Spolier alert: this is time consuming so don’t make this unless you have plenty of time to potter in the kitchen!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you the story of how this dish came to be.
Last year, i had an intense craving/desire for vegetarian lasagne – why, i have no idea. to my knowledge, I’d never actually eaten vegetarian lasagne: my mum never made it and neither did any of my family. I scoured recipe books and blogs for my visualisation of what a vegetarian lasagne should taste like: sweet rich pumpkin, sliced finely and roasted; healthy green wilted spinach; juicy tomatoes; moreish, garlicky mushrooms and of course a thick coating of luscious cheese sauce. I was convinced i’d seen the recipe somewhere, but alas it escaped me. after feeling frustrated and irritated at this evasive recipe, i suddenly realised that i’d already come up with it! so i cajoled the flatmates into spending a little extra on groceries for my dinner for the week, and rolled up my sleeves and made it!
it was very, very delicious! but also more complicated than it needed to be. I made smitten kitchen’s tomato sauce, sautéed the spinach with its own onion and garlic, and used multiple roasting tins and frying pans, exhausting our supply!
nonetheless, my friends, intrigued by my declarations and photos of this supreme deliciousness, asked for the recipe, and i ended up going over to Clara’s to be the sous chef/recipe advisor when she made it for her flatmates!
i decided to make it this week, and when cooking it today, i realised that the spinach and tomato processes i’d previously done were needlessly complicated – once baked together, the tomatoes concentrate and develop of their own accord, and spinach melds with the sweet pumpkin and garlicky mushrooms. i streamlined the process, so that, while still a fairly time consuming recipe, it is simpler and less dish-creating than before!
for all my foreboding warnings of this taking ages, i actually loved my time pottering in the kitchen cooking this today. cooking is deluxe stress relief for me (unless i’m making a super tricksy recipe) and i was wearing my pretty flowery apron and it felt good!
it was also fun to not be constantly referring back to a recipe, plus i was listening to the audiobook of Hilary Clinton’s Hard Choices, which i just downloaded via my library’s overdrive account. Love her or hate her, she certainly has been terribly influential on the world stage for a long time and soon, potentially, will be even more so, if she becomes US president in the next election! I’ve listened to 80 mins so far and its been very interesting: especially considering she was Secretary of State, which the book focuses on, and i have a keen interest in the Foreign Service.
Now, as for the title of the recipe: a) big call! and b) vegetarian anything sounds a little… lacking, right? as if it’s second best to the meat version. well, i’m here to tell you that i, a good omnivore, prefer this lasagne to the meat version- it is hearty, filling, delicious, not pious in the least, yet you don’t feel like you need to take a long nap afterwards like i do with the meat version! i like it cold, warm, fresh, leftover, any which way. try it!
the best vegetarian lasagne
1/2 large crown pumpkin, skin off and cut into thin slices
Canola oil (about 2-3 tbsp in total)
750g button mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Beef stock powder
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 large packet frozen spinach, defrosted
1 packet lasagne sheets (dried or fresh)
Plenty of cheese béchamel sauce
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Place the pumpkin in a large roasting pan, drizzle with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 mins or until tender.
Sauté the onions, mushrooms, and garlic in a little oil until mushrooms are soft and reduced in size. Sprinkle over beef stock powder to taste: i used about 2 teaspoons (omit this step or substitute with vegetable/mushroom stock powder if vegetarian).
Layer the lasagne sheets, spinach, pumpkin, tomatoes in a large roasting pan (I just use the same one that i used for the pumpkin). Top it off with a thick layer of mushrooms.
I never measure my cheese sauce, as i make it the way my mum taught me, all in the consistencies and adding flour and milk as i go, but here i start off with about 100g of butter – feel free to make it the way you usually do, you want enough to fully cover a large roasting pan size area. if you need a recipe deb’s looks pretty spot on.
Top with a sprinkling of grated cheese, if desired, and bake for about an hour, or until the pasta is cooked and the cheese sauce is golden brown.
This is more than enough for a meal on its own, but you can also serve with some gourmet sausages, as we did.