I’m not usually given to exaggeration when it comes to saying a dish is the “best ever” but in this case it’s true. This recipe, based on a dish from my friend Stephen Page (not to be confused with Steven Page), was the first vegetarian lasagna I’ve ever had and over the 10 years since I first tried it, this version has proven to literally be the “Best Ever Vegetarian Lasagna”!
I’ve adapted the recipe just slightly to top it with a rich, creamy basil-garlic Béchamel and did my own take on the tomato sauce that is the base of this recipe (henceforth known as “The Sauce”). But its the lovely strata of multiple veggie varieties and the creamy spinach-ricotta filling that makes this recipe so dense, satisfying and delicious.
It takes a bit of time and loving attention to construct this cram-packed with goodness dish but it’s well worth the effort and I guarantee you won’t have to worry about leftovers with these fresh flavors! I’ve seen many a flabbergasted meat-eater going back for seconds when sharing this dish at potlucks. No doubt this dish has already converted many carnivores to the vegetarian version of lasagna. So get fresh and step up to the stove and see if you agree that this gets the “best ever” rating in your kitchen too.
Best Ever Vegetarian Lasagna
4 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large yellow onions, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large carrots, finely minced
2 cups button mushrooms, finely minced
1 lb frozen veggie “ground round” (do not thaw)
2 cans (796 ml) diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste (156 ml)
1 TB ground cumin
1 TB paprika
1/2 cup fresh basil, minced (or 3 TB dried basil)
1 TB dried oregano
juice of two oranges (approx 4 TB)
Salt and pepper to taste
The Veggie Layers:
1 container ricotta cheese (456 grams)
3 cups fresh chopped spinach (or 1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
2 large zucchini, sliced in rounds
1 box oven ready lasagna noodles
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
The Béchamel Topping:
4 Tb butter
4 Tb all purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup Parmeggiano Reggiano (recommended but you can use any kind of Parmesan)
1/4 cup basil, cut into fine strips
- For the Sauce: To a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil and diced onions and cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add carrot and garlic and saute about 2 minutes until garlic is fragrant (the carrots will cook down in the sauce over time).
- Add minced mushrooms and veggie ground round and cook about 5 to 8 minutes until the ground round is no longer frozen. Add cumin, paprika, oregano and basil and saute until the spices are well incorporated.
- Add tomatoes, tomato paste, orange juice and simmer 15 – 20 minutes until flavors are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Set aside to cool slightly.
- For the Ricotta Filling: In a large mixing bowl, add the spinach, ricotta, Parmesan and egg. Mix until well combined and set aside.
- For the Béchamel: Before constructing the lasagna, you should make the Béchamel topping. To do this, warm the two cups of milk in a small saucepan, bringing to just a slight simmer and set aside. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and then add the garlic for just a few moments (30 seconds) to release its aroma. Now add the flour stirring until a mushy custard consistency and cook for about 2 minutes to remove the floury taste.
- Add warm milk slowly in 1/4 cup amounts, then mix to incorporate the liquid until all of it has been absorbed. Repeat until all milk has been absorbed and a thick but fluid sauce has been formed. Turn off the heat and add the Parmeggiano Reggiano until melted and incorporated into the sauce. At the last minute, toss in your strips of basil and set aside to cool and infuse. This is what your finished Béchamel should look like.
- Constructing the Lasagna: Preheat oven to 350 degrees celcius while constructing the lasagna. Here’s the order of the layers (you can also play with some of the veggies in these layers and substitute yummy things like asparagus or eggplant, feel free to make it your own)…
- First Layer: Start by placing a thin layer of “The Sauce” on the bottom of a large casserole pan. Top with a layer of noodles.
- Second Layer: add rounds of sliced Zucchini over the noodles, slightly overlapping each piece. Lightly top with a little bit of “The Sauce” and sprinkle with about a half cup of the mozzarella cheese (or more if you enjoy bonus cheesy goodness).
- Third Layer: Add another layer of lasagna noodles. Top with all of the spinach ricotta mixture.
- Fourth Layer: Add another layer of noodles. Top with sliced mushrooms, covering the entire layer evenly and top with a thin layer of “The Sauce” (reserving a small amount for the fifth and final layer.
- Fifth and Final Layer: Add one final layer of noodles, the last of “The Sauce” (if you have any left) and then top with the Béchamel (you could also add more cheese and Parmesan if that kind of cheesy goodness is what you’re into).
- NOTE: If it’s helpful, below is a cross-section of what the layers of the constructed lasagna should look like, as illustrated in Stephen Page’s original recipe. (I love having scientists for friends!)
- Time for the oven! By now you may have noticed that your casserole dish is PACKED with layers of veggie goodness right to the very top. So, as a small “just in case”, before placing this in the oven to cook, I’d recommend placing your casserole on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any potential spillage. Top loosely with aluminum foil (to be removed in the last 10 minutes of baking) and then cook for 45 – 50 minutes until layers are warm, bubbly and juicy. Set aside for about 15 minutes before slicing into the “best ever” veggie lasagna. Enjoy and keep on keeping it FRESH!
Preparation Time: 1 hour (depending on your knife skills, time management and if you’re enjoying some vino while making this, which I highly recommend) Cooking time: 45 50 minutes Serves: Usually 6 to 8 people (depends on how much you like lasagna…or if you’re good with sharing). Calories per serving: Don’t ask! It’s cheesy, yummy and vegetarian. Just dig IN!