Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cheesy vegetable Lasagne

We stuff ourselves silly on Xmas day.  It's ridiculous.  And now that the "kids" have become foodies, we have added, not reduced the amount of courses served at this mammoth, 8 hour lunch.  Every time one of the "traditional" family dishes is threatened, half the family go up-in-arms about it, so it's a bit of a risk to change the staples.  In our family these staples are meat lasagne, and a dessert we call "coffee mousse", which I'm yet to attempt.

I did the daring and changed the meat lasagne into a vegetarian version, in an attempt to at least make one of the courses somewhat easier to digest with all the other foods there.  As not to scare the carnivores, we named it "cheesy vegetable lasagne", with an emphasis on the cheese.  And it seemed to work! 

Cheesy vegetable lasagne

Make no mistake, this dish is harder work than a regular meaty lasagne (rather than being difficult to make, there's just more "bits" to this sauce).  There's saucy layers, a ricotta layer, a spinach layer, and also pumpkin, that I feel makes it all the more special.  This is as colourful as it is tasty, and i feel that although there's plenty of dairy, it's still quite a nutritious dish! Most definitely a complete meal (even though it was not served as so above!)

The pumpkin was never a part of my veggie lasagne, which I've made a few versions of over the years, but my mate Becky (also an ex house-mate) had added some mashed pumpkin to the ricotta layer of a veggie lasagne she'd made, which was awesome!  So I decided to add it as an extra layer on top of the ricotta/cheese layer, which worked really well! 

The dishes I made were ridiculously large, so I'll give "normal family" sized ingredients here, to serve around 6 people. 

Ingredients (do not despair at the amount of ingredients):
1 pack fresh lasagne sheets (i prefer egg)
Olive oil, salt, pepper
fresh milk
grated kefelotiri/Romano

Tomato sauce:
2 tins tomato polpa
some kunserva (tomato paste)
garlic, plenty
2 medium/1 large onion, diced
1 sweet fleshy pepper/capsicum (preferably yellow for colour), diced
400g mushroom, sliced
fresh basil or dried oregano
teaspoon or 2 of brown sugar

Spinach layer:
700g spinach leaves, washed, trimmed of stalks.  Drain, but leave some of the water clinging to the leaves.
1 small onion (or 2 shallots), finely diced
1 clove garlic, chopped

Ricotta layer:
500g ricotta
2 eggs
some milk
grated kefalotiri or romano

Roasted pumpkin:
700g pumpkin (ideally butter-nut), chopped into 1/2-1 inch cubes
teaspoon or so of honey
dried thyme

Cheese sauce:
900 mls milk
3 rounded tablespoons cornflour
knob of butter (around a tablespoon)
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
200 grams mature cheddar


Roast Pumpkin
Place pumpkin onto baking paper lined dish, sprinkle with some olive oil, pepper, salt, thyme, and a small amount of honey.  Roast in hot oven (200C) for about 30 minutes until cooked through and slightly golden, turning every now and then.  Allow to cool, and blend until almost smooth.  If you don't have a blender, mashing is fine.  And don't worry if you have leftovers at the end, you can make it into soup in a jiffy!

Puréed roasted pumpkin
Tomato Sauce:
Heat some olive oil in a pan, and add chopped onions and pepper and fry until cooked through and getting golden.  Add garlic, fry for a minute and add a heaped tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste.  Stir until mixed on a medium heat, then add 2 tins of chopped peeled tomatoes and sugar.  Season with herbs, salt and pepper, and when bubbling, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  

Add mushrooms, and simmer for another 15 minutes until rich and thick, with plenty of liquic, but not watery. 

If it gets too thick, just add a small amount of water.  but not until the mushrooms have cooked through as they release so much water! 

Cheese sauce, the adding of the cornflour

Spinach Layer:
Heat a frypan and cook onions until golden.  Add the garlic, cook for a minute, then add the spinach leaves a handful at a time until they are all wilted.  Cook some more for a couple of minutes until totally tender.  Allow to cool and squeeze most of the liquid out. 

Ricotta layer:
Mash the ricotta with some milk until relatively smooth.  Add the eggs and some grated cheese, mix until well incorporated. 

Cheese Sauce:
Take a small amount of the milk and mix with the cornflour in a small bowl until it's a completely smooth and pourable consistency. 
Heat milk the rest of the milk in a saucepan, with the knob of butter and nutmeg. 
When hot, add the cornflour milk mixture and bring to boil, stirring continuously. 
As soon as it starts bubbling, switch off heat and add grated cheese, stirring continuously until smooth.  If it needs to sit for any amount of time keep a piece of cling-wrap directly on the surface to avoid the skin forming, and stir well before using.  

Building the lasagne:
Prepare all the sauces and layers and have them handy.
Get a large baking dish.
Spoon some tomato sauce onto the bottom to prevent the bottom pasta layer from sticking.

Create a layer of pasta, making sure that you cover the whole dish right up to the edges.  
Spoon half the tomato sauce over this pasta layer.

Another layer of pasta.
Gently smooth the spinach over the pasta.  
Add the layer of ricotta carefully over the spinach layer, smoothing with the back of a tablespoon. Add a half cup or so of fresh milk onto this layer, to keep it soft and moist.
Ladle the pumpkin over the ricotta layer.  I know this seems to be a lot of stuff on top of each other but trust me on this one, more sauce is always better than more pasta!  Don't worry about using all the pumpkin, but do put  decent orange layer onto the ricotta. 

Carefully place another layer of pasta over the pumpkin.  
Ladle the other half of the sauce over the pasta.  if your tomato sauce is very thick, add a 1/4-1/2 cup of water over the sauce. 

Gently ladle the cheese sauce over the sauce.  Wherever you can see the tomato sauce, place a little more cheese sauce on it until it's covered totally  

Season with salt and pepper, and a thin layer of grated cheese.

At this point, I like for it t sit for at least a couple of hours before baking.  I often make it the night before to be thrown in the oven. 

Bake in a moderate oven for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.  

If you have put it in the fridge, take it out at least an hour before before baking, otherwise it'll take ages to cook! 

Serve with a leafy salad :)  ENJOY! :D
mmm readyyy


  1. Well, you know what they say: the harder the challenge, the sweeter the reward. And it seems that your hard work paid off, since it looks really good.

  2. I would really really really like to try this!

    1. I'll make it for you next summer in Oz Geoffy!! :D

  3. I can vouch for the deliciousness of this recipe!! :)

    Yes it's hard work, but you'll sleep like a baby after all that prepping/cooking ;)