Whether your lasagne is meat-, fish- or veg-based, the only rule is to make it when you want something reassuring and comforting
The word “lasagne” is a bit like “sandwich” or “pie”: as a descriptor, it gets you only so far, because there are so many variables as to what you can put inside. There’s a common misconception that lasagne is a pasta dish layered with meat ragù and béchamel. But that’s lasagne alla bolognese, which, while a hugely popular version of the dish, is still just one version.
In fact, the term “lasagne” really applies only to the flat sheets of pasta that separate the layers of whatever else is baked with it. What those layers may be changes from region to region, person to person and season to season. Mediterranean vegetables, mushrooms, wilted greens, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, fish: all work well as the filling. As for the type of cheese you use, and whether or not to include a rich béchamel, tomato or pesto sauce, well, again, that depends on who is making a lasagne, and where.
The only rule is to make lasagne when you want something reliable, reassuring and comforting to eat. Much like a sandwich or pie.
Lasagne with chard, spinach and hazelnuts
This can be put together well in advance – even the day before – then baked when you are ready to eat, but hold back on the hazelnuts: sprinkle those on top just before you put the lasagne into the oven. Serves six as a main course.
3 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp caster sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
600g rainbow (or regular) chard, leaves and stems separated, leaves roughly chopped, stems finely sliced
600g baby spinach
2 tsp caraway seeds, lightly toasted
60g parsley, leaves and stalks roughly chopped
50g dill, leaves and stalks roughly chopped
8 dried lasagne sheets
150g parmesan, finely grated
150g gruyère, finely grated
60g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan on a medium flame, then fry the garlic for a minute, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, turn down the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, stir in 90ml water and blitz for 30 seconds (use a stick blender or food processor), until smooth.
Put a large saute pan for which you have a lid on a high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, the chard stems and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and saute for five minutes, until soft. Add half the chard leaves, cook for one to two minutes, stirring, until they wilt, then add the rest of the leaves and stir until wilted. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, for five to 10 minutes, until well wilted, then stir in the caraway and a good grind of pepper. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and leave to cook for 15 minutes, then stir in the chopped herbs and half a teaspoon of salt and take off the heat: the mix should be quite wet at this stage.
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Grease a large ovenproof dish (about 35cm x 25cm) with the remaining oil, then cover the base with four sheets of lasagne. Cover these with half the tomato sauce, then spread half the greens on top. Scatter over half the grated cheese, then repeat with the remaining lasagne, sauce and greens, finishing with a layer of cheese. Sprinkle over the hazelnuts and bake for 30-35 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Leave to rest for five minutes before serving, perhaps with a green salad.
Seafood lasagne with tomato and feta
I’ve used frozen seafood, but you can of course use the same amount of fresh. Serves four as a main course.
75ml olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 lemons – finely shave the skin of one and zest the other
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g cherry tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
4 anchovies, finely chopped
500ml fish stock
40g panko or fresh breadcrumbs
5g coriander, finely chopped
5g parsley, finely chopped
6 fresh lasagne sheets (20cm x 15cm)
500g frozen seafood mix, defrosted
100g feta, roughly crumbled into 1-2cm pieces
Heat the oven to its highest setting. Heat three tablespoons of oil in a large, non-stick frying pan on a medium-high flame, then fry the garlic, onion, lemon skin and half a teaspoon of salt for two to three minutes, until soft and golden. Turn down the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and cook for three minutes, stirring, until they start to soften. Add the tomato paste, anchovies, stock and 100ml water, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break apart and the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and leave to cool down a little.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the breadcrumbs lemon zest, coriander, parsley, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a simmer, then cook the lasagne sheets for three to four minutes, until soft but still with a slight bite. Separate the sheets with tongs, then transfer to a board until you’re ready to assemble the lasagne. Stir the seafood into the tomato sauce.
To assemble the lasagne, drizzle a teaspoon or so of oil over the base of a 24cm x 24cm baking dish, then line with two of the pasta sheets. Top with a generous spoonful of the tomato and seafood mix, and follow that first with a sprinkling of the herby breadcrumbs and then with a third of the feta. Repeat in the same order, to make two more layers, then drizzle over the remaining oil and bake for 15 minutes, until crisp around the edges. Leave to rest for five minutes before serving.