I get to host the lovely ladies from book club (yes I’m so grown up) this month, so I decided to go all out and make a lasagne I’ve been eyeing for ages in Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food. Never being one to shy away from a battle, I didn’t let the length of the recipe deter me from my mission – and thus ended up spending three hours in the kitchen making bechamel sauce and rehydrated porcini mushroom vegetable sauce. I’m not saying I regret said three hours, but I think I underestimated the immensity of the task before tackling it… and I didn’t even attempt the homemade pasta!
Described in classic Jamie style as ‘Proper Veg Lasagne’ this dish is not for calorie counters – it’s packed with cheese and other delicious things. Being me, obviously I took a few (read many) short cuts, and I improvised on ingredients because I’m a bit of a cheapskate. We’re eating it tonight, so I’ll report back on whether it worked, but for now, here’s the recipe with a few of my tweaks:
Time: 4 hours plus resting (I mean, this should have warned me)
1 royal pasta dough (or buy a packet of egg lasagne sheets from Woolies like I did)
1 white sauce (I didn’t bother looking up Jamie’s recipe, but I’m sure it’s better than mine. I made a normal bechamel from flour, milk, cream, cheddar and butter)
14 oz. ricotta (I skipped this and went for Brie instead, because Woolies were out of stock)
2 oz. Parmesan
1 large butternut squash (4 lbs.)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 level tsp. chili powder olive oil
3 medium eggplants ( I used 2)
3/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (expensive but so good)
1 large red onion (I used a normal onion)
2 ribs celery (skipped this)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (switched for basil)
2/3 cup chardonnay or viognier (I may have been a bit generous with these measurements)
2 14-oz. cans of plum tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
8 sprigs fresh marjoram or oregano (nope)
1 3/4 lbs. fresh or frozen spinach
Method (Verbatim from Jamie’s recipe)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Carefully halve the squash lengthwise and seed, then cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices, leaving the skin on. Toss in a large baking sheet with the ground coriander, chili powder, a pinch of sea salt and pepper, and a lug of oil. Slice the eggplants into 3/4-inch-thick rounds, lightly brush each side with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then lay flat on a separate large baking sheet. Roast both the squash and eggplant for 50 minutes, then remove, mashing up the squash really well. (Just realised I forgot to mash the squash… oh well.)
For the veggie sauce, just cover the porcini with boiling water and leave to rehydrate. Peel the onion and carrots, then finely chop it all with the rosemary leaves. Put a good lug of oil into a large casserole pan on a medium heat and add the rosemary and finely chopped veggies. Cook for 15 minutes (mine didn’t take this long), until softened, then pour in the wine and completely cook it away. Chop and add the soaked porcini, followed by half the soaking water. Add the canned tomatoes, then half fill each empty can with water, swirl, and add to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off. When the eggplants are done, crush the garlic straight over them, drizzle with the balsamic, and toss to coat, then scrape it all into the sauce. Simmer gently for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, then season to perfection.
Put a large nonstick frying pan on a high heat with a splash of oil and the marjoram or oregano leaves. (Or just fry the spinach if you forgot the oregano like I did… oops). Cook for 1 minute, then stir in the spinach and cook for 15 minutes (It took about 2 min for mine to cook down), or until it has cooked right down and all the excess water has evaporated. Make your white sauce and pasta dough, leaving the pasta in long sheets. (Or just cook your ready made pasta sheets if you’re cheating like me).
Now it’s assembly time—rub a deep 12-inch (um, just guess how big your dish needs to be at this stage), circular ovenproof dish with oil. Cover the base and sides of the dish with long sheets of pasta, allowing a nice amount to hang over each side. Spread one quarter of the veggie sauce over the lasagne base, top with bombs of spinach, smashed squash, and ricotta, then spoon over a fifth of the white sauce and finely grate over some Parmesan (If you have any ricotta… if not, opt for Brie). Repeat three more times, then fold the overhanging pasta over the top and patch up any gaps with a little extra pasta. Cover with the remaining white sauce and a good grating of Parmesan, then bake on the very bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Leave to rest for 20 minutes, then serve with a big salad.
And there you have it! I’m really excited to serve it to my guests tonight – just hoping that no one has a porcini mushroom allergy or eggplant aversion I don’t know about. I’ll take some pics of the lasagne after I’ve finished baking it; I’m very much hoping for a golden, oozy, bubbling crust of gloriousness.
Here’s a pic of the finished lasagne – it was delicious and everyone seemed to love it! I made two and only had a little bit of leftovers so I think it was worth the kitchen slog. I bought parmesan and sprinkled it liberally on the top before I baked them – definitely key to the flavour so don’t miss it out.