Archive for category: Italian

Cheat’s Italian Part Two – Roast Veggie Lasagne

Cheaters’ veggie lasagne is a favourite in our house. It’s never quite the same because the ingredients depend on what is going cheap and fresh at the fruit and veg.

The following is a list of the usual suspects:

1 eggplant
2 red peppers
2 small zucchini (or courgettes, but I’m Australian after all)
1 large sweet potato or some pumpkin
a head of garlic
1 or 2 large mushrooms

You’ll also need:
a box of lasagne sheets
parmesan cheese

and a few other things (including anchovies and nutmeg) to make a red sauce:
1 onion (red or brown), sliced
1 bottle of passata, a tin of tomatoes or some simple red pasta sauce
an anchovy
whatever herbs you have lying around (usually dried oregano and bay leaves and fresh basil and thyme in my kitchen)
olive oil

and a béchamel sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm milk
gratted nutmeg
1-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan

Slice the aubergine in 1 cm thick rounds; lay on a plate and sprinkle with salt. Leave to stand for 20 minutes; rinse and pat dry. Coat in olive oil and grill or roast in a hot oven, or fry on a ridged griddle, until soft. Turn once.

Bake the peppers whole on a tray in the middle of the oven at 180ºC, until the skin is black and the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven and place them directly into a ziplock plastic bag; this makes the peppers sweat. Remove from the bag after 10 minutes and peel off the skin with your fingers. Cut into fat strips.

Slice the zucchini in long rectangular strips. (It gets less soggy this way than it does in rounds.) Oil your hands and coat the slices. Grill in a hot oven, turning once, or fry on a ridged griddle until soft and char-lined.

Slice the mushroom in fat strips and fry in butter until soft.

Cut the pumpkin or sweet potato into 1 cm thick slices, coat in olive oil and roast in the oven at 180ºC. Remove from the oven, let cool a little and peel off the skin.
Break apart the head of garlic and roast the cloves whole in their skins. (This can be done on the same tray as the sweet potato, but the garlic will be ready first and should be removed from the oven when soft to touch.) Squeeze out the insides of the garlic and add to the red sauce.

Make the red sauce by frying the onion and garlic in some olive oil. Add the passata, tinned tomatoes or basic sauce. (Fresh tomatoes are also nice to add but you need to remove the skin by plunging them into boiling and then cold water first.) Add the anchovy, roasted garlic and whatever dried herbs are lying around. Simmer on low heat until any whole tomatoes have dissolved completely into sauce. Usually this just gets better the longer you cook it.

Make the béchamel by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Fry the flour in the butter, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the milk and whisk to combine. Continue to stir until sauce simmers and thickens. Grate in some nutmeg and parmesan. Grind pepper to taste.

Oil the bottom of a lasagne dish and cover with a layer of pasta. If the pasta sheets are the instant kind, you can use them raw; otherwise they will need to be plunged into boiling water for a minute or two first. (If the red sauce is very watery, there’s no need to pre-cook the lasagne sheets.) Spread over a layer of red sauce and cover with the aubergine and mushroom. Add another layer of pasta and cover with the sweet potato; cover and fill in the gaps with béchamel sauce. Add another layer of pasta, followed by red sauce and the remaining roasted vegetables. (Any number of layers of red sauce and veggies is fine but I prefer to have only one central layer of white sauce.) Finish with a final layer of pasta and top with the rest of the béchamel. Grate a fine layer of parmesan over the top. Bake in a moderate oven for 20-30 minutes, until the top has browned and the pasta is soft to cut.


Inspired by our recent visit to Northern Italy, we decided to go Italian for a dinner with friends last weekend. It wasn’t a dinner party for two reasons. Firstly, there were five of us and we only have two dinning chairs at the moment. Secondly, desert came out in a rather inelegant glass baking dish. Despite the awkward serving, it tasted great.

I take my recipe from a wonderful book by Anna del Conte: The Concise Gastronomy of Italy. As usual, I don’t quite follow her recipe because she recommends including small chunks of chocolate inside the tiramisu which are a little hard and lumpy for me. Also, her quantities of brandy and coffee aren’t quite right: the last time I tried it I had to make up her coffee-mix three times for all the ladyfingers, which meant that I managed to get a rather greedy friend slightly drunk.

300 ml strong coffee I use plunger or run down to the local cafe for espresso
7 teaspoons brandy
80 grams dark chocolate (75%)
3 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs yolks (or 4 small ones)
4 tablespoons caster sugar
250 grams mascarpone
2 large egg whites (or 3 small ones)
1 packet of Savoiardi or Lady-finger biscuits (bizarrely there were 19 in my pack)

Mix the coffee and brandy. Grate the chocolate.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar into pale and soft peaks. Mix the mascarpone in a little at a time, then beat until smooth. Whisk the egg whites to stiff and carefully fold into the egg mixture.
Dip the biscuits into the coffee mixture and turn them over once only (otherwise they become too soggy). Lay the about 7 biscuits on the bottom of an oval dish. Spread over about 1/3 of the mascarpone egg mixture. Cover this layer in 1/3 of of grated chocolate. Layer with another 6 or 7 biscuits and another 1/3 of the mascarpone egg mixture and another 1/3 of the grated chocolate. Layer with the remaining biscuits and top with the remaining mascarpone egg cream. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least five hours.
Before serving, cover with the remaining grated chocolate. Mix the cinnamon and cocoa together and sift lightly over the top of the chocolate.
Peckhams stocks Savoiardi biscuts if you can’t find them at the market.