Heirloom Tomato Lasagna with Almond Béchamel

As I’m sure you all can tell by now… Italian is my favorite cuisine to cook.  I grew up cooking it and it’s the most comforting food to me.  Recently I’ve been craving lasagna, but specifically the lasagna I grew up eating.  That always consisted of just bolognese & béchamel sauces, with lasagna noodles and fresh basil- nothing else.  No ricotta, no fancy vegetables or cheese, just two simple sauces with noodles and that’s it!  Since neither traditional bolognese sauce or béchamel are vegan, I just had to recreate those fitting in a plant based diet, and besides that this was a very simple recipe swap!

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For the sauce, we used our Bolognese sauce recipe that’s been on our site for a while for this recipe.  Its great because it makes a huge batch, which you can save in the freezer, and then when you want to make this lasagna, you simply defrost it and you’re good to go!  This sauce uses black lentils in place of ground beef, but otherwise is pretty similar to a traditional bolognese recipe.

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For the almond béchamel, start out by melting your vegan butter over medium heat.  Once it starts to bubble, add in your all purpose flour (you can use gluten free flour if desired), and whisk together until thickened.  This is called creating a roux, and it is whats used to thicken your béchamel sauce.  Once your roux has thickened, allow to cook for an additional minute (while continuously whisking to prevent it from burning) to cook off any of the bitter flavor the flour might have.  Next you can add in your almond milk.  Make sure to use regular unsweetened almond milk for this, because you don’t want to have any added sweetness or sugars.  I like to add this in stages to prevent the sauce from clumping together. Continuously whisk the sauce until smooth, and reduce the heat to medium – low so that it can thicken properly.  You may have to add some more milk or flour depending on how thick / thin your mixture is.  It really all depends on how long you cook the sauce for.  Once your mixture has thickened, add in your salt and nutmeg, and whisk again to combine.  Set aside once its properly thickened and wait until you’d assemble the lasagna.

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As far as the other ingredients besides the bolognese and béchamel sauce goes, all you need is some lasagna noodles, and heirloom tomatoes.  You can use gluten free lasagna noodles if you’d like to make this dish gluten free (the bolognese sauce is already gluten free and the béchamel is easily made gluten free by swapping the type of flour), but I personally recommend the “no boil” lasagna noodles that are sold at most grocery stores.  I like the shape of them better because they are typically smaller and fit in most pans better.  But they also create way less of a mess because they don’t stick together and become a complete disaster like the lasagna noodles that you have to par boil before assembling / cooking in the oven.  The only bad part about these “no boil” noodles is that you have to cook your lasagna in the oven for about forty minutes to an hour, covered with foil, otherwise they won’t be cooked all the way through.  But man are they worth it because they same so much mess and time overall, plus are thinner and typically don’t have the wavy edges like traditional lasagna noodles that you have to par boil.

The lasagna I grew up eating didn’t have heirloom tomatoes in it either; but while I was at the market today, I came across the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes and really just couldn’t pass them up.  Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods, especially of the heirloom variety, and they really give a nice freshness to this dish that is primarily very hearty because of the slow cooked bolognese sauce.  Of course you can omit them in this dish all together, or you can substitute for a regular vine tomato.  I wouldn’t recommend beefsteak tomatoes for this though because they’re a little too bitter for this dish, but really any other tomato will work, even cherry tomatoes!

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As far as assembling goes, this is pretty standard with any other lasagna.  Layer noodles, sauce, béchamel, tomatoes, fresh basil- then repeat until you fill the dish you’re using.  You’ll want to make sure that you alternate the direction you are placing your noodles on each layer though, so that when you cut into your lasagna it doesn’t completely fall apart.  Start out by greasing your baking dish with vegan butter or cooking spray, then add a thin layer of sauce on the bottom just to prevent the noodles from sticking.  Then add a layer of noodles, next a decent layer of bolognese, after that a decent layer of béchamel, then some heirloom tomato slices & fresh basil,  then repeat!  Just don’t forget on the next layer to turn your noodles in the opposite direction from the last layer.  For the top layer add your noodles, then a very thin layer of bolognese & béchamel and cover with foil.  Allow this to cook in your preheated 400 F oven for 40-50 minutes, or until the lasagna noodles have fully cooked (or follow the package instructions for whatever brand you buy).  Now if you didn’t use the “no boil” noodles, then you won’t have to cook this in the oven as long, maybe only 20-30 minutes because you will have had to par boil your noodles ahead of time.  As far as I know, there are no gluten free “no boil” lasagna noodles in existence so if you’re making this recipe gluten free you’ll have to par boil your noodles ahead of time which really isn’t a huge deal!

