‘No problema’ vegetable lasagna recipe
STEPS 12 INGREDIENTS 14 TIME 80 MINS
If you don’t eat meat, this fool-proof vegetable lasagna recipe should also help you convince carnivorous friends that a meal really doesn’t have to include meat to be scrumptious and filling.
(In fact, as shown by the increasing number of 'veggie' dishes on this site, I think you’d have the backing of most Italians on that one too!)
Instead of tomato sauce with minced beef, this vegetable lasagna recipe simply combines the exact same lycopene-packed tomato sauce with some delish pre-cooked eggplant (known as aubergine to us Brits). And of course, you’ll be packing some aromatic basil leaves and succulent mozzarella cheese between those pasta layers too!
If you’re not keen on eggplant, don’t worry… you’ll find lots of possible replacement ingredients at the very bottom of the page.
Enough waffling, let’s get cooking!
Ingredients: (For a printable PDF shopping list click here, or right-click this link and choose 'Save target/link as' to save the list for later.)
For the sauce
2-3 large, long eggplants (aubergines)
15-20 fresh, washed basil leaves
1 glass of full-bodied red wine
1 medium-sized onion (red or white)
1 stick of washed celery
1 medium-sized carrot
Salt & pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
For the rest
20 sheets of lasagna (almost one full 500g/17.5oz packet) (Choose any lasagna you like, but don’t mix types as these usually cook at different speeds
2 balls of mozzarella cheese (avoid ‘buffalo’ mozzarella - it is too soft for cooking)
65g/2-3oz grated parmesan cheese
Big deep pan/skillet with lid (the pan I use is 25cm/10” across and 10cm/4” deep)
Large deep oven dish (I use a 30cm/12-inch oval) or lasagna pan (this Cuisinart is a great buy)
Food mixer/blender (not essential, but if required I recommend this )
Toothpick/cocktail stick (not essential)
Preparation (including sauce): 60-70 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins (check the lasagna packet)
Step 1 – Peel the onion and carrot. Chop off their ends.
Roughly chop these and the celery, then blend them in a food mixer for a few seconds. You don’t need a smooth paste; keep the mixture rough.
Don’t have a mixer? Just chop these ingredients quite finely instead.
Step 2 – Cover half of your pan’s base with olive oil, and add two seriously heaped tablespoons of this chopped veg mixture.
Place the pan on a medium heat hob and stir it gently for 3-4 minutes (until the veg softens and starts to brown).
Note: This 3-veg carrot/celery/onion mixture is a staple ingredient of many Italian tomato sauces.
Step 3 – After this softening stage, pour in the wine and leave the pan on the heat until most of the wine has evaporated away. This process burns off the alcohol, leaving the grape’s sweetness in the sauce.
TIP: When the wine stops smelling sour, it’s ready (usually 4 or 5 mins).
Step 4 – Throw in all the tomatoes, two teaspoons of tomato paste/purée and some salt (roughly one pinch for each tomato). Mix well.
Step 5 – Cover the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be bubbling but not spitting. (This stage is all about softening the tomatoes.)
Set a timer if you have one, as we’ll be doing other stuff while this cooks.
TIP: Taste the sauce. Delicious right? If it tastes sour (at any point), stick in half a teaspoon of sugar. Its sweetness counteracts the acidity of the toms.
Step 6 – While the toms soften, use your peeler to peel the eggplants. When their skins are off, slice these eggplants long-ways using the same peeler (for just the right thickness).
Store your eggplant slices in a bowl of cold salted water (or else exposure to the air turns them a nasty brown).
Step 7 – Grab a spoon (wooden ideally), uncover the sauce and mash up all the tomatoes. Then take off the lid and leave it bubbling away.
Set your watch or timer for 30-35 minutes and don’t forget to stir the sauce every now and then.
Step 8 - Now we pre-cook the eggplant.
You can grill or fry your eggplant layers. Grill each layer for just a minute – until the grill marks it with brown stripes.
However I prefer frying it… it’s quicker and there’s less bending down peering into the oven involved!
• Pop some vegetable oil into a pan and heat it through on a medium heat
• When the oil is hot, cover the pan with eggplant. Then use a wooden spoon or spatula to ‘toss’ this around as it cooks
Note: The layers don’t need to be heavily cooked, just softened up using the hot oil. 2 minutes for each batch of slices should be fine
When each pan-full is done, place the cooked layers on a plate and start the next batch
• Don’t forget to give the tomato sauce an occasional stir!
Step 9 – When all your eggplant is done, prepare the rest of your lasagna ingredients:
• Chop the mozzarella into small chunks (1cm cubes)
• Grate the parmesan
• Wash & roughly tear up the basil leaves
TIP: I recommend tearing basil (a horizontal motion) rather than chopping it (vertical), as this way doesn’t turn the leaves into pure mush.
Step 10 – Give the sauce a stir. You want it creamy, and most (not all) of the excess liquid to disappear.
When your sauce’s consistency is, well, sloppy – probably after 30-35 mins, maybe less - take it off the heat.
Step 11 – Preheat the oven to 180C. Wondering which is the best bit of this vegetable lasagna recipe? It's now, when we get busy building it...
• Paste a little sauce into the bottom of your oven dish. Don’t cover it, just ‘stain’ it.
• Cover this with a single layer of lasagna sheets. (If your dish is round, break up a sheet into small bits to fill the sides, but don’t stress… the layers don’t need to be airtight)
• Cover these sheets with another thicker layer of sauce
• Throw on some grated parmesan, spread around some eggplant layers, and add a good handful of mozzarella chunks and a few basil bits
• Repeat and repeat until you’ve almost filled the dish. Now…
Your final layer of lasagna sheets should only be covered by the last batch of sauce and a little grated parmesan. (Mozzarella and basil can burn in the oven.)
Step 12 – Put the dish in the oven and cook for the time stated on the lasagna packet (usually around 20 mins).
TIP: Consider your lasagna cooked when you can stick in a cocktail stick/toothpick and pull it out warm without resistance.
And we’re done!
Congratulations, you’ve pulled off my 'no problema' vegetable lasagna recipe to make a delectable and nutritious veggie treat - Italian-style!
Serve with: As mentioned on my wife Laura's meat lasagna recipe, for Italians lasagna is ‘il pasto’ - the meal. So just enjoy it with a nice glass of wine (this bottle is Wine.com's most popular Italian red), and maybe some fruit (for your health!) for dessert.
TIP: If your guests failed to show or you overshot your ingredients and made too much, read my freezing lasagna page and savour the rest of your feast at a later date. If you have sauce left over, freeze this too and smother it next time over some otherwise plain pasta.
And finally... eggplant replacements
If you don’t like eggplant/aubergine, you can use zucchini/courgettes (pre-cooked the same way) or mushrooms (again grilled or fried – porcini, button mushrooms, as you like).
Still unconvinced with this vegetable lasagna recipe? Then how about red and green roast pepper/capsicum? Failing that, try any other veg combo you like really – get creative!
And to up the ante next time... use fresh pasta (just pre-boil these fresh sheets before building your lasagna).
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