Things here in Suffolk are beginning to get distinctly autumnal – the neighbours have been having bonfires and the leaves on the silver birches are tinged with gold and beginning to fall – so I thought I’d use up our Mediterranean vegetables in a comforting lasagne. It’s a nice thing to cook when you have a bit of time at the weekend and feel like pottering gently round the kitchen.
The greenhouse is still producing lots of tomatoes, the onion crop has been excellent (from seed too, not expensive sets, thanks to Him Outdoors) and the aubergines and courgettes are nearly over but still gamely hanging in there. Lest you think I sound too smug, I confess the peppers came from our friendly local supermarket.
I know this dish is a bit heavy on the cheese but do try adding the mozzarella. It provides a degree of gooeyiness that’s deeply satisfying (unless you’re on a diet but hey, it’s nearly time for those big, all-enveloping jumpers).
Roasted Vegetable Lasagne
Ingredients for the roasted veg layers:
2 small-to-medium aubergines
2 sweet peppers (red, yellow or green, take your pick)
1 large red or white onion
A handful of cherry tomatoes, optional
Salt and pepper
For the tomato and basil sauce:
800g fresh tomatoes or 2 x 400g tins of tomatoes and a good squeeze of tomato puree
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic
Small bunch of basil, leaves picked and torn
Salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar
For the cheese sauce:
Around 350 ml milk
40 g butter
35 g plain flour
60g Cheddar cheese, grated
60g Parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper
1 packet of lasagne
1 ball of mozzarella
More grated Parmesan to scatter on the top
Heat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6.
Cut the aubergines into small bite-sized chunks, put them in a colander over the sink, sprinkle with salt and leave for 15-20 minutes. This removes any bitterness. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen roll or a clean tea towel.
Cut the peppers, onion and courgettes into chunks the same size as the aubergine. Put them all in a large roasting tin, adding the handful of cherry tomatoes, if using.
Drizzle with a tablespoon or so of oil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and roast in the oven for about 25-35 minutes (give them a stir half-way through) or until softened and beginning to brown at the edges. Set aside.
Now make the tomato and basil sauce. Put the tomatoes (if using fresh ones) in a big bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Leave for 60 seconds, pour off the water and slip off the skins. Core the tomatoes if necessary and chop roughly. If you’re using tinned tomatoes, just chop them coarsely and retain all the juice.
Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a saucepan on a low to medium heat. Fry the onion gently until soft and golden but not browned, adding the garlic once the onions have softened.
Tip the tomatoes and their juices into the pan, season to taste and simmer until the tomatoes are disintegrating and the liquid has reduced enough to give a thick sauce.
Add the ripped up basil leaves and check the seasoning. Mix the roasted vegetables into the tomato sauce and set aside.
Make the cheese sauce next. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook gently for a minute or two. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and glossy.
Season with a little salt and pepper. Continue to cook gently until any floury taste has disappeared, stirring often. Mix in the grated cheese and cook until melted and velvety. Check and adjust the seasoning. Put lid on it to stop a skin forming and set aside to keep warm.
If you have the sort of lasagne sheets that require pre-cooking, cook them in plenty of boiling, salted water and drain them on a clean tea towel. Otherwise just open your packet and start assembling the dish.
Spoon a thin layer of the vegetable mixture into the bottom of a large rectangular, oven-proof dish. Drizzle with cheese sauce and put a layer of lasagna sheets on top. Press down lightly.
Add another thin layer of the veg mix and a good drizzle of cheese sauce, this time scattering a few bits of mozzarella on top.
Add another layer of pasta sheets and keep going with alternate layers (don’t forget the mozzarella) until you’re near the top of the dish.
Finally spoon a thick layer of cheese sauce over the dish and top with a good dusting of Parmesan.
Bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for around 30 minutes or until it is golden and crusty on top and bubbling at the edges.