Lasagne with Béchamel and Spring Vegetables

I’ve been trying to write something here for days now.  I approach the task with the best intentions but know that it’s really only my conscience goading me.  No words come.  I scrounge for a memory worth sharing, then wonder if it’s one I’ve already written about and catch myself wanting to waste time sorting through archived posts to make sure.  It’s an old procrastination ruse, so I’m onto it most of the time.

Photos of recipes I’ve tried and liked are accumulating, waiting for something to be said about them, or the ingredients they were made with,  whether they’re in season, local, organic….or not.  Because you know, that matters, right?

I can’t muster up the energy because it all sounds so trivial.

I’m like an ostrich avoiding reality.  I’d rather edit photos (which qualifies at least as legitimate procrastination), or sprawl on my bedroom floor in front of the big windows on this blustery day watching the storm come in off the Pacific — probably the last we’ll have until next winter.  Mother Nature seems to have gotten March all wrong this year, with its entrance more like that of a lamb’s and its exit resembling a lion’s — at least in San Diego.

I could grab a book and lose myself for a while or think again for what seems to be the millionth time about whether the windows need drapes, and whether I should make them myself — except I’m not sure which closet that sewing machine is in and even if I did, my heart wouldn’t be into it.

A walk in the rain would also be nice, but the force of the wind is rattling the skylights and whistling down the chimneys.  I’d make it out the door and realize how silly a decision it was since I’m nothing like the thin woman clad in white who just sprinted past my window, nor like anyone the Brontës might write about, a thin figure whose dark dress is flapping about her ankles on the hauntingly beautiful Yorkshire moors and proof of a pained existence etched across her brow.

So ridiculously unfocused and thinking none of it really matters.

I’ve been thinking about perspective quite a bit this past week.  Counting my blessings.  Thinking about life, loss, what I take for granted (see foolish exhibits A, B, C, and D above) and what others in the world right now have lost and may never, ever recover.  I’m watching it on the news, in the photos that stream through a variety of websites, and can’t begin to understand.  How can anyone not actually experiencing the magnitude of such devastation understand?  I’m weighing the pettiness of any complaint, feeling short with others for their narrow mindedness, and all in all just very sad and angry.

It’s overwhelming.

So on this first day of spring and all it traditionally represents with respect to birth, new growth, and renewal, I hope the best for people in so many places on Earth right now devastated by things beyond their control.

If you’re someone who has thought about donating to a relief fund for Japan’s recovery, you may be interested in this piece by Stephanie Strom from the New York Times, “Charities Rush to Help Japan, With Little Direction.”

Donations can be made directly to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

More information about other ways to help are listed in “The Lede” at The New York Times“Japan Earthquake and Tsunami:  How to Help”

Lasagne with Béchamel and Spring Vegetables

1/2 lb. no-boil lasagne noodles

3 T olive oil

3 zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise

1 c. frozen peas

salt & pepper to taste

1 lg. sweet onion, sliced thinly

2 sm. leeks, split, rinsed and sliced thinly, white and light green parts only

2 lg. cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 c. ricotta

1 tsp. fresh lemon zest

1 T fresh chopped chives

pinch of cayenne

2 c. Bechamel

1/2 lb. fresh mozarella, sliced

1/3 c. Fontina, grated

1/3 c. asagio, freshly grated

1/3 c. pecorino romano, freshly grated

For the Béchamel…

2 c. milk

1/4 c. chopped onion

1 bay leaf

pinch of salt

a few cranks of freshly ground pepper

4 T unsalted butter

1/4 c. all-purpose flour

a bit of freshly grated nutmeg

a bit of cayenne

To make the Béchamel…

To a medium saucepan, add the milk, onion, bay leaf, and seasonings.  Over medium heat, bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally until reduced by a quarter.  Pour through a fine-meshed strainer and set aside.  Heat the milk in the microwave so that it’s not quite hot and have it ready to pour.

Rinse out the sauce pan and melt the butter over medium heat, stirring in the flour and over low heat stirring, allow to cook 2-3 minutes to get the floury taste from it.  After it’s bubbling, whisk quickly while pouring the milk into the flour mixture.  It will immediately begin to thicken, so keep stirring until all of the milk is incorporated.  Over low heat and stirring occasionally, continue to cook for 20 minutes until very thick.  Set aside until ready to use.

To make the lasagne…

Prepare the zucchini first by heating the oven to 450 degrees F.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, arrange zucchini slices in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the slices are dry and beginning to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Turn the oven heat down to 350 degrees F.

