Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mediterranean vegetable lasagne

I really do not like the word lasagne, I think that it actually revolts me a little - I have eaten too many poor lasagnes in Ireland and as a result have ceased to ever order them in any establishment - the over use of them as daily fare in poor quality road-side cafes while travelling through the country has well and truely ruined any remaining allure that they might once have had.
From large Irish supermarkets to petrol stations around the country, you can buy one jar of 'white sauce', one jar of 'red meat sauce' and some pasta sheets, assemble, ecco fatto ... you have a lasagne. 
I shouldn't really denigrate these recipes, principally because I have never made them ... I come from the school of 'make your own sauces' and it is against my very being to buy a ready-made sauce ... no matter what one says, using these simply cannot be as good as a lasagne made either from fresh vegetables roasted with garlic and basil or from a ragu of prime minced beef baked in the oven with plum tomatoes, garlic and olive oil for almost 2 hours.
My current husband once cooked for me pasta with a rich tomato sauce, and, as I remember,  I ate it and enjoyed it - he does argue that I actually could not tell the difference between bought and home-made. I retorted that I was so blindly in love with him that the bought stir-in sauce was the last thing on my mind ... but now, today, after nearly six years, I think it is time that he begin to make a real culinary effort.  More on this later!

For the most delicious roasted vegetable lasagne, which will serve two, with extras, you will need:

For the roast vegetables:
1-2 small aubergines roughly chopped.
2 small red onions, peeled and quartered
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 courgettes roughly chopped
12 cherry tomatoes, skinned
4 tblsps olive oil
12 pitted, oily, black olives
2 tblsps capers, with brine rinsed off
a handful of fresh basil
a piece of strong cheddar or other strong cheese

For the bechamel sauce:
30g plain white flour
35g butter
550ml milk
1 bay leaf
some freshly grated nutmeg.
8 tbsps of finely grated Parmesan
sea salt and black pepper

approx. 6 dried pasta sheets

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
Ensure that all your vegetables are chopped into 2.5cm pieces or are at least roughly the same size. Lightly coat the vegetables and garlic in olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 180C until tender ( 15 - 20 mins). Remove from oven, cool and add the black olives and capers.  Stir these in gently, season with salt and black pepper and stir in the torn basil leaves. Set aside and make the bechamel sauce.

For the bechamel (better known as cheese sauce in Ireland):
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the flour. Sir until the flour has combined and boil this, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.  This is called a roux. Boiling the roux for more than 1 minute will remove any floury taste from the finished sauce.
Turn the heat down and gradually add the milk stirring continuously until all the milk has gone. Bring to the boil again, stirring all the time and add the bay leaf. Boil for a few minutes and the sauce should have thickened. Turn down the heat and add 4 tblsps of finely grated Parmesan. When the cheese has melted and you have a silky, white sauce, turn off the heat.

To assemble the lasagne, firstly place some bechamel sauce in the bottom of your oven proof dish, place a layer of vegetables on top of this, grate a thin layer of strong cheddar over the vegetables, place on some pasta sheets to form one layer. You will have to break these to make the shape of the dish.
Put into the lasagne dish in alternate layers as above, finishing with the white sauce sprinkled with Parmesan.

Cook in the oven at 180 degrees for 25-30 minutes whereby the top should be golden brown and inviting.

Serve with crusty bread and a glass of cold white wine. The beauty of this recipe is that you can tweak the ingredients adding perhpas fennel or cauliflower to the roasting tin.  I did not use all of the bechamel sauce for this as I do not like it too saucy and like the vegetables to sing through the rest of the flavours.  I have put the rest of the bechamel sauce into the fridge and will give it to the boys tomorrow with roasted cauliflower. You could also replace the bechamel sauce with a rich home-made tomato and basil sauce and save the bechamel layer for only the top. 
This is also not strictly a vegetarian dish due to the inclusion of Parmesan  (rennet extracted from stomach of calves) but vegetarian Parmesans and other cheeses are available for vegetarians and can be used here.

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