Winter layers: Four new lasagne recipes to warm you up

Strained yoghurt (labna), zaatar and aleppo pepper add a Middle Eastern twist to vegetarian lasagne.
Strained yoghurt (labna), zaatar and aleppo pepper add a Middle Eastern twist to vegetarian lasagne. Photo: Katrina Meynink

As the days start to lengthen I find myself trying to squeeze in just one more ultimate wintry cooked comfort. Lasagne, with its layers and oozing warmth of cheese, feels like the perfect goodbye.

An upfront caveat: these lasagnes require quite the dabble at the stove. But without a doubt, lasagne is just the kind of slow food worth taking time for.

Spiced sweet potato, labna and herb lasagne

I recommend a quality zaatar spice blend with the appropriate lemony sourness and dusky heat of sumac. I've also used aleppo chilli flakes – I love their peppery flavour as opposed to mouth-burning heat – but if you can't get your hands on any, replace with one teaspoon of chilli flakes.

INGREDIENTS

4 cups natural yoghurt, strained to remove as much whey as possible

1 cup ricotta

5 tsp zaatar spice blend

4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthways into 0.5cm-thick slices

1½ tbsp olive oil

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1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp aleppo pepper flakes (or to taste)

To assemble

fresh lasagne sheets (about 9)

800g jarred roasted peppers, juices strained

½ cup grated parmesan

To serve

¼ cup chopped coriander leaves

generous pinch aleppo pepper flakes

¼ cup crushed pistachios

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 175C and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Grease a 30cm x 20cm x 12cm high baking dish with olive or ricebran oil – you can use any dish you like, but this size works well for about four layers.

Combine the yoghurt, ricotta and zaatar in a bowl. Cover and pop in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the lasagne.

Gently toss the sweet potato in the olive oil then lay the slices on the prepared tray in a single layer. Sprinkle over the cumin seeds and pepper flakes. Roast for about 15 to 18 minutes until it takes on some colour but is only just cooked through.

To assemble, line the baking dish with a sheet of lasagne. Place slices of cooked sweet potato on top in a single layer. Follow with a layer of roasted pepper slices. Smear over a generous amount of the yoghurt and ricotta mixture and repeat the process until the dish is full and the ingredients have been used, finishing with a layer of yoghurt mixture.

Sprinkle over the parmesan and bake for 40 minutes. If the top is taking on too much colour, cover tightly with foil and continue to cook, removing the foil for the final 10 minutes of cooking time.

Stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped coriander, additional aleppo pepper flakes (if using) and crushed pistachios and serve.

Serves 8

Sausage ragu lasagne. Lasagne recipes for Good Food August 2019. Good Food use only. Must credit Katrina Meynink.

Sausage ragu lasagne. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Sausage ragu and mozzarella lasagne

The key here is using quality sausages that spend an indecent amount of time lolling about in the sauce for a rich, luxurious hit. You can also change them up for lamb or pork for a slightly different flavour profile. A 23cm x 29cm x 7cm high baking dish works best.

INGREDIENTS

1kg beef sausages

2 red onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

2 cups red wine

2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes

Bechamel (white sauce)

5 cups (1.25L) milk

1 brown onion, peeled, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp ground cloves

1 bay leaf

125g butter

100g plain flour

1 nutmeg, to grate (about ¼ tsp grated nutmeg)

salt and pepper

To assemble

9 fresh lasagne sheets

500g fresh buffalo or cow's milk mozzarella, torn

100g (1 cup) freshly grated parmesan

METHOD

For the sausage ragu, squeeze the sausage meat from the casings and roughly chop. Place a frypan over medium heat and add the chopped sausage and onion. As soon as it becomes fragrant, reduce the heat to low and cook until caramelised (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic, carrot and celery and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add the wine and tomatoes and cover. Simmer for two hours or until the sausage has started to break down and soften and the liquid has reduced (aim for a bolognese-like consistency).

For the bechamel, combine milk, onion, garlic, cloves and bay leaf in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Remove bay leaf and keep warm.

In a separate heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter, then add flour and stir over medium heat until combined and starting to colour (one to two minutes). Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the milk mixture until well combined and smooth. Return pan to low heat and cook, stirring, until sauce thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon (10 to 15 minutes). Season to taste with nutmeg, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep warm.

Preheat oven to 175C.

To assemble the lasagne, place three lasagne sheets in the base of the dish. Spread one-quarter of the ragu sauce on top followed by enough bechamel to just cover, and scatter over a few pieces of mozzarella. Repeat with remaining sauce, bechamel, cheese and pasta sheets. Pour any remaining bechamel sauce evenly over the final layer of mozzarella, then sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese has browned and the sauce is bubbling. Remove the lasagne from the oven and let it stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8

Frypan zucchini, caponata, ricotta and pesto vegetarian lasagne. Lasagne recipes for Good Food August 2019. Good Food use only. Must credit Katrina Meynink.

Free-form frypan zucchini lasagne. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Frypan zucchini, caponata, ricotta and pesto lasagne

Originally this was going to be all zucchini and no pasta, but carbs are my way of life, so they ended up back in there. Omit if you want a low(er) carb version but be aware it will be more free-form as you serve. The pasta (aside from being delicious) also offers a bit of love and support – dinner spanx – to give your comfort eats a necessary bit of structure. For a slightly firmer lasagne, overlap the ripped pieces slightly when arranging them in the frypan.

