I may have gone overboard with the cheese in this one.
So sue me – I like cheese.
This is one of those posts that I have rewritten several times over the last year. There is an issue that needs addressing. But I worry someone will leave feeling a bit – well, hurt or un-appreciated. I’ve weighted the issue between that saying that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, and the fact that I think people really need to know.
We need to discuss the vegetarian lasagna issue. The longer I have been vegetarian, the more I have grown to despise lasagna. It feels like it is always the vegetarian choice. “Well, we have a vegetarian lasagna.” Oh, good. I wonder if I will like it better than the one I had last week? Maybe I could do a taste test? Sure, I’m all for layers of cheese and sauce and noodles. I like these things. But I can only take so much. After awhile it becomes the same ol’ same old. It’s not special, certainly not very adventurous. And sometimes I need adventure. Variety at the least.
Case in point: when a friend was at that place where they needed us; a number of us (you know “us”) brought food. Because that’s what you do when people are going through a difficult time, you bring food. My friend also follows a mostly vegetarian diet and for non-veggies (and even some of the sympathetic vegetarians) this means you make vegetarian lasagna. My mom called me to tell me she was going to take a lasagna. I quickly put a stop to that – “NO – make something else, anything else. EVERYONE makes the vegetarian a vegetarian lasagna.”
It’s the curse of the non-omnivorous. I understand. Lasagna is substantial. It takes time to make. It requires effort and shows love. It says you care. It’s also a complete meal all in itself. The giver of the lasagna can feel at-ease that they did not give a mere side dish. The receiver of a lasagna is not burden with something that requires assembly before serving. Reheat and eat. It’s easy. It keeps and freezes well too, which is a good thing since my friend ended up with 4 of them.
The moral of this story is simple if you are going to make a lasagna for a vegetarian friend, know that they have had their fair share of vegetarian lasagna. So make them something different. Something special. It doesn’t necessarily have to clog an artery either.
Bechamel and fillings can be made ahead of time for quick assembly on the day of serving.
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups milk
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
- 1 finely chopped shallot
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 2 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach
- 8 cups chopped portobello mushroom caps (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 6 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled sweet potato (2 large)
- Cooking spray
- 3 cups grated Italian cheese mix (mozzarella, provolone, parmesan or some variation)
- 1 package of fresh lasagna noodles (6 sheets)
- To prepare béchamel, add flour to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Add 1/2 cup onion, sage, shallots, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thick. Strain béchamel through a sieve over a bowl, and discard solids. Set aside. Can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated.
- To prepare spinach layer: Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 1/2 cups onion and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and spinach; sauté 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Set aside.
- To prepare mushrooms and sweet potatoes: Preheat oven to 450°. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, mushroom, and sweet potato on a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes.
- Assembly: Spread 3/4 cup béchamel in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 1 and 1/3 noodles over béchamel; top with half of mushroom mixture, 1 1/2 cups béchamel, and 2/3 cup cheese mixture. Top with another layer of noodles, all of the spinach mixture, 1 1/2 cups béchamel, and 2/3 cup cheese mixture. Top with layer of noodles, remaining mushroom mixture, 1 1/2 cups béchamel, 2/3 cups of cheese and last pieces of noodles (you will likely have 1 sheet left, cut it into thirds and lay on top, its okay if the pieces leave spaces). Spread remaining béchamel over noodles. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; bake an additional 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
based on a recipe from Cooking Light 2003