Saute the leeks and onions in a bit of the olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes, and remove from the heat.  Mix the ricotta with the lemon zest, chives, pinch of cayenne and salt in a small  bowl and set aside.  Have the frozen peas ready.

Spray a 9×13″ pan lightly with oil and spoon a liberal amount of the Béchamel into the pan.  Spread over the bottom surface area.  Layer the no-boil pasta over the top of the Béchamel — about 1/3 of the noodles.  Spread a third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, a third of the onion-leek mixture, over the ricotta, a third of the frozen peas, and 7-8 strips of the zucchini.  Sprinkle a bit of the minced garlic over the zucchini and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Repeat twice, ending with the last zucchini strips.  To finish, layer the fresh mozzarella slices over the top of the zucchini, add the grated asagio and pecorino romano, and finish with the remainder of the Bechamel.

Bake about 40-45 minutes or until the lasagne is bubbling and beginning to brown.  Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before serving.


Notes:

  • Béchamel is a versatile sauce which can be used to make great macaroni and cheese, or sausage “gravy” and biscuits to name a few simple dishes I grew up with.  My mother called it “white sauce” though, and that works for me.  Think equal parts butter to flour and then add milk and seasonings and she was ready to go with it.  I know she’d scratch her head over the cooking time in this recipe, as did I, because I thought it would be burnt, but it wasn’t.  Very, very thick?  Yes, so there’s no “drizzling” with this as the original recipe directs.  It’s tasty stuff, though.
  • the kitchn has a great piece on “Soup to Souffle:  6 Ways to Use Béchamel” for more ideas on what Béchamel can be used for
  • This absolutely wonderful recipe was adapted from “Spring Vegetable Lasagne” as published in Frank Sitt’s Bottega Favorita:  A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food.  The flavor is mild and satisfying without that cheese overload I don’t appreciate in some of the more traditional lasagne recipes I’ve tried over the years.  The peas and zucchini work nicely together with the sweetness of the onions and leeks.  Very nice.
  • The original recipe calls for whole milk ricotta, a whole pound of fresh mozzarella, and whole milk for the Béchamel, but I used low-fat milk, ricotta, and only half the quantity of mozzarella.  It was quite tasty.
  • I haven’t had great results with some brands of no-boil noodles, but the 365 brand from Whole Foods surprised me (no I’m not being paid to say that).  Often when I bake pasta, I use regular noodles without boiling, and they work fine as long as the filling is moist enough.  I don’t think that would work in this recipe because it’s not floating in the sauce (which is fine by me).  To use regular noodles, boil them until al dente, drain, and lay on a clean towel until used in the recipe and bake as directed above.
  • If you don’t want a pronounced garlic flavor, then saute the garlic with the onions and leeks to mellow it out.
  • I was tempted to add some sauteed mushrooms to this and decided not to, but know I’d love it.
  • This is one of those forgiving recipes I’m sure you could do just about anything with with respect to ingredients and quantities.  There are quite a few steps, but it really doesn’t take that much time to construct.
  • Make it ahead as written, allow it to cool at room temperature, then cover and chill.
  • To freeze, cool and cut into about 6 big sections, then wrap well.  To serve after freezing, thaw in the microwave before reheating.  Very tasty like this as well.

heavenly fragrance

32 thoughts on “Lasagne with Béchamel and Spring Vegetables

  1. This is such a keeper of a recipe. And the site looks absolutely wonderful, if I haven’t told you that already.

    Hopefully, I can make it soon. Cooking for one person robs me of all the joys such recipes give!

    1. Thanks so much on your feedback about the site. I’ve been working on it and it seems endless sometimes, but I enjoy it. Just wish I knew more than I do about how to put it all together. 🙂

      I’ve thought about cooking for one since we’re experiencing our own “reduction in numbers” around here. Hence, the frozen lasagne. We’re all about leftovers at least a couple of times a week. I’d say cut this recipe in half, and freeze. It really does microwave well.

  2. At first, I just looked at the recipe, but now looking at the pictures – beautiful whisk and the zucchini – that looks like art!

  3. I often find myself in this same place in the spring. Whether it’s just the time of the year — with so much pressure to see things “anew” — or what, I can’t be certain. But, I always find myself getting reflective. And this spring, I’ve found myself particularly sad — and very much overwhelmed by it all. So, rest assured you’re not alone.

