One thing I learned from living in Italy was to eat fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. In the spring, the vegetables that are plentiful and fresh at my local markets here in Umbria are spring peas, asparagus, fava beans, and artichokes, so I decided to celebrate these wonderful vegetables by making this light spring lasagna. Lasagna is the type of dish where you really do not need to follow an exact recipe but rather simply think about layering your chosen ingredients between sheets of delicate fresh pasta sheets along with just enough sauce to bind everything together. I decided to alternate a layer of chopped roasted tomatoes with my layer of spring vegetables to bring some color and another layer of flavor to my lasagna. I used five layers of lasagna noodles in this dish, but you could use however many you prefer. This dish could also be made with whatever vegetables you like best and be served anytime during the year using whatever fresh ingredients were seasonally available. Just follow the basic instructions and layer your prepared vegetables with some béchamel, fresh lasagna noodles, and cheese. Just be sure to cut all the vegetables you use into bite sized pieces before you begin to layer your lasagna.
Feel free to leave out the tomato layer if you’d rather just celebrate with the spring vegetables which would be a little more delicate in flavor and if you want to keep this dish vegetarian, simply eliminate the pancetta. I used béchamel as my sauce for this lasagna as it is light in flavor and wouldn’t overpower my vegetables as a tomato sauce might, and I used some fresh mozzarella as well as some grated Pecorino cheese. All my vegetables were pre-cooked before I layered them to ensure tenderness, and I also pre-blanched my lasagna noodles to cut down baking time. Although I always prefer to make my own lasagna noodles, if you do not have the time or inclination to do so, simply follow the cooking instructions on your noodles if you are using store bought, dried, or no bake noodles and then layer as instructed.
Deborah Mele 2011
- 4 Cups Unbleached Flour
- 5 Extra Large Eggs
- Pinch of Salt
- 5 Tablespoons Butter
- 4 Tablespoons All-purpose flour
- 4 Cups Milk
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg
- Asparagus - About 1/2 Bunch or 8 Medium Spears - Trim the bottom of the asparagus and slice in half lengthwise if fairly thick. Cut the asparagus into two inch pieces.
- Artichokes - About 8 Medium - Clean and cook the artichokes by either steaming, or braising them. See my tutorial on How To Clean An
- Artichoke. Slice them into bite sized pieces. (Frozen artichokes are another alternative if fresh are not available)
- Spring Peas - About 1 1/2 Cups Removed From Pods - Blanch the peas until tender crisp.
- Fava Beans - About 1 1/2 Cups Removed From Pods - Boil the fava beans until tender.
- Tomatoes - About 12 Medium - Slice the tomatoes in half and roast them following my instructions for Roasted Tomatoes. Once cooled, coarsely chop.
- 3/4 Cup Finely Diced Pancetta or Bacon (Optional)
- 1 1/4 Cups Diced Mozzarella
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 1/4 Cups Grated Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese
- To make the pasta, mound your flour on a large pastry board, or the counter, and make a well in the center.
- Break the eggs into this well, and start to scramble each egg with a fork as it is being added.
- Start to incorporate the eggs and flour by slowly bringing more flour in from the inside edges of the well.
- Continue adding the flour to the eggs until they are no longer runny.
- Using your hands now, bring the outside edges in, forming a large mass on your board.
- Use only the amount of flour needed to form a soft ball.
- Begin to knead the ball of dough as you would bread, pushing it down with the heel of your hand.
- Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and satiny, for about 8 minutes.
- Wrap the prepared dough in plastic wrap, and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
- Use a pasta roller or roll by hand to make long sheets of pasta 1/4 thick. (I use my Kitchen Aide table mixer with the pasta attachment and roll my past to the third last position.)
- After rolling, cut into 12 inch long strips.
- Precook in boiling water for 30 seconds, then place in ice water.
- To make the Bechamel sauce, first melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat.
- Once it is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the flour just begins to take on some color.
- Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often.
- Season with a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl and covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap.
- To prepare the other ingredients, first cook the pancetta or bacon until cooked through and lightly browned.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large lasagna or casserole dish about 12 X 10 inches in size, first cover bottom with a scoop of béchamel sauce, spreading it evenly over the bottom.
- Next, cover with first layer of lasagna noodles.
- Sprinkle half the chopped roasted tomatoes over the noodles with about a third of the mozzarella.
- Season each layer with a little salt and pepper as you assemble your lasagna.
- Lightly cover this with a layer of béchamel.
- Add another layer of lasagna noodles, then evenly spread the spring vegetables and pancetta pieces across the top.
- Cover these vegetables with some of the béchamel, then add a third of the grated cheese.
- Continue making two more layers, one of tomatoes and one of spring vegetables in the same manner and then cover with your last layer of lasagna noodles.
- Spread some béchamel evenly over the top to cover the noodles, then divide the remaining two cheeses over the top evenly.
- Sprinkle top with some cracked black pepper.
- Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil and continue to cook another 15 to 20 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling and lightly browned.
- Allow the lasagna to rest 10 to 15 minutes before cutting.