There is something special, maybe even a little sexy, about lasagna. Like macaroni and cheese or collard greens, it’s one of those timeless and beloved comfort foods that seems simple, yet varies from cook to cook and family to family, often becoming an expression of its maker’s sense of tradition, personal style, and loving touch. I would be shocked if there does not exist an old Italian proverb that says you can see a cook’s heart and soul in the way she simmers and layers her ragout, béchamel, and ricotta. My husband didn’t exactly grow up in Italy, but family legend has it that his father fell for his mother the moment he tasted her lasagna.
When I first went vegan, I was concerned that I (and my poor non-vegan husband) would be sentenced to a life of chalky, heavily processed mysterious soy product, faux-everything “lasagna,” or perhaps uber-healthy hummus and lentil raw lasagna. Not that these dishes couldn’t be tasty and fulfilling in their own way, but when I crave lasagna, I’m looking for layers of gooey cheese, chunky long-simmered ragout, creamy béchamel, and a beautifully caramelized top. And I want the ingredients to be whole, natural foods that are prepared with my own hands rather than in some distant factory.
This almost-all-from-scratch lasagna is definitely a labor of love and will take a fair amount of TLC to put together, but it’s so wholesome yet decadent that it might just make someone fall in love with you.
Impossibly Creamy Vegan Lasagna
- 1 batch mushroom ragout (recipe below)
- 1 batch vegan ricotta, including ¼ cup set aside without spinach (recipe below)
- 1 batch béchamel (recipe below)
- 1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
- nutritional yeast, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set all ingredients out on the counter.
- Pour ½ ladle ragout and ½ ladle béchamel into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish and spread into a thin layer.
- Layer with 3 pasta noodles laid cross-wise. Spread a thick layer of the spinach-ricotta mixture onto noodles (about 1/3 of the mixture).
- Layer with about ½ cup of the ragout and spread to distribute.
- Top with ½ cup béchamel and spread to distribute. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast.
- Repeat steps 3-5 twice, making sure to leave a ladle of ragout and béchamel to top the casserole in next steps.
- Layer 3 more pieces of pasta. Top with remaining ragout and spread evenly. Spread the ¼ cup of ricotta without spinach over noodles, and top with remaining béchamel and a few shakes of nutritional yeast.
- Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until the top begins to brown.
The cheese, béchamel, and ragout can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored covered in the fridge.
To make the lasagna itself in advance, prepare according to instructions, but do not bake. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a couple of days, then bake at 350F for 40 minutes covered, and 10-15 minutes uncovered, or until hot and bubbly.
Tomato Mushroom Ragout
- 3 10-ounce containers of fresh mushrooms, chopped (If you can, splurge on a fancy variety like oyster, but buttons will work well too)
- 1 jar of the most basic jarred marinara you can find
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional to taste
- 1 tablespoon white or red wine (use water or broth if you don’t have any on hand)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus additional to taste
- Sauté chopped mushrooms in olive oil over medium-high heat until they have released virtually all of their moisture and have started to stick to the bottom of the pan and brown. You can crowd the pan initially because, once the mushrooms give off their liquid, they will shrink drastically. This will take at least 15 minutes, likely a bit more. (Note that before the mushrooms begin releasing liquid, they will soak up all the oil and the pan will seem very dry. Resist the urge to lower the heat, or to mistakenly think that the mushrooms are done—undercooking mushrooms is what can make them seem slimy or spongy. Just when it seems as though the mushrooms are about to burn, they’ll leach out tons of water. Simmer until the water is entirely evaporated and you will end up with firm, meaty mushrooms.)
- Lower heat and splash with wine and soy sauce. Scrape up any bits that have stuck to pan, and simmer until the liquid has again evaporated.
- Add marinara to pan and stir to combine. Leave simmering over low heat while preparing remaining components of the lasagna, at least 30 minutes, until thick and almost syrupy.
- Remove from heat and season with a splash of olive oil, nutritional yeast, and additional soy sauce if needed. (Using soy sauce instead of salt adds a beefy flavor to the sauce.)
Cashew Ricotta and Spinach Filling
- 1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked overnight or simmered in water for at least an hour
- ½ cup water
- ½ block firm tofu
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise (If you don’t have any on hand, substitute an equal amount of olive oil)
- 1 teaspoon miso* (Optional. However, if you omit, you will likely want to add an extra pinch of salt.)
- 1 tsp salt, plus additional to taste
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 3 cups frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove all excess water
- Combine all ingredients except spinach in food processor and blend until the mixture forms a creamy paste the consistency of ricotta.
- Set aside ¼ cup of mixture (to be used in place of mozzarella to top lasagna)
- Stir thawed spinach into remaining cashew cheese.
- Taste and add additional salt if needed. You want it to be slightly saltier than if you were eating it by itself
Béchamel Cream Sauce
(veganized from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook)
- 4 tablespoons vegan butter or olive oil
- 3 ½ tablespoons flour
- 3 cups non-dairy milk, warmed in the microwave
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Melt butter or heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
- Cook until the mixture is golden brown and gradually stir in warmed milk.
- Bring to a low boil, whisking to break up any clumps. Cook until thickened to the consistency of an alfredo sauce.
- Season with salt and nutmeg.