I started writing about this recipe in my previous post – but I ended up rambling so much with the introduction that I had to turn the post into something else. This is the lasagna I prepared for the dinner I was catering, mentioned in that post.
And this is the time of year when artichokes, fresh peas, asparagus and broad beans (fava beans) are celebrated on the table. Rather than prepare a ‘normal’ vignarola (please refer to https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/vignarola-the-pilgrimage-of-posh/), I decided to make a lasagna out of it. Without a ‘normal’ tomato red sauce and hence with the inclusion of a béchamel/white sauce. People are very snobby about béchamel these days but I just shrug my culinary shoulders at them and stick to being an old-fogey in this regard. That said, the vignarola lasagna definitely needed a little extra, a little je-ne-sais-quoi besides the ubiquitous grated parmigiano.
There was a time when I was very taken by the mysteries of Feng Shui and stuck my browsing face into many a book on the subject. I came across an article in a magazine one day that made my chuckle: it basically said that if push came to shove in a sticky home-design situation, Feng Shui nearly always relied on installing a mirror that would either deflect bad energy or create good energy (ch’i), and that one should think of mirrors as the ‘asprin’ of Feng Shui, a cure-all for many design ailments. Transposing this concept onto the world of Italian cuisine and its basic savoury ‘grammar’, I came to the conclusion that the ‘mirrors’, or the asprin if you prefer, that are a life-saving gustatory solution to any bland dish, that will infuse a pleasing umami to it, are the following:
Parmigiano Reggiano being a glutamate, it too produces an umami taste. Tomato paste is also umami-rich which accounts for its florid use in so many Italian recipes. Vegetarians would have access to only the anchovy and vegans to none of the above and just have to stick to salt (and what would we do without salt) and tomato paste. (Please note that I am referring to an Italian food grammar and that of course the world of umami includes soy sauce, seaweed and miso etc that are vegan friendly.)
I hope this is helpful?
Anyway, I decided to use sausage.
Béchamel: please refer to https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-queen-of-sauces/
For the Vignarola Lasagna: good-quality shop bought lasagna sheets (less than 500g are need in total for this dish), fresh peas, asparagus, artichokes, olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon zest, grated parmigiano, sausage meat, wine, fresh mint leaves and fresh rosemary needles
Make the béchamel and set aside – you can even make it the day before and store it in the fridge.
Okay, so this photo is not quite representative of how I proceeded. What I did was, trim and slice the artichokes and cook them in a pan with plenty of olive oil until done. In another saucepan, with very little olive oil, I cooked the sausage meat. I then added the cooked artichoke slices to the sausage meat and poured a little wine, finishing off the cooking over a high heat. Again, set aside.
I then simmered the fresh peas in salted water and removed them and placed them into a bowl with icy cold water. I trimmed and cut up asparagus and then simmered it in the same cooking water and, again, drained the cooked asparagus into a bowl of icy water. I did, however, reserve the cooking water because I knew I would need it to loosen up the béchamel I had prepared. Béchamel tends to almost solidify when you let it sit around and it needs to be reheated in order to loosen up. I could have added more milk but instead I chose the pea and asparagus cooking water, it made more sense that way.
I had my mint and rosemary needles at the ready.
TIME TO LAYER AND ASSEMBLE
The first thing to do is pour some béchamel on the bottom of the pyrex or ceramic lasagna dish (and yes, I confess, I have also taken recourse to disposable aluminium lasagna containers). Then add three sheets of the ready-made shop bought lasagna. You could always make your own, but I just did not have the time (nor, ahem, the inclination).
Layer the sausage and the vegetables, sprinkle a little salt and pepper.
If you look closely, you might spot some yellow ‘bits’ – that’s the grated lemon zest. And if you have a beady eye, you might also spot some torn mint leaves. Be generous with how much parmigiano you shower.
Use a ladle to pour more béchamel and cover with another three sheets of lasagna. And so on, and so forth until you reach the rim of your lasagna container.
The last layer? That should be mostly made up of just the lasagna sheets and a dollop of béchamel, rounded off with hillocks of butter. Pop the lasagna into a pre-heated oven at 180°C and cook for about 40/45 minutes.
The top layer should be crisp and inviting.
You can see where the butter melted in the lasagna troughs. Ah …. butter … a lasagna’s best friend.
And by the way, I made a classic ragù lasagna a few weeks ago, as a wee post-partum gift for the parents of my neighbour’s daughter-in-law who had flown over from Colombia for the happy occasion.
And here were the aluminium containers I mentioned.
Very useful for transport purposes and no washing up.
Whether your lasagna be tomato based or milky white, it’s always going to be a crowd pleaser. Another boon is that a lasagna can be prepared wholly in advance and stored in the freezer until needed. What could be better for entertaining purposes?