I am a serious carnivore. The kind that posts funny jokes like “If god didn’t want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?” on my facebook wall, and chuckles every time I see them. And what’s worse is that I am the type of meat-eater that vegetarians despise: I like my meat clean, trimmed of excess everything, preferably vacuumed packed and neatly displayed on a sparkling clean counter. In other words, I don’t like my meat to in any way resemble the actual animal that it came from. And bones creep me out. Thankfully this day and age means that people like me don’t have to pluck their own chickens, which leaves me free to eat meat with every meal. As such, there are not many vegetarian meals that have made it into the hallowed Recipe Book of Favourites. This is one of the exceptions. This is, in fact, the first vegetarian meal I ever made, and one of my closest friends, who has a pathological hatred for tomatoes, has even asked me for this recipe. That said, I know that some of you will remain sceptical, so for you I have added a delicious meaty twist: chorizo. You can never go wrong with chorizo.
Butternut and Italian Tomato Lasagne with Goat’s Cheese
– serves approx. 6
Add the butternut, tinned tomatoes, garlic, herbs and sugar to a large pot, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer (with the lid on) until the butternut is soft, about 30min, stirring occasionally. If you are adding chorizo, add the chorizo slices about halfway through. Once the butternut is soft, check the seasoning. The sugar was added to balance out the tomatoes; tinned tomatoes are very acidic and sugar is almost always needed to balance the acidity. Some tinned tomatoes are more acidic than others, so taste the filling and add more sugar (1/2 tblsp at a time) as needed. Season with salt and pepper. If the filling is looking quite dry, add 1/2 cup of water and mix through. How dry the filling is will depend on how ‘thirsty’ the butternut is, and again, this varies.
Heat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and remove from the heat. Stir in the flour – you should have a thick paste. Add a dash of the milk and mix it in. I recommend using a whisk for this, it works the best. Add progressively bigger dashes of milk (not very scientific measurements, I know), and keep whisking until you have a smooth consistency with no lumps. Then you can dump the rest of the milk in, add the mustard and generous amounts of salt and pepper, and give it a mix. Return the saucepan to the heat, and whisk continuously until the sauce boils. Let it boil for a few seconds (still whisking) and then remove from the heat.
Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the dish, and spread it around – I use a pyrex rectangular roasting dish, which is about 30x20cm. This gives some moisture to the bottom pasta sheets. Now arrange the lasagne sheets is the most effective way to fill the bottom of the dish, but not overlap with each other. Kind of like doing a puzzle. Break the sheets if you need to.
Once you’ve got the bottom layer arranged, scoop about half the filling on top of the lasagne sheets. Spread it around so the filling is evenly distributed across the dish and there aren’t any obvious gaps. Use a soup ladle to ladle about one third of the bechamel sauce on top of the filling.
Add another layer of pasta sheets (don’t be afraid to squish it down a little so everything is nice and flat), the other half of the filling, and another third of the sauce. Then add a final layer of lasagne sheets to the top, and spoon the final third of sauce on top of the pasta, spreading it out evenly so that all the top pasta sheets are covered with sauce. They need the sauce to soften.
Bake in the oven for about 30min, until bubbling. Slice the log of goat’s cheese into thin rounds, and distribute across the lasagne. Turn the oven grill element on, and move the shelf up close to the element. Put the lasagne onto the adjusted shelf under the grill for about 5min, watching carefully the whole time! The goat’s cheese discs will brown quite suddenly, and you don’t want them to burn. Ta-dah! Your lasagne is done. Serve with fresh basil.