Combining the flavors of eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, red peppers and onions is a classic Provencal mixture. Using the same flavors and ingredients and combining them with pasta and a creamy béchamel also makes a fantastic vegetarian lasagna. This version goes a step further and eliminates all dairy as well to make a vegan entrée. Of course, you can use a more traditional butter and milk béchamel and add grated parmesan cheese to the top of the lasagna if you would like to make the same combination with dairy products…but after tasting this version…well, I think you will be convinced the meat and dairy are simply not necessary!
Ratatouille Lasagna – Makes about 4-6 generous servings
4-5 medium-sized eggplants
6 rondini zucchini
4 red peppers
about 3 dl. tomato sauce
about 5 dl. béchamel sauce
lasagna pasta, lightly blanched
salt as necessary
Begin by preparing the vegetables. Slice the eggplant lengthwise about 1-cm thick. Season with dried thyme, salt and a good coating of olive oil. Prepare the rondini zucchini in the same manner. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and grill the eggplant and zucchini until well-marked on both sides and the vegetables are softened. Reserve. Coat the peppers lightly in oil and roast in a 230° C oven with top heat until well blackened on all sides. Remove the skin and seeds and slice into quarters. Reserve. Combine about 1 dl. of béchamel sauce with the lemon-pignoli pesto to loosen. Assemble the lasagna by first lightly coating the bottom of your lasagna dish with béchamel. Add a layer of lasagna sheets to completely cover the bottom. Add the eggplant and light layer of tomato sauce. Add another layer of lasagna sheets. Top with the lemon-pignoli mixture, then with the zucchini. Add the red peppers and light coating of tomato sauce. Add another layer of lasagna sheets, then a coating of béchamel and tomato sauce. Add a final layer of pasta, then top with the soy yogurt mixed with béchamel. Cook in a 200° C oven for about 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle goes through the lasagna easily. Cool slightly before slicing.
Tomato-Onions Sauce – Makes about 1 Liter
This is one of my standard sauces I use whenever I need a quick tomato sauce, either as a base for a pasta sauce or to use in something like our ratatouille lasagna. You can also make larger quantities of this sauce and simply can it in sterilized jars.
1 kg. San Marzano tomatoes, cleaned and quartered
2 Tbl. olive oil
2 small red onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, whole
3 fresh bay leaves
1 Tbl. paprika
1 dl. white wine
1Tbl. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
salt as necessary
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the quartered tomatoes, red onions, garlic cloves, bay leaves and paprika. Add about 5 dl. of water and cook over medium-high heat. Reduce until most of the water has evaporated. Add the white wine, tomato paste and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, then add about 5 dl. of water. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and blend the sauce roughly with a hand blender. Season as necessary.
Béchamel Sauce – Makes about 1/2-Liter
Béchamel is a white sauce of butter, flour and milk that helps bind the components of scores of Italian dishes: lasagna, gratins, timbales, succulent compounds of meat, cheese and vegetables. A smooth, luxuriantly creamy béchamel is one of the most useful preparations for any cook, as long as you follow three simple rules. First, never allow the flour to become colored when you cook it with the butter or it will taste pasty and burnt. Next, add the milk to the flour and butter mixture gradually and off heat to keep lumps from forming. Finally, never let the sauce boil too long or the starch granules will burst and the sauce will eventually split. Béchamel takes so little time to prepare it is best to make just when you need it, so you can spread it easily while it is still soft. If you need to make it in advance, reheat it slowly in a double-boiler while stirring until it is once again supple and spreadable. You can also make a nice vegan version by combining 40 gr. olive oil with 50 gr. flour and 5 gr. corn flour. Use 4 dl. rice milk in place of regular milk. Follow the same procedure as described below.
5 dl. milk
50 gr. butter
45 gr. flour
salt and freshly grated nutmeg
Put the milk in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium low and bring the milk just to the verge of boiling. While heating the milk, put the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and turn on the heat to low. When the butter has melted completely, add all of the flour, stirring it well to combine. Cook easily while stirring constantly for about 1 minute. Do not allow the flour to become colored. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Add the hot milk to the flour mixture, starting with 2 tablespoons at a time. Gradually add the remaining milk, stirring constantly over low heat until a smooth amalgamated sauce is formed. Add the salt and freshly ground nutmeg and gently cook for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain into a clean container and cool with plastic wrap placed directly on top of the sauce.
Lemon-Pignoli Pesto – Makes about 1/2-Liter
This is a wonderful pureed mixture with a taste very reminiscent to parmesan cheese, which why it is an important condiment in vegan cooking.
200 gr. pine nuts
3 Tbl. lemon juice
3 Tbl. nutritional yeast
salt as necessary
4-8 Tbl. water
Combine the pine nuts, lemon juice and nutritional yeast in a blender and pulse to a fine consistency. Season with salt, then begin adding water while blending to create a fluffy consistency. Refrigerate – will keep for about one week.