It’s now Wednesday night and I am exhausted. Not good. At the beginning of the week, I was somehow full of hope, enthusiasm and energy and decided that I might try my hand at some vegetarian lasagne. I don’t have clinic on Monday so I spent much of the day dictating letters, correcting reports and preparing for Tuesday clinic. That is a whole heap of sitting and staring at a computer screen, coupled with an hours drive home by the evening I was ready to stand and move. During my lunch break I came across a recipe in an article in the Pool. It seemed very manageable. I stopped at Sainsbury’s on the way home to pick up some kale and a bottle of milk.
This is perhaps my third attempt at béchamel sauce and I think my most successful. It came out smooth creamy and tasty. Thanks to some patient stirring and good vibes from Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show I think! One of the songs that springs to mind is Stormzy “Blinded By Your Grace” . Something about the song makes me tingle all over and also makes me want to sob uncontrollably. It was preceded by Jeff Buckley’s Last Goodbye which has the same effect on my for other reasons. I had forgotten how powerful music could be. Luckily my béchamel sauce was saved my tears and just received my gratitude.
For the lasagne:
30g dried porcini
450g mushrooms (a mix of girolles, chestnut or portobello)
25g butter, plus more for greasing
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
150g kale, stalks removed, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
300g fresh lasagne sheets
150g Parmesan, grated plus a Iittle extra
Truffle oil (optional)
For the bechamel:
1 litre whole milk or almond milk
1/2 small onion
2 bay leaves
8 black peppercorns
75g plain flour
1. Cover the porcini with 200mI boiling water. Clean your mushrooms, using a brush or damp kitchen paper to dust off any dirt, then tear or slice them into bite-sized pieces.
2. For the bechamel, heat the milk in a pan with the onion, bay and peppercorns until boiling. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a jug and set aside for later.
3. Meanwhile cook your mushrooms – you will need to do this in a couple of batches. Melt half the butter in a large frying pan over a very high heat and add a splash of olive oil. Let the pan get nice and hot, then add half the fresh mushrooms and cook, moving them around the pan, until they are browned and crisp (about five to seven minutes). Season with a pinch of salt and remove the first batch to a large bowl. Put the pan back on the heat, add the rest of the butter and a bit more oil, and cook the rest of the mushrooms.
4. Once the second batch is golden, drain the porcini, keeping the soaking liquid, then roughly chop them and add them to the pan of mushrooms along with the parsley. Stir together and tip into the bowl with the rest of the mushrooms.
5. Now back to your sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the flour and mix well, allowing it to cook for a couple of minutes so the flour loses its rawness. Take the pan off the heat and add the milk bit by bit, starting with small drops and stirring well with a balloon whisk to prevent lumps forming. Once you have mixed in all the milk, stir in the porcini soaking liquid and put the pan back on the heat. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly – the mixture will thicken.
6. Simmer for three minutes, then stir in the parsley and mushroom mixture and heat gently. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if it’s needed.
7. In a bowl, scrunch the kale with a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper and mix through the sauce too.
8. Preheat the oven to 220ºC/fan 200ºC/gas mark 7. Butter an ovenproof dish (about 20cm x 30cm). If you are using dried pasta sheets, boil the pasta in salted water according to the packet instructions. If you are using fresh, cook the sheets in boiling water for two minutes, cooking four squares at a time and assembling the dish as you go.
9. Start with a layer of pasta, then sauce, then a sprinkling of Parmesan and keep going, building up the layers until you have used all the pasta sheets, and finishing with a layer of sauce and Parmesan.
10. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown on top and bubbling. Drizzle with truffle oil if you like, and serve with more Parmesan and some green salad.