The Italians have given us a lot to be thankful for. Casinos, ambulances, condoms, jacuzzis, torpedos and the first working telephone are all good examples of Italian inventions. Even better than that are Rocky (well half Italian) and the second best World Cup ever, Italia 90 (after 1966 of course – held in, and won by, England!!). Then of course, you have the food. Italian food is unrivalled. It is in the top 3 of EVERYONE’S favourite cuisines as it is exactly what food should be about. Simple, good quality ingredients, cooked well.
An example of a more complex Italian dish though, is lasagne.
Lasagnes are layer upon layer of pasta sheets, filled with a rich tomatoey meat ragu, a white milky béchamel sauce and different varieties of gooey cheese. You are probably thinking that only a fool would try and create a 100% plant based version.
Well I am a fool, so I gave it a go and it has taken me a few tries, but here is my alternative, the ‘Judsagne’.
Since giving up meat, I have learned a few recipes that have blown my mind at how close you can get to the real thing. If not close taste wise, then recipes where the vegan versions are so good, you would choose them over the real thing half the time anyway.
I hand on heart, believe that even the most carnivorous of souls would enjoy eating this.
The ‘mince’ comes from a mix of tempeh and chopped veg to give the rough texture that you associate with bolognese. I also incorporate the cheesiness straight into the sauce with some help from a vegan cream cheese. The richness comes from the red wine and a beef style stock. You can use a good homemade veg stock if you do not require it as ‘meaty’ and the béchamel sauce comes from , of all places, a recipe from Tesco’s, the British supermarket we all know and love!
Serves 4 or 6 for you weaklings
- 1 250g package dried lasagne sheets (make sure they don’t contain eggs)
- ½ package tempeh
- ½ pack vegan cream cheese (I used Tofutti better than cream cheese (it’s not, but it is good))
- 2-3 tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil
- 8 Mushrooms, chopped finely
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 eggplant (aubergine), peeled and diced
- ½ zucchini (courgette) diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large glass red wine
- 1 litre beef style stock (I used massel)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 table spoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper, to taste
To construct this bad boy:
- 1 tablespoon (or as needed) vegan butter
- 1 batch of vegan béchamel sauce, recipe here
- Small bag of spinach leaves, washed.
- Daiya Mozzarella cheese, to serve (or any meltable vegan cheese)
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over low to medium heat (any pot or pan will do as long as it is big enough!)
- Add the onions and cook by themselves for 5 minutes to soften
- Add the tempeh and mushrooms and break up tempeh until it looks kind of like the chopped mushrooms
- Add zucchini, carrot, eggplant and celery. Turn heat to medium high and fry for 5-7 minutes. Don’t worry if your pan looks stupidly busy. The veg will release some water and everything will reduce in size
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more
- Make a space in the middle of the pan and add the tomato paste, fry for 30 seconds to get rid of any bitterness
- Fold in all the veg and add the wine. Spend about a minute or so reducing it. Take a swig of the bottle as you watch the wine evaporate. This will make you feel better
- Add the tinned tomatoes, stock, oregano and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer. This should take about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how low your heat is. You don’t want it to be too dry and you don’t want it to be watery at all. If it is watery, keep cooking. As it gets towards the end, add the cream cheese directly to the ragu. This is optional but I love doing it. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes or until the sauce has taken in all the cheese and it has reduced again
- Meanwhile, make the béchamel sauce. Recipe here. Also, Turn your oven on and pre-heat to 180 degrees celsius. Every package of lasagne sheets has different cooking times, you can follow those, but what I have below has worked for me every time. Keep checking though, as different companies have different sized pasta sheets
You are now ready to construct it:
- Grease a lasagne tin or baking tin, using the vegan butter. I used a tin that is 20cm by 20m
- Add a couple of sheets of pasta to the base, next to each other
- Spoon in enough ragu to cover the sheets
- Spoon over a couple of tablespoons of the béchamel sauce and try and spread it evenly by drizzling it over. Don’t worry, this is supposed to be messy
- Add some spinach leaves to the top of the layer
- Lay 2 new pasta sheets over the mess you have created and push down slightly, then repeat steps 3 to 5.
- Keep layering on pasta sheets and layers of ragu, béchamel sauce and spinach until you have either used up all the sheets or you are just a tiny bit below the top of the tin. Make sure you reserve a bit of everything, minus the sheets for the top layer
- Layer on some more of the sauces and then sprinkle over some vegan mozzarella (or any grated cheese you have on hand)
- Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil to get some gnarly crispy edges for the last 10 minutes of cooking
- Serve with a good salad and if you are really hungry or really thin, some garlic bread, but never EVER with chips. I am looking at you Britain. Just don’t.
Your individual layers should look like this…
The Mars Volta “De-Loused in the Comatorium“
Many layers, crispy gnarly edges, good for you yet too much and it will crush your mind, borrowing from the old whilst making something new, simple yet complex, contradictory, in your face, sweet yet tough, amazing. Yep, there could only be one album for this sucker…..
The Mars Volta.
Here is a photo of me (looking f**king awful) with Omar (looking f**king cool). An absolute gent, who didn’t mind me fanboying on him like a 9 year old belieber.
One of my favourite albums of all time.