As my husband travels extensively I have many days and nights at home on my own. In one way this is nice, the house stays tidy, everything stays in its place, and I don’t have to listen to Planet Rock from dawn till dusk! However apart from missing my other half, the other main side effect of his globe trotting is that I do not eat well in his absence. I love cooking, I really do, but its just not the same when you are cooking for one (the kids have long since flown the nest), so I now rely on UFOs.
The UFO, or unidentified frozen object, has been around in my house for many years. I have always been adverse to throwing food away, so any portion of dinner not served up would be thrown in the freezer for another day. In those days I never saw the need to label anything, so the family would gather round the freezer on a UFO night, attempting to identify the contents of a pot and to decide whether or not they wanted to eat whatever it might be. On one occasion we ended up defrosting 4 dishes and sharing out the spoils. If memory serves me right, I think a curry, bolognaise, stew and something we never did work out what it was made it onto our plates. It wasn’t the most pleasant meal we had ever had! From that point on I started to label!
Over time the UFOs have evolved from simple leftovers used up on busy nights, to deliberate over catering to ensure I eat properly when hubby is away. Unfortunately another issue raised its ugly head. A dish I would normally eat with a salad, for example lasagne, was lovely as a UFO, but I would never go out of my way to buy a portion of salad to go with it. So in an attempt to ensure I still got a good balanced meal I started throwing in piles of veg to the lasagne. Hence my veg heavy lasagne was born.
Final point before I launch into the dish, if you read my ‘About’ page you will see I have a number of foodie challenges to deal with. Lasagne does not exactly meet the requirements of challenge 1. High protein, low carb for hubby, preferably not too high in calories or fat for me. So with a couple of tweaks to the recipe I have made it as healthy as I can, and although far from a traditional lasagne, it is tasty and makes a superb UFO for those lonely evenings!
VEG HEAVY LASAGNE (serves 10)
Firstly take a huge pile of Veg. I used 3 aubergines, 3 courgettes, 3 leeks, 4 peppers, 5 carrots 250g mushrooms, and a couple of random tomatoes I found in the fridge! In total there was just over 3kg of prepared veg. It took a while to prepare, but I kept telling myself this saves me cooking on 9 other nights!
Next the onerous task of prepping the aubergine, which is replacing the actual lasagne sheets in my.. umm.. lasagne! I used to degorge aubergine (salting it too draw out bitterness and moisture), but as it is now used mainly to stop the veg from soaking up too much fat, and I do not use any when prepping it, I don’t bother now. Saves a pile of time. So into my magic non stick pan ( I love this pan), goes as many slices of aubergine that I can fit at a time. And an hour (yes an hour – 9 nights of not having to cook) later I have a plate of nicely dry fried aubergine. Pop the aubergine to one side.
Using the same pan (although I strongly advise you let it cool a little first), chuck in the leeks and cook gently until softened. Next add 3 cloves of crushed garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then add 1.5kg of lean mince beef and brown off. Pop the meat and leek mixture into a very large pan.
Oh please let me introduce you to the garlic dish, its super. No more trying to get all the bits out of the garlic press, just rub the garlic bulb over the little spikes on the dish and you get perfectly mushed garlic with very little effort. I picked mine up at one of the BBC Good Food shows, but you can find them online quite easily.
Throw the remaining veg (except the mushrooms and tomato if you found any hiding in your fridge) into the magic non stick pan and cook for about 10 mins, or until slightly softened, then add them and the mushrooms to the meat in the large pan.
Finally I added 2 cartons of passata, 2 cartons of chopped tomatoes (plus my random tomatoes from the fridge), 500ml of beef stock and 250ml of red wine. Season with salt and pepper 5 tbsp. Worcester sauce, 3 tsp oregano, 2 tsp parsley, thyme and spicey Italian seasoning, 1 tsp paprika and 3 bay leaves and leave to cook for a good few hours.
Time for a cuppa and some quality time with Maisie! Meet Maisie, my 2 year old lab.
Right, batteries recharged so now it was time to make the white sauce. Not easy to make this healthier but using lighter spreadable butter, reduced fat cheese, skimmed milk and 0% fat Greek Yoghurt, its as healthy as I am going to get it. Melt the butter and mix in the flour, cook gently until it turns the colour of sand.
Gradually add the milk, mixing well between each addition. This is a good work out for your arms, and if you want to avoid lumps you need to persevere. It will come together as long as you don’t add too much milk at a time.
Once all the milk is added bring to the boil. Make sure you keep stirring, it would be a shame to get to this point lump free only to slacken off now and have to rely on your blender to smooth off the sauce. Once its boiling remove from the heat stir in the grated cheese and finally the yoghurt and mix well.
Now the fun bit. Fish out the bay leaves from your cauldron of meat! Then take a large deep dish and layer up your meat, aubergine and sauce. I got two layers of each in and have to admit I did end up with a couple portions of meat that wouldn’t fit in the dish. Never mind, I now have a bolognaise sauce UFO which I can add to some pasta one evening.
Finally a little grated cheese. and a sprinkle of paprika (I really like paprika) and into the oven on 180c for 30-40 mins or until well browned. That’s it. Veg heavy lasagne, a meal on its own, or if you want to be really good, just as nice with a side of salad.
You should accept if you decide to give this a go that without the sheets of lasagne it will not come out of the pan as a perfect slice! Slicing the aubergine long ways would have given it more structure, but it doesn’t bother me so I didn’t bother. Also make sure you taste as you season and spice. I like this version, but it may be too seasoned or not seasoned enough for you. The bolognaise sauce is cooking for long enough that you can adjust the seasonings a number of times if need be. Remember its easy to add, not possible to take away!
The Nutritional info (based on My Fitness Pal) is per serving
449 Kcal, 14g fat, 31g Carbs, 47g protien
Healthy Vegetable Heavy lasagne
Ingredients List 3 Aubergines 3 Courgettes 4 Peppers 5 Carrots 3 leeks 2 tomatoes 250g Mushrooms 3 Cloves of Garlic 1500g Lean Minced Beef 2 x 500g Passata 2 x 390g Chopped Tomatoes 500ml Beef Stock 250ml Red Wine Salt & Pepper 5 tbsp. Worcester Sauce 3 tsp Oregano 2 tsp Parsley, Thyme, Spicy Italian Seasoning 1 tsp paprika 3 bay leaves 800ml skimmed milk 80g plain flour 80g lighter spreadable butter 300g 0% fat Greek Yoghurt
Directions 1 - Prep the veg 2 - Dry fry the aubergine until golden brown, then place to one side 3 - Dry fry the leeks gently until soft, then add the crushed garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Then add the mince and brown off. Transfer the leek and meat to a large pan. 4 - Dry fry the remaining veg until softened and then add them and the mushrooms to the meat. 5 - Pour in the passata, tomatoes, wine and stock, season to taste, bring to the boil and leave to cook for a couple of hours or until the liquid has reduced a lot. Fish out bay leaves. 6 - Melt the butter and stir in the flour, cook until a sandy colour. Gradually add the milk, stirring well between each addition until all the milk has been fully incorporated. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and yoghurt and season with salt and pepper. 7 - Take a large deep dish and layer meat, aubergine and sauce finishing with a sauce layer. Sprinkle a little grated cheese and paprika on the top. 8 - Bake at 180c for 30-40 mins or until golden brown and bubbling.