and garlic on a medium heat for a few minutes until the onion becomes translucent. Add the chilli flakes and fry for another minute or so then add the 2 tins of tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste at this point. Cook the tomatoes down until it has the consistency of a thick sauce (add a bit of water if it’s too dry but not too much or it will need to reduce again). When you are happy with the consistency, add the beans and the chopped vegetables, stir well and cook for a further couple of minutes. Set aside to cool down.
3 – Now it’s a good time to start preheating your oven at 200 degrees.
4 – Next, the bechamel sauce. It’s best to do it when your filling is cooling down, it will get too gloopy otherwise. Gently heat up the milk in a small saucepan until is hot but watch that it doesn’t boil. Turn the heat off and set aside. Melt 50g butter in another saucepan, then add 50g plain flour. Stir continuously until a paste forms – this is called a roux. Continue cooking for 2 mins. Add the milk to the roux gradually, stirring as you go, until you get a smooth sauce. Grate about half a nutmeg into it and cook for 5-10 mins, stirring continuously, until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste with salt and lots of black pepper.
5 – Now the fun part begins… the assembling. Grab a 20 x 30cm deep oven dish. Start by putting a thin layer of the chard and bean mixture at the bottom. Place 3 lasagna sheets on top (they should fit perfectly in this size dish). Put more of the chard and bean mixture on top of the sheets, then add a thin layer of the bechamel. Put another 3 sheets of lasagna on top of the bechamel then the chard and bean mixture and another thin layer of the white sauce. Repeat the process one more time, you should end up with 3 layers of pasta altogether. If your dish is not deep enough, you can just do 2 layers. Pour all the leftover bechamel on the top layer plus all the grated cheese. Cover with foil and put in the oven for 45 mins. After 45 mins, remove the foil and cook uncovered, for a further 15 mins until the top is nice and golden. Check is cooked through by inserting a knife in the middle of it. I know it’s hard, but try to let it cool down for 10-15 mins after it comes out of the oven.
Notes: If you want to make the lasagna a bit lighter, you can substitute the bechamel for 250g of cottage cheese. Any leftover chard and bean mixture can be put in the freezer and used to make pasta sauce or quesadillas, for example.