November 6, 2013

Vegetarian Lasagna

I have a handful of favorite recipes that I like to make often. Recipes that I have carefully crafted on my own, tweaking and adjusting, trying to perfect over time - adding a little something here, a little something there. I have mostly chosen these recipes based on the positive feedback that I have received from family and friends. Each time I knead the dough or caramelize the onions, each time I make one of these recipes for the 6th, 7th, or 8th time, I can feel history shaping. For an actor it may be the performance of a lifetime, for a poet the perfect sonnet, for a scientist, winning the Nobel prize, but for me, and I'm assuming many others out there, it will be our signature recipes that we are remembered for (and our winning personalities, fantastic sense of humor, and kindness, of course.)

Speaking of signature recipes, just last night I made Marcella Hazan's butter tomato sauce. As I watched the tomatoes simmer and the house fill with the most wonderful aromas, I thought about the history of this particular recipe, about Marcella, and I wondered if her family feels the same excitement and enthusiasm that I feel each time I ladle a generous serving onto my pasta. Do they feel a sense of connection to her as they scoop out the pieces of onion, or gently press the tomatoes against the side of the pot? 

When I think about my grandmother, all sorts of wonderful things come to mind. Her soft skin and smell of Chantilly Houbigant perfume. The slippers she used to make us each Christmas (striped with pom poms on the toes). I remember her laugh and smile and all sorts of other wonderful things about her, but the memories that have stuck with me, the ones that appear often, are the ones that involve food. Memories of my sisters and I sneaking into her pantry and filling our faces with her raisin oatmeal cookies. Picking boxes and boxes of strawberries, and later canning them into jam. Enjoying iced tea and shortbread cookies by the poolside, barely containing our excitement. Indulging in a mid afternoon snack of hors d'oeuvres - a.k.a. ritz crackers, bologna, cheese, and bread and butter pickles - like we were the fanciest folk around.

I wonder if my grandmother was aware at the time, as we picked berries, or made cookies, took a bite into her minced meat pies, or spiced cake with pudding, that these specific memories would be the ones that we would hold onto tight. I wonder if she realized that her signature dishes would be passed down through generations. And even though her great great grand children will never get the opportunity to meet her, witness her beautiful smile and laugh, they will always have her oatmeal raisin cookies. Something tangible to hold on to. Something to remember her by. 

Growing up, my mother used to make a good lasagna. She never made it enough for it to become a signature recipe, but it is still something that I remember. It was a very traditional lasagna with ground beef, ricotta, and mozzarella. I've always adored this style of lasagna, and since becoming vegetarian, I've found it quite difficult to find a similar substitute. Often, a lasagna proclaiming to be vegetarian is assembled with a generous serving of vegetables - squash, eggplant, sweet potato etc. - and while some people may adore this style, it does not fit with my palate. A few years ago, I sought out to make a vegetarian version of the traditional 'meaty lasagna'. It all began with a nice chunk of butter (all great recipes do), some diced onions, and garlic. The onions were sautéed to a rich caramel color, and then the mushrooms were added and cooked until soft. I used Yves Veggie Ground Round for the protein and texture, with a bit of white wine for flavor. Two tins of either diced or whole tomatoes, and then a mix of flavors and spices that have been tweaked along the way.

The recipe below is the result of years of improvements on that original recipe.  I can't promise that it won't change in the future, but for now, it's mighty good. In between the noodles I prefer to layer a generous serving of sauce, fresh basil, ricotta, and mozzarella. Below, I've lined out my specific order of steps, but feel free to change it up as you like. I've made this lasagna a handful of times. People are starting to request it often. I think it is slowly becoming one of my dishes, and I'm ok with this. It is for this reason that each time I make it, I put in so much thought and consideration, love and care, because I know that with every layer of noodle and ladle of sauce, my history is being shaped.

serves 10 people

pasta ingredients
2 eggs
1/2 tbsp water
 1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups all purpose or type 00 flour

lasagna ingredients
2 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
7 brown mushrooms, sliced
1 pack (12 oz) Yves Veggie Ground Round
1/4 cup white wine
2 - 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped basil
2 cups grated mozzarella
2 cups ricotta cheese

To make the pasta, place the eggs, water, salt and flour into a stand mixer bowl. With the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low for 2 minutes. Attach the dough hook and knead for one minute. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead with your hands for one minute. Let the dough rest at room temperature, covered, for 40 minutes while preparing the sauce.

