Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Great Lasagna Adventure

A while back, apparently I decided that good ole' regular lasagne was not challenging enough for me. My good friend HappyAly is a young and healthy vegan kinda chickaroo, and I wanted to make her the beautiful white bean cannolini dish from Rhymes with Vegan. Just look at the photo of that dish! The white, creamy filling, the obviously fresh basil. Everything about it appealed to me. And, of course, one of my hobbies is to make my HappyAly dishes that she will enjoy.  I quickly smashed right into my first roadblock...I had no vegan vegetable broth.  No problem, I thought....I'm a cook here, right?  So, I quickly threw some carrot, celery, fresh Italian flat-leaved parsley, salt, bay leaf and peppercorns into a saucepan.

Presto! Totally vegan vegetable stock! The recipe was and is rather ingredient-heavy, so I thought it best to get my mise en place (French for "putting in place" - it means getting your act together before you begin cooking) ready.  I assembled some of the ingredients on my cutting board while the veggie stock was simmering. 

Sidebar conversation: I am still a bit of the environmentalist I was in the younger version of myself, and I faced a conundrum when it came to cutting boards.  I do not like plastic or glass cutting boards (although I do use a thin plastic overlay when cutting raw poultry, etc), they don't grip like wood does, the glass makes a lot of noise, and I just cannot go there. On the other hand, I don't like the thought of trees a-falling in the woods to make me a cutting board! The solution? BAMBOO! It looks and grips like wood, I can pour boiling water all over it when it's due for a good sanitizing, and it does not warp, and it is sustainable.  For those of you not into the whole eco-friendly verbiage, sustainable means (in this instance), when they cut it, it comes back! I am inordinately fond of my cutting board, and just needed to share with the class. :)

Back to the vegan I cooked the white bean mixture to stuff into the pasta shells, I was feeling pretty pleased. The fragrance emanating from my kitchen smelled of garlicky Italian goodness, and I thought that this was going extremely well! I prepped the other ingredients, and got out my little immersion blender to puree the white bean mixture. That is when karma/life/past transgressions flipped me the big finger. The bean mixture would not thicken! Fine, I thought, I'll add another can of white beans, and enough of the other flavorings so as not to dilute the flavor.  Yeah, good luck with still would not thicken. I even added a quarter cup of nutritional yeast, thinking its powder-like nature, and "cheezy" goodness would thicken the filling. Ummm, yeah, no go. I started cursing the beautiful photo of the dish I saw on the website, and added a can of garbanzo beans as well. I puree'd a little more, and the mixture, although delicious, was not going to be substantial enough to fill a cannollini or manicotti shell. What to do? Well, if life gives you non-thickened bean mixture, make lasagna! I began by layering the tins with some ripped-open manicotti shells, the bean mixture, and the tomato/kalamata sauce mixture.

I kept layering until nearly at the top of the tin.......

And, since I was going through all this to perfect something that should taste like traditional lasagna, without all the fats from meats and cheeses (and I love both, don't get me wrong), I made myself some, too.

I finished layering all, topped with additional sauce and nutritional yeast, and baked at 350 for approximately thirty to forty minutes, until all were bubbly, and the pasta began to get a little crisp.  The final result? Take a look....

Topped with a final garnish of chopped fresh Italian flat-leaved parsley, and ready to serve!

The moral of the story? Well, as a thirty-year veteran of the school of self-taught chef-dom, I must say that one of the more valuable lessons is to never, EVER give up! Yes, your souffle's may fall flat, your brownies turn to fudge, your omelet become overcooked - so what! Get in there, and keep at it.  The verdict? Well, my beautiful Aly loved it, and immediately asked which site I got the recipe from, I loved it, it transports and freezes well, and I achieved vegan vindication - YAY!

What was your worst kitchen disaster? Did you attempt the same dish until you conquered it?

Eat well, my friends and stay tuned for an interesting post on the ever-so-cosmopolitan Anchorage dining scene (ahem). Have a lovely Saturday, and get out there and cook something!


  1. Looks good, Allison. I actually came up with my homemade bread recipe kind of by accident, as well. I also seem to start out making one thing and discover another (usually after determining that I actually don't have all of the ingredients needed) sort of regularly, thanks for the encouragement. :)

  2. You are most welcome - some of my most surprisingly tasty dishes either came out of disaster or necessity!