My Mom’s Vegetable Lasagna
Though I mentioned my dad in the about section of this blog, my mom has made a huge impact on my cooking. Which makes for really interesting results considering how different her cooking style – Israeli, vegetable and olive oil based, quick, easy and light – is from my dad’s – French, butter and meat based, best when drawn out over days of stewing stocks and multiple strainings. My mom always jokes that she didn’t cook before she met my dad, and this is almost certainly true. Firstly, because she was a 17-year-old high school senior and second, because she grew up on a kibbutz. Not only did she live in a house with her classmates rather than with her parents, she never lived in a house with a kitchen. In those days, eating on the kibbutz was a communal thing and all three meals involved serving yourself cafeteria-style in the kibbutz’s dining room. And usually, especially in the ’60s and ’70s when the kibbutz was still largely agricultural and not very well off, the food sucked. Which sheds light on why my mum, unlike my dad, doesn’t really love food all that much.
Unless, of course, there’s cheese.
Israel does have a proud, if boring, tradition of cheese (I’m still searching for an adequate substitute to the ubiquitous and sublime g’vina levena), but her love of cheese goes way beyond that. Maybe it’s because she lived in Paris with my dad in the ’80s? Or maybe it’s from her time in London, where, still unable to cook, she subsisted on cigarettes (you know you did, mom!) and cheese sandwiches. Mmmmmm cheese.
One of the only relics from the London part of her years commuting back and forth between London (for school) and Paris (for love) is a sturdy little book, now definitely out of print, called The British Dairy Farmer’s Association Cookbook. I know what you’re thinking. I wish I would run over to the bookshelf now to show you some of the nasty pictures I remember from childhood. Dairy-based jello molds and fish (heads still attached!) drowned in beschamel. And if I wasn’t 384,581,990 miles away from Boston right now, I would. There was, however, one little gem in that otherwise wholly unappetizing book of milk: the vegetable lasagna.
In my house, the one I share with my delightful husband, we don’t call this lasagna because it in no way resembles the pride and glory of said husband’s hometown, Bologna. That out of the way, and with no disrespect to “real lasagna,” all you purists can shove it. Because no matter what Francesco says about the name and dubious origins, when this lasagna is on the table, there’s not a sound to be heard.
MOM’S VEGETABLE LASAGNA
This recipe is exceedingly forgiving (and exceedingly delicious), just use up whatever veggies you have rotting in the fridge. It’s usually the thing I turn to when A. those pesky vegetarians come over for dinner, B. a really large group needs feeding, or C. I miss my mumma.
It takes about 2 non-comital hours start to finish for this one-dish dinner. Oh, also: these amounts feed about 10 and may be too much for one casserole dish…I never back down…think of the leftovers!
8 carrots, peeled and sliced into rings
8 zucchini, sliced into rings
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated (did I mention my mom loves cheese?)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
salt and pepper
more cheddar cheese
Saute the onion in a large stockpot in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add all remaining vegetables and broth; bring to a boil. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until veggies are pretty soft but not mush.
Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles until just al dente and drain (or use the no boil kind).
In large casserole dish with some broth in the bottom, layer precooked lasagna noodles with veggies and cheese. Repeat layering.
To make roux, melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour, stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually add milk. Return to heat, bring to a boil, and stir until sauce thickens. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Add stock or pasta water if too thick.
Top with the roux and extra cheddar; cook at 375 F / 170 C for 30-40 minutes. Finish under the broiler for 3-4 minutes.
Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving (unless you love lasagna soup).
Freezes beautifully and is great even better reheated!