Beef and Vegetable Lasagna with Two Cheeses

As the weather starts to cool off, my thoughts naturally turn from cold salads to hot dishes.  Today’s post comes from Aidan, a cook and Food Action contributor who loves local produce. At home, he plays with his food just for fun, and to add variety to a restricted protein diet. He’s been cooking for about nine years and his recipes are not all vegetarian, but do feature a lot of vegetables.

Equipment
2, 8×12 inch lasagna pans, 2 inches deep or deeper
Sauce pot, frying pan, strainer, hand blender or potato masher, a mixing bowl, a mandoline- Western or Japanese

Ingredients
lasagna noodles, 1x 500g box; homemade pasta is always awesome, too
ground beef, 800g
olive oil or any vegetable oil, on hand
tomatoes- 2 x 28 oz cans of whole plum tomatoes, 3 large fresh
onion, young white x 2-4 (to taste), diced
garlic, 6-8 cloves, minced
red pepper, 1 large pepper, julienne
fennel, 1/3 of a meduim-large bulb, julienne
button mushrooms, 15-20, sliced about 3-4 mm thick
spinach, 2c packed, rough chopped
parsley, 3/4c, rough chopped

*sliced lengthwise on mandoline, about 2-3 mm thick:
carrot, 3 young,
yellow zucchini, 1 medium,
butternut squash, 650 g (I used the neck of a smaller one and quartered it before slicing it, yielding about 1.5 inch wide slices)

orange juice, 1/4 c
dark balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbsp
chili flakes 1 tsp
dried thyme, 2 tsp
dried basil, dried oregano, ground coriander, 1.5 Tbsp each
ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp
ricotta, 2x 1 lb tubs
parmesan, 1.5 c grated
salt and pepper, to taste

Method
Dice onion and garlic and saute in a saucepot until slightly coloured. Add beef and all spices and continue to saute until beef is cooked through and browned. Add canned tomatoes and one fresh tomato to the pot, mashing them or hand-blending them to a chunky puree before adding them. The fresh tomato can be rough chopped and added. The orange juice and balsamic vinegar can be added with the tomatoes. Bring sauce to a boil and immediately drop to a simmer and let reduce to desired consistency while other prep is being done. Adjust seasoning where desired and if it’s too tart or bitter, the flavour can be balanced with a few pinches of white or brown sugar.

Boil about 3.5 litres of lightly salted water for lasagna noodles and cook noodles until aldente or just less than al dente. Leave warm to preserve natural starches and toss in oil to prevent sticking. Leave aside until all ingredients are ready for assembly.
Julienne the fennel and red pepper and quickly saute in a Tbsp or two of oil and set aside in a mixing bowl. Slice and saute the mushrooms until tender and add them to the mixing bowl. Chop the spinach and parsley and add them, too, to the mixing bowl.

Combine to form a mixture.

Slice tomatoes by cutting them in half through the core, remove the core, and slice tomatoes into half moon pieces about 2-3 mm thick. Set aside for layering.

On the mandoline, slice the vegetables which are to be turned into strips resembling the noodles. They can be cut into 3 or 4 inch logs and sliced lengthwise on the blade, about 2-3 mm thick. The other vegetables can be sliced on the mandoline, too, if desired.

To assemble the lasagna, cover the bottom of the lasagna dishes with one layer of noodles, then a layer of carrot and a layer of zucchini. Sprinkle 1/2 of the spinach/veg mix between the two pans and then pour some of the beef sauce over the layers and spread it out. Layer 1/2 of the sliced tomato between the two pans. Then make another layer of noodles and put a layer of squash over them. Spread the ricotta over the squash, spread the other half of the spincah mix over the cheese and put more sauce over the top of that. Put the last of the noodles on top and cover them in the remaining beef sauce and sliced tomato. Finish with the parmesan. Place in an oven pre-heated to 400F and bake for 45-60 minutes. Turn once during baking.

When out of the oven, cool on cooling racks.

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