For my birthday, my darling Steph gave me my very first cookbook. Not just any cookbook. Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi: a collection of beautiful vegetarian recipes that flip the script on what you thought veg food was. Some people shy away from a vegetarian lifestyle, for fear of boring, tasteless food; they’re in love with braised lamb, roast chicken, and any meal that features bacon. This book is proof in the (vegan) pudding that veg food can be delicious and ethical. It highlights complex flavours that charge boldly forth; meals centred around hearty squash and eggplant. It’s not just meals of lentils, beans, and more lentils, although of course those staples are well-represented.
The first meal that I attempted was a hearty, mushroom lasagna. My partner and I have a tradition of making a bulk cook every Sunday. As the weather grows cold and crisp, we lean towards hot, filling meals to warm our bellies when we shuffle home each night. This lasagne, with five (yes, five) cheeses seemed like an ideal candidate.
Granted, it sounded somewhat intimidating as I read that I would need three fresh herbs and a homemade béchamel sauce. First, I hate buying fresh herbs when I can avoid it, because I never use them up in time. Second, I have never made a béchamel sauce in my life, and the only roux I’ve made have turned out as thick, almost solid gravy.
I will say, though, the fresh herbs were worth it (even if they do end up going bad), and the béchamel sauce wasn’t as hard as I feared. I don’t actually know if I made it correctly, but you can’t go wrong with butter, cheese, and cream, right?
Read on for the recipe (plus my adjustments) below.
Three carrots, peeled, washed, and grated
Cauliflower, chopped fine
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
Roughly 1 tbsp. thyme leaves, chopped
Roughly 2 tbsp. tarragon, chopped
Roughly 4 tbsp. parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 small shallot, chopped (edit: 1/8 of a white onion)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups milk (edit: almond milk + leftover whipping cream)
13 fl. oz. ricotta
5 oz. feta, crumbled
6 oz. gouda, grated
1 lb. lasagna noodles
5 oz. mozzarrella
1/2 parmesan, grated
Start by melting 5 tbsp. of butter in a large pot (big enough for all the mushrooms you’ll be adding in). Once it’s melted, toss in the thyme and your mix of mushrooms. Stirring consistently, cook until the mushrooms are soft and browned. Once you’ve removed the pot from heat, stir in the chopped tarragon, parsley, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a separate bowl, and mix in your grated carrot and finely chopped cauliflower.
Use the same pot to cook your béchamel. From what I can tell, you wanna just keep stirring your béchamel, and you’ll be fine. Melt 5 tbsp. of butter in your pot, and toss in your chopped shallot (or white onion, in my case). Cook on medium for a hot sec. Add your flour gradually, and continue cooking and stirring. This will turn into a thick paste — think like a toothpaste texture. Gradually whisk in your milk (or almond milk and leftover whipping cream, in my case), and some of the juices from your bowl of mushrooms. Toss in a lil’ salt and pep, and keep stirring your sauce until it’s boiling. Reduce to simmer, and stir until the sauce becomes thick. Remove from heat. You’ve got yourself a béchamel — told you it wasn’t as hard as it seems! Add some feta and ricotta (not all of it!) into your béchamel, because it wasn’t creamy and delicious enough before.
Grab a pot or pan that’s large enough to let your lasagna noodles lay flat, and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for two minutes, or until soft. Do this in batches, unlike me, so that your noodles don’t stick together when you need to start arranging them in layers.
Preheat your oven to 350 F while you’re assembling your lasagna. First, pour your béchamel sauce into an ovenproof dish to cover the bottom. Ottolenghi recommends a dish that’s 10×14, but I just used the Staub circular pot that was a housewarming gift from my parents. Next, lay down a layer of your cooked lasagna noodles. Cover with some ricotta and/or crumbled feta. Pour in some of your mushroom, carrot, and cauliflower mix. Sprinkle with some gouda and mozzarella. Keep doing these layers (sauce, noodles, ricotta/feta, mushrooms/carrots/cauliflower, gouda/mozzarella) until you’re outta ingredients. Finish off with a layer of pasta covered with sauce and sprinkled with parmesan.
Cover with loose foil (not touching the top) or your dish’s cover, and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Ottolenghi also recommended removing the foil/cover and baking for a further 10 minutes, then letting cool for 10 minutes, but I was too damn hungry by the time the 40 minutes was up.
Serve with freshly cracked pepper and herbs for garnish. It’s damn delicious.