Olsen’s Vegetarian Lasagna

makes about eight big servings

Ingredients

For 1 large rectangular baking dish:

  • olive oil, plenty
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large eggplant/aubergine
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • fresh or dried thyme, rosemary, oregano, 1 bay leaf
  • 2 small zucchini/courgettes
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper
  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 2 lbs fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled
  • 1 small (or medium-sized) can tomato sauce, if you feel it’s necessary
  • 1 cup good red cooking wine, or more if you feel it’s necessary
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb or more lasagna noodles (the thin kind that you don’t need to pre-cook)

For the béchamel sauce:

  • 2 or 3 cups milk
  • 2 or 3 tbs flour
  • grated nutmeg
  • ½ – ¾ lb mozzarella (aged or fresh), thinly sliced
  • ½ – ¾ lb ricotta
  • ½ – ¾ cup grated parmesan

Chance and Sara must be on hand to cut, peel and chop the vegetables into very small pieces.

In plenty of olive oil, over medium to low heat, slightly brown the chopped onion in a large frying pan or sauce pan.

Add the eggplant/aubergine and continue to cook. Add the garlic and herbs during this time. Stir occasionally. Adjust the heat as necessary. It shouldn’t cook too fast.

When the eggplant/aubergine is done, add the zucchini/courgette, and continue to cook until these, too, are done. Continue to stir occasionally.

Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they’re done. Stir more often now, to help the vegetables blend.

Add the tomatoes and continue to cook. The secret is to slightly brown the tomatoes, though by this time it may be difficult to tell whether they’re browned or not.

When the sauce is nicely thick and simmering, almost ready to start sticking to the pan, add the wine, cover and let the sauce simmer for about half an hour.

If the sauce appears to need more binding, add the can of tomato sauce and cook for another five minutes. Salt and pepper to suit your taste.

Béchamel sauce:

While the sauce is cooking, make the béchamel sauce. I make it WITHOUT butter, so it’s a little lighter, which is appreciable in an already rich dish.

Mix the flour into the COLD milk, and stir and stir and stir until it is all dissolved. The flour must be well mixed into the milk.

Over LOW heat, slowly bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly.

When the sauce has thickened, add the salt and pepper and the grated nutmeg. Let it simmer another minute or two.

Remove from the heat, cover and set aside. Keep warm.

Assemble the lasagna:

Pour a little juice from the sauce (or water if your sauce is too thick) over the bottom of the baking dish, just enough to cover the bottom.

Put a layer of noodles on the bottom of the dish, overlapping them a little.

Cover the noodles with a layer of sauce, sprinkle with a third of the parmesan, then place half of the mozzarella slices and spread half the ricotta on top. Drizzle about half of the béchamel sauce over this layer.

Repeat this operation.

Finish with the final third of the sauce, and sprinkle the final third of the parmesan on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 325° F oven for about a half hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. Don’t hesitate to let it bake a little longer if you think it needs it (the blend of flavors will forgive you). Drizzle more olive oil over the top during this stage, if you feel it’s necessary. Add a little water around the edges, if the lasagna appears too dry.

Be your own judge. C’mon, step forward. Take a little responsibility. Your guests will thank you for it.

Serve with a nicely seasoned green salad.

Contributed by John Olsen. Eaten at VD3 near Bar sur Loup, France.

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