This is one for the weekend, with the pesto making and caponata. If you want to make it midweek-friendly, prep these elements ahead of time or use quality versions from your local deli instead.

INGREDIENTS

Pesto

2 cups firmly packed herbs and leaves (I used a mix of basil, mint and kale)

2 cloves garlic

40g nuts (such as smoked almonds)

185ml olive oil

¾ cup parmesan, grated

2-3 tbsp grated pecorino

Caponata

2 red capsicums

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 red onion, peeled and chopped

2 eggplants, chopped into 1.5cm cubes

1 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or more to taste)

To assemble

2 lasagne sheets, coarsely torn to fit your frypan

1½ cups ricotta

3 zucchini, shaved lengthways using a vegetable peeler

1 x 125g ball of fresh mozzarella in brine, drained and sliced

salt and pepper

METHOD

For the pesto, add all ingredients to a blender and blitz to combine. Add more oil if needed, then season generously with salt and pepper. Cover until ready to use. (Leftover pesto will keep for two weeks covered in the fridge.)

For the caponata, line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the capsicums on the tray and roast for 15 minutes or until completely soft and blackened in spots. Allow to cool then peel the skin from the flesh and remove the seeds. Roughly chop the flesh and set aside.

Place a frypan (or saucepan) over medium heat. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic and onion. Cook for one to two minutes or until fragrant. Add the eggplant and cook until soft. Add the chopped, roasted capsicum and the remaining ingredients. Turn the heat to a simmer and cook until it reduces to a jam-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. (Leftover caponata will keep covered in the fridge for two weeks.)

Grease a 25cm-diameter ovenproof frypan with olive or ricebran oil and preheat the oven to 180C.

To assemble, layer torn pieces of pasta across the base of the frypan – don't worry about creating a perfect layer. Add dollops of pesto and caponata and generous spoonfuls of ricotta. Layer over slices of zucchini and slices of mozzarella and repeat the process. You want to create loose-ish layers but this is not a traditional layered lasagne. Continue until the frypan is three-quarters full.

Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top layer of zucchini is golden and the mozzarella is bubbling. Stick a fork into it to check the lasagne sheets at the base have cooked through. Depending on how many layers you created, your cooking time may vary. If you think they are still a bit firm and resist the fork as you push it through, cover the frypan with foil and cook for another 10 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Serves 6

Slow-cooked bolognese lasagne. Lasagne recipes for Good Food August 2019. Good Food use only. Must credit Katrina Meynink.

Slow-cooked bolognese lasagne. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Three-cheese and slow-cooked bolognese lasagne

A few key things: Go to a butcher. Ask them to mince you some chuck steak. Your lasagne will appreciate your efforts. Supermarket mince has no place here. Secondly, add milk. It works to soften the meat proteins and after a long, slow cook, adds a delightful sweetness that offsets the tartness of the wine.

You can also pop this in the slow cooker and let it do its thing overnight. Or make like Heston Blumenthal and pop it in a 110C oven (far more reliable than the stovetop) for six hours, because none of us really want to be housebound for the better part of a day.

Note: Leftover bolognese freezes like a dream.

INGREDIENTS

Bolognese

50ml olive oil

100g pancetta, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

2 sticks celery, finely diced

1kg minced chuck steak

150ml milk

2 tbsp finely chopped oregano leaves

250ml dry white wine

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

250ml tomato passata

2 tbsp tomato paste

Bechamel (white sauce)

5 cups (1.25L) milk

1 brown onion, peeled, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp ground cloves

1 bay leaf

125g butter

100g plain flour

1 nutmeg, to grate (about ¼ tsp ground nutmeg)

salt and pepper, to season

To assemble

9 fresh lasagne sheets

Cheese mix

½ cup grated parmesan

½ cup grated fontina

½ cup grated mozzarella

METHOD

For the bolognese, add the oil to a large frypan over a gentle heat. Add the pancetta. Once this has started to soften, add the garlic and onion, cook until soft, then add the carrot. Cook for five minutes. Add the celery, cook for another two minutes. Add the mince and cook until just starting to brown.

Pour in the milk and cook for about 10 minutes before adding the oregano, wine, chopped tomatoes, passata and tomato paste. Cover and cook over very gentle heat for three hours (four is even better), checking regularly, until reduced and thickened. If the sauce is reducing too quickly, adjust your heat to a lower setting and add more tinned tomatoes.

For bechamel, combine milk, onion, garlic, cloves and bay leaves in a saucepan, bring to the boil over medium heat, reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Remove the bay leaf and keep warm. In a separate heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter, then add flour and stir over medium heat until combined and starting to colour (one to two minutes). Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the milk mixture until well combined and smooth. Return pan to low heat and cook, stirring, until sauce thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon (10 to 15 minutes). Season to taste with nutmeg, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep warm.

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease a two-litre capacity ovenproof dish with olive or ricebran oil. Arrange three lasagne sheets in a single layer on the base of the dish. Spread one third of bolognese sauce over base, spread over one third of bechamel, scatter with quarter of a cup of the cheese mix. Top with three overlapping pasta sheets, trimmed to fit. Repeat twice, finishing with bechamel. Scatter with remaining cheese and bake until golden (25 to 30 minutes). Stand for 10 minutes, then serve.

Serves 8