    You certainly chose a lovely spring recipe to feature. Love the look of those green peas against the bechamel… so lovely.

    1. Thanks for that — and I can imagine there are many, many of us feeling the weight of the world right now and not really able to do anything about it. I understand it’s quite normal if that helps. Take care!

  4. This lasagna looks so beautiful kelly! I think even my tomato hater would be thrilled with this one. Bookmarked to try…

    1. I knew someone would mention peas — I LOVE them. The chef actually makes this recipe with pea puree, so I’m thinking you could easily come up with a different puree or veggie. 🙂

  5. (You and I may kinda be in the same place right now…kinda comforting to visit you today and read this post…) That said, and no weirdness intended, this lasagna looks amazing! Lovely recipe to welcome spring veggies!

    1. I’m glad for that. I think many are feeling similarly and don’t completely understand why. When you think about it, comfort food is named that for a reason. This works (but thankfully much is frozen to keep me from enjoying too much!)

  6. Kelly, I LOVE a lasagna bechamel, and I LOVE the idea of using spring vegetables. I make one with caramelized onions that’s super rich, but to die for. I can’t wait to try yours, the peas peeking out look amazing!

    That said, your photos are incredible..stunning! I’m guessing you aren’t using the artificial lights for these photos? LOL Thing is, I’ve also been using the all white backgrounds for some photos, but with the Lowel Ego Lights, they just look dull. I’m sort of at a crossroads, as in I don’t know which road to take any longer, background wise.

    Finally, everything Lis said about me, most certainly applies to you and your blog 😀

    1. You know, I was thinking about caramelizing the onions — I’ve done that with a shroom lasagne and like it. The flavor is less pronounced in this version, and yep, the peas are great.

      The only shots here taken in natural light are the lasagna slices because I took them the next morning, hoping for some layers. There are a few, but without a giant lasagne, I’d have had to do some stacking 😉

  7. Love the procrastination bit, oh how I can relate. But, the lasagna looks so happy and spring like. I could really get into that now!

  8. Kelly – what quantity of peas did you use? I couldn’t seem to see it in the list of ingredients; I’m assuming they’re defrosted for use, or perhaps that doesn’t matter as it’s going into a hot oven.

    Looks delicious and I’m a big bechamel fan.

    1. Thanks for your careful eye! It’s amazing how often that happens. I’ve edited the list of ingredients to include the 1 c. of frozen peas. No thawing or cooking necessary — just sprinkle them over the layers.

      This is a nice Béchamel recipe — but it’s not the classic white. I’ve got my browned bits in it 🙂

  9. After all that has transpired, it’s definitely hard to think of something with import to say…something that matters. But I think you did a beautiful job. A gorgeously written post if ever I’ve read one, with some gorgeously photographed food. I might just have to make this lasagna for Easter. It looks downright glorious.

    1. Thank you very much. A challenge to get it all down, but things I feel that intensely about usually are. The lasagne is a lovely recipe and I’m sure you will put your special touch to it.

  10. spring is here! how fabulous is that! i don’t like sweet peas but they look so appetizing in your lasagne, which i’m also not a huge fan of. but i love the airiness and crisp feel! hello, spring!

  11. i do the whole ostrich-with-head-in-sand thing quite a lot, so i know what you mean. great post, kelly, and tremendous and unique lasagna. you had me in the palm of your hand at bechamel. 🙂
    also…groovy whisk.

  12. I’m not even a big lasagna fan, but this looks incredible!!! I LOVE the peas and the bechamel sauce 🙂 Hello, Spring!!!

  13. I totally feel your mood, Kelly. Sometimes it is just so overwhelming that you want something to take your mind off things, and yet when you do everything seems so paltry. But this lasagna looks nice and comforting – especially with the bechamel.

  14. Very nice post. I love the Brontës , Frank Stitt’s cookbooks and peas. 🙂 I haven’t tried this recipe, but I will soon. Your photos are inspiring.

  15. I completely relate. I think with everything that’s been happening it’s hard not to be reflective. I wouldn’t want to be around the person who watched all of this and wasn’t reflective. It’s overwhelming to watch and I can’t at all imagine the devastation that so many are feeling right now. Thanks for this beautiful post. And for the veg lasagna…one of my favorites.

  16. These lasagna were RIDICULOUSLY good. I mean, DELICIOUS. And I didn’t even put asiago cheese cause I didn’t have any.
    Thank you so much.
    SO good.

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