lasagna with a creamy pesto sauce

5th June 2011

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I found gold today at the very back of the garden, right next to the chicken coop under a very neglected grapefruit tree.  Gardener’s gold in the form of well-rotted chicken and geese poo, mixed around with lots and lots of hay, garden scraps, the odd bit of newspaper and grass clippings. Sitting there for months and months after the chicken house was cleaned, and decomposing with an abundance of nutrients and goodness.  Not totally composted, but perfect for use as mulch for the vegetable garden.  I managed four heaped wheelbarrows and spread this gold over at least three triangles of my garden.  This will keep the weeds at bay, and then be dug back into the soil for the next lot of vegetables.  I could feel the vibrations of all the recently planted little summer seedlings saying, “Thank you, thank you.”  Tiny and green and full of hope, adventure and abundance – a promise of good things to come.

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In this recipe, I am giving you my tomato sauce that I also use for pizza bases, pasta sauce and of course, it is perfect for this lasagna.  In Summer, I use fresh tomatoes from the garden and fresh basil leaves when they are obscenely abundant.  I ensure this sauce has a long, slow cooking to give it a depth of flavour and a richness in texture.  With a fresh, green, baby leaf salad from the garden, it is so delicious.

This is quite a decadent lasagna, or at least for me it is, but it is so delicious.  It is something which we spoil ourselves once a month with.   To give a more robust taste, sprinkle chopped walnuts on top.

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lasagna with a creamy pesto sauce

If wanting to keep this lasagna vegan, omit the cheese and sprinkle the top with whole-wheat breadcrumbs and chopped walnuts/pine nut parmesan, before baking.  When making it vegan brush thin slices of eggplant with oil and saute in a hot skillet until soft, for the last layer of the lasagna.

Serves 4, with seconds

ingredients :

1 packet lasagna sheets (I usually do four layers in a 13 x 8-inch deep baking dish)

1 – 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

tomato sauce –

¼ cup olive oil

4 sprigs fresh oregano

4 sprig fresh thyme

2 long 10 cm twig fresh rosemary

¼ tsp chilli flakes

1 bay leaf

1 large/220g fennel bulb, cut into thick rounds

2 medium/130g carrots, chopped

1 medium/100g red bell pepper

1 x 140g tube tomato paste

1kg ripe cherry tomatoes

1 heaped tsp salt

1 heaped tsp sugar

creamy pesto sauce –

2 – 4 big bunches fresh basil (110g basil leaves, stems removed)

1 cup raw cashew nuts (soaked for 4 hours)

1 cup nut milk

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

pinch of salt

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for the tomato sauce –

Wash the cherry tomatoes and leave them whole, chop the fennel into thick rounds, chop the carrot & red pepper.  I like to keep the vegetables quite chunky, especially the fennel.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, drizzle in the oil, add the fennel and fry until the fennel starts to soften, add the fresh oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and chilli flakes.  After a minute, stir in the vegetables and tomato paste.  Allow to simmer for five minutes, and then add the whole cherry tomatoes.  Cover and simmer very gently for 1 – 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat, take out the bay leaf, rosemary, oregano and thyme stalks, add the sugar and salt.  Set aside.

make the creamy pesto –

Drain the cashews and add to a blender, with the nut milk, blend until broken down & creamy, (depending on the consistency you may need to add more nut milk) add the basil leaves, salt & pepper, and blend again until well incorporated.  You want the sauce quite thick. Set aside.

assemble the lasagna –

Ladle a cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a baking dish, then a layer of the lasagna sheets. Another layer of tomato sauce and lasagna sheets add a layer of sauce, then half the pesto cream.  Finish with the last sheet of lasagna and remaining pesto cream on top.  Sprinkle with grated mozzarella so that you have a wonderful, cheesy top.  Sprinkle over a handful of roughly chopped walnuts or pine nut parmesan.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 190C/350F.  Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the aluminium foil, and bake for another 20 – 30 minutes until golden on.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes, so that the juices settle and the filling firms up. Serve with your favourite green salad.

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Goodness shared from Stacey

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