Archive for Wednesday, September 8, 1999

VEGGIE LASAGNE HITS ITS STRIDE

September 8, 1999

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Lasagne is one of those standard dishes that has sort of faded into the woodwork, since its overuse made it trite. Italian-style lasagne was the casserole of choice in the 1970s because it was relatively simple to construct and a 13- by 9-inch pan could feed eight to 10 people.

In the 1980s lasagne came back, reinvented, as cooks tried to put new spins on the old concept. I remember eating my share of spinach lasagnes, made with both red and white sauces, and even smiled through a sweet lasagne whose ingredients included prunes.

Like platform shoes and stretch pants, the idea of lasagne keeps coming back. For better or worse, the 1990s has been the decade of the vegetarian lasagne, whose ingredients have been potluck. Essentially, anything that never stood on the hoof or laid eggs is fair game for an ingredient.

What I like about a vegetarian lasagne is this unpredictability. Squash, eggplant, onion, cabbage, pepper (red, yellow or green) and, of course, tomato -- all of these vegetables are appropriate for inclusion in a lasagne. Basically, when you build a vegetarian lasagne, you're working against a backdrop of cheese and pasta and, in most cases, a neutral white sauce. An adventurous cook sees this as an opportunity to experiment with combinations of vegetables and herbs.

Only the most die-hard carnivore will miss meat in a well-crafted vegetarian lasagne.

If I have one complaint about many of the vegetarian lasagnes I have eaten it is that cooks often misjudge the cooking time for the vegetable ingredients. While the vegetables need not be al dente, they certainly shouldn't be cooked beyond recognition. This is a concern particularly for squash and eggplant, which turn to mush after only a short time in the oven.

I was drawn to this recipe for vegetarian lasagne, which I found in Lesley Mackley's "The Book of Pasta" (HPBooks), because it uses beans. The pasta and bean combination is not new; pasta e fagioli is an Italian standard. This recipe calls for adzuki beans, which are small, oval, reddish-brown beans that have a nutty flavor. There's nothing to prevent experimentation with other dried beans that bake well.

Vegetarian Lasagne

1 cup adzuki beans (6 ounces), soaked overnight

4 cups cold water

6 to 8 whole-wheat lasagne noodles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

8 ounces white cabbage, coarsely shredded (4 cups)

2 cups sliced mushrooms (4 ounces)

1 leek, coarsely chopped

eaten it is that cooks often misjudge the cooking time for the vegetable ingredients. While the vegetables need not be al dente, they certainly shouldn't be cooked beyond recognition. This is a concern particularly for squash and eggplant, which turn to mush after only a short time in the oven.

I was drawn to this recipe for vegetarian lasagne, which I found in Lesley Mackleer towels. In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and garlic. Cook until soft. Stir in cabbage, mushrooms, leek and bell pepper. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain adzuki beans, reserving liquid. Add beans to vegetables. Stir in tomatoes with juice and 1 cup of cooking liquid from beans. Add oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pan; simmer gently 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350°. In a greased baking dish, layer noodles, vegetables and Bechamel sauce, ending with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

Makes four to six servings.

Bechamel Sauce

1¤ cups milk

often misjudge the cooking time for the vegetable ingredients. While the vegetables need not be al dente, they certainly shouldn't be cooked beyond recognition. This is a concern particularly for squash and eggplant, which turn to mush after only a short time in the oven.

I was drawn to this recipe for vegetarian lasagne, which I found in Lesley Macklen pan to heat. Stir until thick and smooth. Reduce heat to low and cook 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper. Makes approximately 1 cup.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger@harvey.bakeru.edu. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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