When I first came up with this recipe I was looking for a vegetarian alternative to a traditional lasagna that would satisfy lasagna lovers as opposed to fans of vegetables, so I minced up the mushrooms and olives to resemble the texture of a traditional bolognese. The result of this is that you don’t really get a strong flavor of mushrooms or olives from this, although they are there in abundance, instead they are more part of the sauce. if you really love mushroom you could just slice them instead of mincing them to ensure that they stand out. I do love mushrooms but I still always mince them, it’s just so quick this way. The olives in the lasagna are added in a tapenade style. They do stand out more than the mushrooms. I also love olives and it is possible that my love of olives has blinded me to how present they are in this recipe. If you are not crazy about olives, try making a small batch of the olive tapenade blending a small (about 100g) jar of pitted black olives (drained), 5 sundried tomatoes and 7 Peppadew peppers. While the filling has a much more tomato-bolognese flavour the taste of tapenade is still present so if you don’t like the taste, you could try adding more peppers or tomatoes, or maybe this is not the recipe for you.
Originally when I first made this the tapenade was just a mix of olives and sundried tomatoes. A few months later I started adding roasted peppers, and a while later, after getting a little lazy, I started using store-bought pickled roast peppers. Then a couple of months ago I discovered these pickled whole sweet mild (very mild) spicy peppers. They added a lovely depth to the tomato sauce – and made me glad I’d got a bit lazy.
If you don’t have Peppadew peppers just use my recipe for Roasted Red Pepper, Sundried Tomatoes & Black Olive Tapenade and add a small pinch more of cayenne pepper to it.
Another reason why I love this recipe is that once it’s assembled, rather than baking it straightaway, you can allow it to cool completely, freeze it, then bake when needed and it tastes as good as if you made it that day. For this reason I’ve got into the habit of reusing aluminum takeaway dishes, or disposable baking dishes for my vegetarian lasagna because they fit perfectly into the freezer. This recipe will fill a 6.5″ x 10″ baking dish or 6 individual takeaway dishes. When freezing be sure to allow cool completely and then wrap well in cling film. When you take it out of the freezer if there any ice has formed on top, brush it off before baking.
So what’s in lasagne that’s good for you? Well, we all know olives are good for you but did you know that mushrooms and tomatoes are actually better for you when they are cooked? Tomatoes are full of lycopene, that’s the carotenoid pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour, and we absorb it best from tomatoes that are heat treated, either during canning or cooking (or both). Lypocene is an antioxidant compound that seems to be very good for you indeed. There are studies that report that it’s good at preventing a range of different cancers from prostate to breast, and there are also studies which so that it’s good for your heart. The reason why mushrooms are more nutritious when cooked is simply that mushrooms contain a lot of water, when you cook them this evaporates, so pound for pound, cooked mushrooms are more nutritious than raw ones (and they taste much better too). Mushrooms are suprisingly nutritious they are rich in in iron and hold decent amounts of potassium, selenium, copper, zinc and they are full of fibre.
Serves 4 – 6
For Bechamel sauce
- 500ml whole milk
- 75g salted butter, cubed
- 1 heaped dessertspoon plain white flour
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- pinch ground allspice
- 250g mushrooms
- 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
- good pinch of salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
- 2 x 400g (normal-sized tins) tinned chopped tomatoes
- 250g pitted black olives
- 10 sundried tomatoes
- 12 Peppadew pickled small sweet piquant peppers
- 2-3 tablespoons bechamel sauce
- olive oil
- 10 – 12 pasta sheets
- mozzarella cheese
- Melt the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat. This will only take a couple of minutes. Be careful not to let the butter burn.
- Once the butter is melted, add the flour, nutmeg and allspice. Stir in well to a smooth consistency. This butter-flour blend is called a roux and it is the base of many sauces. Cook the roux on a gentle heat for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously to ensure it doesn’t burn. This is to ensure that the flour is completely cooked, otherwise your sauce can taste a little floury or doughy.
- Once the roux is sufficiently cooked, add in the milk. Turn up the heat up to its maximum setting. With a whisk keep stirring till the sauce thickens and then add the rest of the milk, again stirring until it has thickened. This will take a few minutes, it will seem like it is never going to thicken but it will. Let the sauce thicken but don’t let it boil. It is also important to keep whisking the sauce to ensure it is smooth and it doesn’t burn. Once it has thickened remove from the heat and leave aside while you make the filling.
- Wipe off any dirt from the mushrooms. Remove and discard their stalks, roughly break up the caps and mince them in a blender.
- Heat some olive oil in a deep frying pan. Add the mushrooms, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Stir around well, cover and leave to cook for 8 minutes on a gentle heat.
- Once the mushrooms are ready add the tomatoes and stir around well. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Once the sauce is bubbling away, reduce again to a gentle heat, cover and leave to simmer for 12 minutes.
- Stir in the olive tapenade, cover and leave for a further 5 minutes.
- Taste to make sure that it is sufficiently seasoned, if necessary add a little salt and/or pepper. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the Bechamel sauce. Turn off the heat.
Put it all together
- Grease a deep baking dish (6.5″ x 10″, or 8″ x 8″) with a little olive oil. Add a layer of pasta sheets and cover with a generous layer of the filling. Carry on until you have used up all the filling (there should be plenty for 3 layers) cover with a final layer of pasta sheets. Pour the Bechamel sauce over the pasta and top with either sliced or grated mozzarella cheese.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 C until the top is golden brown and blistering.
- When ready remove from the oven and leave to cool for at least 15 minutes so the white sauce will have set a little and you’ll have better looking portions.