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Once your lasagna is done cooking in the oven, remove the foil and top with freshly grated vegan cheese.  For this we used the new Follow Your Heart  vegan mozzarella style block and hand grated it over top the lasagna.  Place your lasagna back in the oven on broil for a few minutes uncovered until your cheese is melted and bubbling.

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When your lasagna is finished, I know you’ll be tempted to cut into it right away- BUT WAIT!  Trust me.  If you cut into this bad boy while its piping hot you’ll have a huge mess on your hands and the whole thing will fall apart.  Wait at least 10 minutes and then cut and serve with some extra bolognese sauce, a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and freshly cracked pepper.  This dish is really great, and another recipe that freezes well.  I like to freeze individual slices of this in tupperware so that I can reheat individual portions up as frozen “tv dinners”.  I hope you enjoyed this recipe as much as I do!

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BOLOGNESE

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups brown lentils
  • 3 tbs fresh oregano
  • 4 tbs fresh basil
  • 4 tbs fresh parsley
  • 1 cup almond milk 
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, pureed in blender
  • 4 tbs tomato paste
  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium – low heat.  Add the salt, onion, and carrots and sauté for 5 minutes, or until soft and golden.  Add the garlic, saute for 30 seconds.  Add the cooked lentils & oregano, cook and break up the lentils as you go.  About 7-10 minutes.  After this step, add in your tomato paste and cook out for 2-3 minutes. 
  2. Add the milk.  Increase the heat to medium-high and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it maintains a gentle boil.  Cook the milk down for 20-30 minutes. 
  3. Add the wine.  Again, increase the heat to bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a simmer.  Cook the wine down for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Add the pureed tomatoes and crushed tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and then lower the heat so that the sauce is just occasionally bubbling.  At this point you can leave it on the stove on very low, simmer the sauce for 4-5 hours. 

ALMOND BÉCHAMEL

  • 3 cups regular unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs all purpose flour (can substitute gluten free flour)
  • 2 tsp pink himalayan salt
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  1. In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt your vegan butter until it starts to bubble.
  2. Once your butter is bubbling, add in your flour and whisk until thickened, about 2 minutes.
  3. Next add in your milk, in 1/4 cup increments, and continuously whisk until all the milk is combined to prevent your béchamel from going lumpy.
  4. Once your sauce is thickened, add in your salt & nutmeg and whisk to combine.  Add more milk or more flour if necessary; depending on if your sauce is too thick or thin.  You want it to be a yogurt consistency.
  5. Heat over a low flame until ready to use.

LASAGNA

  • 1 box “no boil” lasagna noodles
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • vegan mozzarella cheese (we used follow your heart)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F & grease a baking dish with butter or cooking spray.
  2. Layer a thin amount of sauce on the bottom of your baking tray, then line with noodles.
  3. After the noodles, add a thicker layer of sauce, some sliced heirloom tomatoes, a decent amount of almond béchamel, and fresh basil leaves (not chopped).
  4. Add another layer of noodles, IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION YOU LAID THE PREVIOUS LAYER, and repeat the same topping layers as instructed above.
  5. Repeat this process three times.  For your top layer, cover with noodles, add a thin layer of sauce & béchamel, and cover with foil.
  6. Place your baking dish on a baking sheet, and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 40-50 minutes, until your noodles are cooked through.
  7. Remove lasagna from the oven, and remove the foil.  Switch your oven to the broil setting, and grate your vegan mozzarella cheese over top the entire lasagna.  Transfer back into the oven uncovered for 4-5 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
  8. Allow your lasagna to rest about 10-15 minutes outside of the oven before cutting into it and serving.  This will make sure your lasagna doesn’t completely fall apart when you pull it out of the pan.
  9. Top your lasagna with extra sauce, a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper, and fresh basil leaves- and serve.

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