Vegetarian Bechamel Lasagna

Vegetarian bechamel lasagna with caramelized tomatoes and shaved pecorino, baked in a cast iron skillet.  Inspired by the best lasagna in Philadelphia!

Vegetarian Bechamel Lasagna: homemade lasagna noodles with caramelized tomatoes and shaved pecorino, baked in a cast iron skillet. Inspired by the best lasagna in Philadelphia! {Bunsen Burner Bakery}

We’re not big pasta eaters in my house.  Sure, I make it as a quick dinner on occasion, but it’s not uncommon for us to go several months without consuming any.  So when we went out to dinner at Petruce et al (highly recommended – one of my personal top 5 restaurants in the city), the lasagna didn’t even register on my radar.

But then the server mentioned that their much-loved lasagna is purposely served on the crispy side and not just accidentally burnt.  Suddenly, my interest was piqued. I love dishes with cheese (or noodles) on the very well done, extra crunchy side.

Hmmm, okay then – we went ahead and ordered a share.  The lasagna was, hands down, the best I’ve had (sorry, Grandma), and we both kept raving about it throughout the meal.

Vegetarian Bechamel Lasagna: homemade lasagna noodles with caramelized tomatoes and shaved pecorino, baked in a cast iron skillet. Inspired by the best lasagna in Philadelphia! {Bunsen Burner Bakery}

I recently decided to make my own version at home.  I served this for our Yom Kippur break-fast with our families.  Every year, I swear that I’m going to save myself the hassle of cooking all day while fasting and just do the traditional bagel and fish spread. But just like every other year previously, I forged ahead with full on dinner plans.

The lasagna is actually perfect for this since much of the work is easily done ahead of time.  I rolled out all the noodles and assembled everything the night before, so it was one less thing to think about in the midst of everything else I was trying to prepare while constantly reminding myself not to taste things.  Everyone loved the lasagna, and while it’s no match for the Petruce lasagna, it’s a very worthy, delicious make-at-home version.

So what makes the lasagna special?  It’s a bechamel lasagna featuring caramelized tomatoes, adding just a touch of a sweetness.  There’s no ricotta – just the nutmeg-spiked bechamel and shaved pecorino.  Then it’s baked in a cast iron skillet in a wood burning oven, so it comes out extra hot and crispy with a slightly smoky flavor.

I don’t have access to a wood burning oven, but I did go ahead and make mine in cast iron.  I used this 10.5-inch square cast iron skillet (Amazon link is affiliate) and it worked out beautifully.  I love the size and the square shape and surprisingly, it has become my go-to cast iron for cooking.

Vegetarian Bechamel Lasagna: homemade lasagna noodles with caramelized tomatoes and shaved pecorino, baked in a cast iron skillet. Inspired by the best lasagna in Philadelphia! {Bunsen Burner Bakery}

I also hand-rolled my own pasta for the lasagna.  No pasta roller necessary –  just a rolling pin and lots of elbow grease.  Sure, you could use store-bought pasta noodles, but why not have a little fun and try making them yourself?  They’re not hard (just lots of rolling!) — no fancy pasta rolling machine necessary.  This vegetarian bechamel lasagna has a number of steps, but I promise it’s well worth the effort.

Vegetarian Bechamel Lasagna

Vegetarian bechamel lasagna with caramelized tomatoes and shaved pecorino, baked in a cast iron skillet.  Inspired by the best lasagna in Philadelphia!

Ingredients:

For the tomato sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • pinch of salt and pepper
For the pasta:
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
For the bechamel:
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk, room temperature
  • large pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • For assembly:
    • 4 ounces shaved pecorino

Directions:

  1. Start by making the tomato sauce.  In a medium pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft, 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks.  Once it has deepened in color, add the tomatoes and continue to cook until there is no excess liquid in the pan – the sauce will be quite thick.  Continue to cook, stirring, until the tomatoes start to caramelize.  Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Let sauce cool and refrigerate until use.  This can be prepared a few days ahead of time – letting the sauce sit will enhance the flavors.
  2. To make the pasta, create a large mound of flour on your rolling surface.  Sprinkle with the salt and make a well in the center.  Break the whole eggs and the egg yolks into the well and scramble the eggs with a fork.  Use the fork to slowly incorporate more flour into the egg well in the center, continuing to mix until the eggs are no longer runny.  Switch to incorporating flour with your hands, bringing the outside edges in.  Use only the amount of flour necessary to form a soft ball – you may not need all the flour available on the counter.  Knead the dough until it is smooth, about 10 minutes.  If the dough becomes too sticky while kneading, add in some of the additional flour.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to relax at room temperature, 30 minutes to several hours.
  3. Roll the pasta by hand with a rolling pin (or use a pasta roller, if you have one).  Cut the dough into quarters, rolling one quarter at a time.  Very lightly flour the work surface.  Roll the dough into a circle by rolling 1/4 of the way back onto the rolling pin and then gently but firmly pushing the pin away from you.  Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat.  Keep rolling and stretching the dough until the pasta sheet is thin enough to see the outline of your hand through it.  Spread the sheet on a flat, dry surface and dry for 15-20 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Cut the noodles into 4×8-inch pieces.
  4. For the bechamel sauce, heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter starts to foam.  Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute.  Whisk in the milk, 1/2 cup at a time.  Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer 8-10 minutes, whisking often.  When the mixture resembles the consistency of heavy cream and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add the nutmeg and season with salt.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  5. To assemble the lasagna, start by cooking the fresh lasagna noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water until just softened, about 10 seconds.  Remove with tongs and dip in a bowl of ice water.  Drain the noodles between layers of paper towels or on cookie cooling racks; be sure to keep the noodles separated or they will stick together.
  6. Spread 1/4 cup bechamel sauce in the bottom of the cast iron skillet (if you are using a normal baking dish, grease the pan).  Top with a layer of noodles, spread over a spoonful of the caramelized tomato sauce, and top with a few shavings of pecorino.  Repeat this process 7 more times, or until you run out of ingredients (the number of layers will vary depending on the size of your baking dish).  Top with additional grated or shaved pecorino.
  7. At this point, the prepared lasagna can be stored in the refrigerator overnight or baked immediately.  When it’s time to bake, bring the lasagna to room temperature, then bake in a 350F oven for 45-50 minutes, or until bubbling and beginning to brown.  Let the lasagna rest 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe inspired by Petruce et al

Vegetarian Bechamel Lasagna: homemade lasagna noodles with caramelized tomatoes and shaved pecorino, baked in a cast iron skillet. Inspired by the best lasagna in Philadelphia! {Bunsen Burner Bakery}

Amazon links are affiliate.