Early local spring vegetables baked with lasagna noodles epitomize the season with light, bright flavors in a warm, comforting dish that beats April’s lingering chill. Vegetarian lasagna seemed just right for the time of year, when the sky is crisp and clear and temperatures tease from bluster to balm. This is also a good do-ahead dish for weekends like Easter when people come and go. The combination of flavors and textures was terrific.
I made the lasagna in steps since there are quite a few, but nothing’s complicated. First I cooked each of the vegetables separately, and then the two sauces, one with vegetable broth to bind the asparagus, leeks and mushrooms and the other, a milk-based sauce for the topping. Everything was set aside to cool until I was ready to assemble and bake the lasagna. The filling was pretty stiff and not at all runny; it was watery enough to infuse the noodles but produced a firm result. That’s the goal. This is dependent on how absorptive the noodles are.
I used no-boil lasagna noodles just because I had them, having bought them by accident and not wanting to go back to the store or make my own. I liked them for being flat and thin but they need to be cooked differently from boiled or fresh noodles. Since you put the stiff little planks in the baking dish as is, it’s easiest to find a dish of a similar dimension. My 9×9-inch glass pan worked well for three noodle sheets: two side by side and the other split vertically to overlap on top and side.
I used four layers of noodles and three of filling, with a béchamel and asparagus topping. What I found important was to cook the lasagna covered in foil for 50 minutes so that the noodles cook. I removed the foil and let the top brown for another 10 minutes, plus a couple under the “broiler” (if that’s what you call the overhead flame in my archaic stove). Lasagna needs to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. By the way, the asparagus garnish might start out looking like well lined-up stalks, but baking the noodles gives them the old heave-ho. This is a rustic dish.
Asparagus, Leek and Mushroom Lasagna
Lasagna filling and noodles
3 medium or 2 large leeks, split lengthwise, cleaned and sliced crosswise (1 c)
4 oz mushrooms, a combination of shitakes and cremini, stems removed and reserved and chopped into 1/4 -inch pieces (1 c)
1 bunch asparagus, ends snapped, cut into 3/8-inch diagonal slices (1½-2 c)
3 tbsp butter, divided
1½ tbsp flour, divided
Approximately1 c vegetable broth (see note) or chicken stock, warmed
2 tbsp heavy cream
½ c grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Approximately ¾ lb lasagna noodles (I used no-boil, but if you use standard dried lasagna, lightly cook it in boiling water until slightly tender but not mushy. I used 12 sheets, 4 layers of 3 noodles.)
Bechamel and asparagus topping
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 c milk, warmed
¼ c grated Parmesan cheese
6 spears of asparagus, lightly steamed and trimmed to fit the pan
Prepare the vegetables individually, cleaning out the pan after each one if cooked. Over medium-low heat, saute the sliced leeks slowly in 1 tsp butter, add 1-2 tsp vegetable broth, cover the pan and let braise for 2-3 minutes until soft but not mushy. Set aside to cool. Over medium-high heat, saute the mushrooms in 2 tsp butter and set aside to cool. Over medium heat, saute the asparagus in 1 tsp butter to coat, add 2 tbsp vegetable broth, cover the pan and steam for a few minutes until crisp-tender. Set aside to cool. Lightly salt the vegetables as they cool.
Make the sauce for the vegetables. Melt the remaining butter (1½ tbsp) over medium heat, add the flour and whisk to combine. Let cook for about a minute, whisking. Gradually add the warmed broth or stock, whisking, to make a smooth sauce. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until the raw taste of flour has disappeared. Add a little additional liquid if necessary. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool for a minute or two. Add the cream and cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Make the béchamel sauce for the topping. Melt butter in a pan, add the flour and whisk to combine. Let cook for about a minute, whisking. Gradually add the warmed milk, whisking, to make a smooth sauce. Cook over medium-low heat for about 3-4 minutes, whisking. Add the Parmesan cheese and salt to taste.
Assembly and baking
Assemble and bake the lasagna. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a 10×10-inch pan or a 7×11-inch pan, depending on the size of the noodles. (You have more flexibility if using fresh or boiled noodles, versus no-boil. No-boil can be cut but they’re brittle.) Smear a little béchamel sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place 3 noodles in a single layer, overlapping them slightly. Spoon a third of the vegetable sauce on top. Cover with three more noodles. Repeat twice, ending with a layer of noodles. Spread the béchamel sauce on top, smoothing it to cover the noodles completely. Place asparagus spears on top. If using no-boil noodles, bake, covered with foil, for 40 minutes. Remove foil and cook for a few more minutes until lightly browned. (Run under a broiler to finish browning if you would like.) If using boiled or fresh noodles, omit the foil covering. Let the cooked lasagna cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Place in a stockpot the well-washed trimmings of leeks and asparagus, mushroom stems, , along with an onion, carrot and celery stalk. Cover with water and bring to a boil, Add salt, lower the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Let cool and strain.