I don’t like coffee. Never have. I also don’t eat meat. And it wasn’t until around 5 or so years ago that I started to develop a taste for red wine. So when I went to visit family in Italy in 2006, I was greeted with a mix of shock and disbelief “No cafe? No rosso vino? No carne!?’ What kind of an Italian are you!?”
They watched with bemusement as I nibbled away on my fennel drizzled with olive oil and sipped on water whilst they devoured their meaty pasta, finished off with double shot espressos. “Do you like?” they asked “Bueno!” And it was – the fennel was picked fresh from their garden and the olive oil homemade from their own olive tree orchard, filled with beautiful old trees (“Look! The oldest olive tree in the region!” they happily proclaimed.)
Growing up in an Italian family I was used to eating good quality, fresh, simple food. Salad was usually two or three ingredients, thrown together with a splash of vinegar,a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of sea salt. Pasta was homemade and cooked with a simple tomato sauce (also homemade, of course). And when we had pizza, we would sit at the bench with my Nonna and stick our hands into the gooey dough and help shape our own pizzas, topping with only one or two ingredients. Cooking was always a communal activity and the whole family would sit down to eat together.
Since I have stopped eating meat, the dish I have missed the most (possibly the only dish I really miss!) was my Nan’s lasagna. Growing up, her lasagna was always my favorite meal and was always served on special occasions. The recipe was fairly simple – pasta, meat sauce, egg and cheese – but the flavours all came together to make for an amazing dish that always had us coming back for second and third helpings.
This lasagna isnt quite like my nans (most obviously – its missing the meat) but it uses simple ingredients to come together and make something special. You could easily buy some pre-made pasta sheets, but if you have a pasta machine – and the time – its definitely worth it to roll out your own.
My Veggie Lasagna
3 cups fine (Tipo 00) plain flour
3 T water
1 T olive oil
1x bottle 700ml purees tomatoes
1x can 425ml crushed tomatoes
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 T olive oil
pinch salt, to taste
handful fresh basil leaves
1 large bunch each kale and spinach, washed and chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
100g fresh ricotta
50g grated parmesan
2 tsp olive oil
200g grated fresh mozzarella
Preheat oven to 180C.
To make dough, place the flour on a clean bench top and make a well in the middle (note you could also do this step in a mixing bowl, but its much more fun to do this way!) Add eggs, water, oil and salt and slowly start to bring the outsides of the flour mound in to the wet mixture in the middle using your hand. Continue until all ingredients are combined. Start to knead the dough, and continue until it is smooth – around 10 minutes or so. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit whilst you prepare the other parts.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-to-high heat. Add garlic and saute until it starts to brown and smell lovely and fragrant – be careful not to burn! Add tomatoes and salt and reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer around 15 minutes or until it has reduced a bit and the flavours have intensified.
To make the greens, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and Add the kale. Cook for a minute or two and then add spinach and garlic. Fry for another minute, and then add spinach. Stir to combine and until the spinach just starts to wilt and remove from the heat. Add cheeses and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Use a pasta machine to roll out the pasta dough. I always roll mine out to the thinnest possible amount.
Put a few tablespoons of the sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and spread evenly across the bottom. Add a layer of pasta, cutting sheets to fit, and then another layer of sauce. Continue this until the dish is full (or you have run out of pasta or sauce!) Dont forget to includes the greens mix – this should make enough for two layers to put a third and two thirds of the way through. I also sprinkle some of the mozzarella on every second or third layer of sauce, with the remaining cheese going on the top layer.
Bake around 40 minutes or so, but check after half an hour. Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.
Serves 6 – 8