I call this dish the crowd pleaser because it is a brilliant dish to serve a large group of people and makes the cook just as happy as the guests because it's really simple to make and it's inexpensive.
It's vegetarian, so if you have veggie diners, you don't have to worry about cooking them a separate dish, because it's every bit as 'meaty' as the meat version. It's at least as good re-heated the next day, so you can prepare ahead if you like. Serve with a garden salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.
Robust Vegetarian Lasagne
Feeds 6 Takes 1 hour
1 medium-sized aubergine (eggplant)
2 courgettes (zucchini)
7-8 large closed cup mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 package spinach lasagne noodles
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
3 tsp salt
300ml good veg stock (or chicken stock if you're not vegetarian)
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
large handful freshly grated parmesan
300g fresh buffalo mozerella
2 large, ripe tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil
2 tbsp olive oil
Start by cutting the aubergine into batons approximately 1 1/2 cm square by 6 cm long. (slice length-wise, then cut those slices into strips, then cut those strips in half) Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan, and when hot, add the aubergine pieces, turning them in the oil until all coated. While these begin to sizzle, dice the mushrooms into pieces approximately 2-3 cm and halve, then slice the courgettes. When the aubergines have been cooking for a few minutes and are beginning to colour, add the mushrooms, courgettes and the salt. Stir to combine and then allow to cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until all the veg are tender and most of the moisture that has bled out has cooked away. Stir in the tomatoes and garlic and cook for a further ten or so minutes.
Turn the oven on to 180 C/ 375 F
Meanwhile, make what I call 'Cheats Bechamel' It's far quicker than a normal bechamel because you don't have to steep the milk with the veg and herbs, but the flavour is just as lovely.
In a small sauce pan, melt the butter until gently bubbling, then tip in the flour and stir. You should have a thick paste-like mixture, which you want to cook for a few minutes, stirring periodically until it smells slightly nutty and is a little darker in colour. Stir in the stock, about a third at a time, bringing the pan to a simmer each time and beating out any lumps before adding the next lot in. When all of the stock has been added, add the bay leaves and begin with the milk, adding/warming/stirring until you have a smooth sauce the consistency of pourable custard. Grate in the nutmeg and stir in the parmesan, mixing through evenly.
Set aside for a few minutes until ready to use.
Slice the balls of mozzerella about 5mm thick and the tomato as thin as you can and prepare to assemble the dish.
In a lasagne dish, layer : 1 layer uncooked noodles, then 1/2 the veg mixture, then 1/3 of the bechamel, then another layer of noodles. Top with the remaining veg mixture, 1/3 of the bechamel, more noodles, and then the remaining bechamel. Evenly scatter the whole basil leaves across the top, then lay out the slices of mozzerella and finish with the slices of tomato. If you like, a smattering of crushed red chillies is also very tasty.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly, then let it rest at room temp for fifteen minutes before cutting into and serving.