In a large pot or dutch oven, add the butter, onions, and garlic and sauté on medium heat until caramelized. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add the veggie ground round and wine, and sauté until the wine had evaporated. Add the diced tomatoes, salt, chili flakes, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Begin to feed a handful of dough into the pasta maker as per directions. I find that setting the roller to 5 produces the best results. Cut the dough into strips the length of the lasagna pan. Par boil the dough for one minute. Layer the lasagna pieces into the pan as they are made.

Layer the lasagna toppings into a 9 x 13 inch pan as follows; ladle a small amount of sauce on the bottom of the pan to cover, place enough noodles to cover the sauce, 1 cup ricotta smeared on top, 1 cup of sauce, noodles, 1 cup of sauce, 1/2 of the chopped basil, 1 cup mozzarella, noodles, 1 cup ricotta, sauce, the rest of the chopped basil, noodles, 1 cup of sauce, and then top with 1 cup of mozzarella.

Place a piece of tin foil over the pan, making sure that it doesn't touch the lasagna. Bake for 45 minutes, remove the tin foil, and then broil at 500ºF for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Can be stored covered in the fridge for up to a week.


  1. Your signature dish looks gorgeous! I haven't mastered a signature dish yet but I hope it evokes wonderful memories for my family as your recipe does for yours :)

  2. I love this recipe! Homemade pasta makes everything so much better! And that sauce looks killer!

  3. you are such a badass for making your own lasagna noodles! i have never done that before. it is such lasagna weather here... so much snow!! beautiful photos and writing :)

  4. This post brought tears to my eyes....Oh Granny

  5. Wow, is all I could say about this recipe as I scrolled along. Homemade noodles? Brown butter tomato sauce? Heather, you have made beauty in this dish. Have me over for a slice? Please...?

  6. I love the memories of food that I've shared with my Grandma, they are certainly the best memories. Yours sound beautiful. This lasagna looks delicious and I love the dark contrast in your pictures.

  7. So we have a pasta maker but it's not as nice as this Kitchen Aid attachment. It's one of those old Italian style ones that needs a steady base to roll out the dough... basically, two hands. I can't find a way to attach it to anything bc we have such a weird kitchen... I'm dying to make pasta again!!! Please send fresh pasta/lasagna.

    1. Oh man! I have the SAME problem with our pasta maker - it doesn't attach anywhere. Our pasta adventures have mostly consisted of my boyfriend holding the thing down for a half an hour while I try to hurry up and roll the pasta out. A wonderful 'date night' experience that usually ends up in frustrating glares at each other.

  8. I never thought I'd say this about lasagna, but this one is just so... beautiful. And homemade pasta? You amaze me.

  9. Amazing, amazing, amazing... you made your own pasta! What a delicious and beautiful looking lasagna :-)

  10. Oh my gosh. This dish is so beautiful. Mmm... non-vegetarians will not even think twice ;)

  11. So beautiful! Your signature dish looks amazing! I've been craving heavy food with the weather getting chilly and lasagna has been top on my list. Love how you made the noodles from scratch as well - truly homemade!

  12. Really, really beautiful. I can practically taste it. Gorgeous noodles, gorgeous photos!

  13. The picture brought me to your site, but your story and memories make me even happier than the food! Beautiful.

  14. I love your signature recipe with homemade pasta! Gorgeous pictures, making me more hungry! Beautiful story too.

  15. Looks too good and delicious.. thanks for sharing!!

  16. Such beautiful stories and photos. I'm always so busy wanting to try out new things, I forgot that having a tried and true signature is just as important.