Since I was a little kid, one of my favorite dishes to eat has been my mom's vegetarian lasagna. It's a rich and hearty dish, filled with oozing cheese, sweet carrots, and earthy mushrooms. My parents live in Northern California, and my dad is an avid "mushroom hunter," as he calls it. Several times a year, he comes back to the house after a hike with a backpack filled with freshly harvested chanterelles. These delectable mushrooms are put to good use in my house — in our Thanksgiving stuffing, on pizzas, and in my favorite lasagna.
For this version (made in my apartment in New York City and far away from the mushroom-filled hills of Marin County), I replaced the pricey chanterelles with easy-to-find cremini mushrooms, but if you are so lucky as to have some of those golden-orange mushrooms around, they add a wonderful flavor to the dish. Without them, though, the lasagna is still delicious — packed so full with creamy cheeses and hearty vegetables that you won't miss meat at all. Serve alongside a simple green salad or a crusty piece of bread for a homey, satisfying meal.
Although the directions look long, this really is a simple dish to make — it just requires a little time in the kitchen.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the onion and cook until onions are transparent, about 8 minutes. Add the basil, oregano, salt, and pepper and stir to coat. Add the canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, stirring to incorporate. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatoes fall apart easily, approximately 45 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk until just before it boils. Remove from heat.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, reduce heat to low and add the flour. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 1 minute, until incorporated. Pour the hot milk into the butter and flour mixture all at once and stir to blend. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the mixture. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring first with a wooden spoon, and then a whisk, for 3-5 minutes, or until thickened.
Stir in the thickened béchamel sauce to the cooked tomato sauce until the desired color and taste is acheived.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the carrots and onions and cook until the carrots begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and spinach and cook until mushrooms are soft, about 5 more minutes.
Transfer vegetables to a large mixing bowl and add the ricotta. Mix well to combine.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, lay down a layer of the tomato sauce. Add a layer of lasagna noodles on top (you made need to break the noodles to make them fit correctly). Top with another layer of tomato sauce. Next, add a layer of the vegetable filling and top with mozzarella. Repeat, adding layers of tomato sauce, noodles, tomato sauce, filling, and cheese until you near the top of the dish. Finish with a layer of noodles, a light layer of sauce, and a scattering of cheese.
Bake until everything is hot and the cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.