Gah, life’s a bit shit now, isn’t it.
I guess I’m not the only one looking in my kitchen cupboard at the carb section for comfort.
So anyway. This recipe was devised a year or so ago, when things were Totally Fine but we didn’t appreciate it because we’re shitty human beings. And I didn’t get around to posting it, because I was too busy going out for cocktails and to galleries and parties and OMG I’m a terrible person and I want my old life back.
I’ve called it Magic Lasagne because it has a secret surprising ingredient that blew my mind when I discovered it.
It’s inspired by a vegetable lasagne that used to be served at a small Italian cafe in Brixton that doesn’t exist any more. It was called Bellantoni’s. The guys were lovely and the food was sublime. The first time I ordered this, I poked it with a fork, saw it was full of the secret ingredient, felt puzzled, then tasted it and WOW. Cherubs appeared, sang sweet songs about heaven itself, I cried with joy, and then put duct tape over my mouth so I couldn’t order a second portion for pudding.
(I should have ordered a second portion for pudding.)
So when I looked at the back of my fridge a year or so ago, and saw some sad-looking vegetables, I thought, hey, whatevs, I’m a Londoner, I can do anything I want, I’ll give this a go.
And it worked.
And it won my heart.
And now maybe it might win yours too, in this weird sad time where we’re all pretending that national PE at 9am and national choir at 5:30pm is a totally normal thing, the queen’s addressing the nation even though it’s not Christmas and people like me have taken up yoga.
I love this because it uses up stuff I always need to use up. It’s way healthier than you’d think, because it tastes so comfort food, and you get a carb hit and there’s an ooh when you take it out of the oven, because lasagne, and everyone in your home needs that right now.
And now for the secret.
The magic ingredient is cabbage.
Usually wilty, leftover cabbage.
The one at the back of the fridge that’s making you feel guilty.
And it works like a dream. You need the pepper for flavour (ideally white for the pungency, but black is good too) and the onions and garlic for fragrance, but – the cabbage gives this whole dish the most wonderful, tasty, savoury flavour. Just trust me with this one. I wouldn’t have believed it, but there you go.
I’ve made this with all kinds of cabbage. Savoy is my favourite, but red and even white work well too. Just like your wine.
N.B. Recipe ingredients have been altered for current situation. Some may not be necessary in our bold, shining future. Please let me out of my house.
Serves 6-8 normally, or two adults, two kids right now
- 2 onions
- 2 sticks celery
- 2 carrots
- 2 tins of tomatoes however they come
- 2-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 very small cabbage or half/a third of cabbage (about 4 cups chopped)
- 1 level tsp salt
- 1 gently rounded tsp white pepper (black is fine if you don’t have white)
- 1 full rounded teaspoon of paprika (optional – it’s mainly for colour)
- 1 full rounded teaspoon of dried oregano (mixed herbs, herbs de Provence – Jesus Christ Provence, how I wish I could be there now – marjoram etc all fine substitutes)
- Half a cup of butter
- Half a cup of plain flour (more precious than gold rn, amirite)
- A pint and a half of milk
- A handful or two of grated cheese (I like cheddar with a bit of Parmesan and let’s be honest, we all need two handfuls right now)
- Some sheets of lasagne (I use 8 in my pan)
- Salad (optional)
- Several bottles of wine (your choice)
Firstly, pour yourself a large glass of wine. There’s a pandemic on, darling, get your kicks where you can. Take a sip, then breathe twice. It’s okay. Carbs are coming soon. Now drink a little more. Better? Better.
Okay, now your blood pressure’s dropped a few points, dice the onions, carrots and celery as finely as you can be arsed. They’re making a sauce, so ideally you want them no bigger than 1cm cubed, but what’s a centimetre or two between friends. (Two metres, stand back, please cough into your handkerchief.)
Now preheat your oven to 180C fan and have another sip of wine.
Fry the onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (normal is fine, save the good stuff for the summer we’re not going to have) on a medium high heat until translucent.
When they’re starting to get translucent and soft, add the diced celery and carrot. Fry the whole lot until it’s aromatic and starting to brown. Mmmmm. Give them just a little longer – sip, sip, got to fill that time – then when they look all yummy and are starting to catch, add the garlic.
Stir fry for a minute or so, sticking your face into the pot to enjoy the smell (dear god I’m hoping you can smell it, that’s one of the signs, isn’t it) and add the oregano, paprika, salt and pepper.
Add the tomatoes. If they’re whole plum tomatoes, chop them up with your spoon or spatula. (Imagine they’re something you don’t like, like, umm, I don’t know, the prime minister or something. Every time you chop one, cheer our magnificent NHS for luck, because that’s all they’ve got to run on right now.)
It’ll be sizzling and starting to catch now, so fill each of your empty tomato cans about a third full with water, swish around the liquid to rinse out all the tomatoey goodness, and add to the pan.
Now add the chopped cabbage. Give it a jolly good stir, check it’s nice and sloppy like a stew or the brain of a Conservative voter who thinks they’ve got the right to clap the NHS, and if it’s not, add a little more water.
Bubble it on the hob for a few minutes – say 10 – then turn off the heat – it’s ready. Easy peasy.
Now you’re going to make the white sauce. If you know how to make a bechamel sauce, great, go ahead, you’re looking for enough for two layers in your lasagne pan, spiked with a bit of nutmeg and pepper. If not, have a go with my terrible directions.
Firstly, have another sip of wine. This needs attention, so you don’t want to be distracted in the next few minutes. Plus white sauce can get a little hairy, so let’s get some Dutch courage into you. Excellent, good work, you’re a pro.
Now put the butter in a medium pan on a low-medium heat so it melts. When it’s almost melted, take a whisk and whisk in the flour. It’ll make a weird, bubbling paste. This is good. This is magic. You want to cook out the floury taste.
Keep stirring, do not stop, not even if you start coughing or develop a temperature. YOU CAN DO THIS. After a couple of minutes, the flour/butter mix (the roux) will go a little golden and smell yummy.
Now add the milk, about a third of a pint at a time. Whisk it in – it’ll be very stiff at first – all of it, bit by bit, until you get a nice panful of white sauce. Lower the heat to minimum, grate in or add a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of black pepper, stir it in well and you’re done.
Okay now comes the layering. You’ll need courage for this stage too, so have another sip of wine. That’s better.
In your lasagne pan (mine’s about 20cm x 30cm if that helps) layer half of the tomato sauce in the bottom. Put a single layer of lasagne sheets on top and press them down a little into the sauce. Or if you make lasagne on the reg, do it your way, no £60 fine.
Pour half the white sauce on top, smooth it out. Look at you, killing it in the kitchen during a pandemic. Take another sip of wine to celebrate you, honey, you’ve earned it. Numb the fear. Numb the fear.
Add the second half of the tomato sauce, then another layer of lasagne sheets. Top with the second half of the white sauce. You’re nearly there now. Artfully sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Like Salt Bae. Oh, you got it baby, looking good in the kitchen. You’re all set, now let’s brown this thing and go home.
Pop the lasagne in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then check it. It should be golden brown on top. If it needs a little longer, then pop it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, take your plates out of the cupboard and your salad too. Look firmly at the salad, say “Fuck you, salad,” put it back in the fridge, pat yourself on the back and have another sip of wine. Nobody needs that shit today.
Serve yourself and everyone else in your home a reasonable slice of lasagne. Then, when they’ve eaten it, give them a hug and another slice. Without judgement. Because fuck salad and fuck judgement right now.
Then drink the rest of the wine.
And wash your hands.
Stay healthy, everyone. Love you.