Lasagna is always a good idea. Making lasagna with a favorite condiment like pesto is an even better one. A pleasant alternative to the meaty classic lasagna, the delicate mixture of flavors of baked pesto lasagna is a success at meal time. Those concerned with ethical eating find in meatless pesto lasagna a well-balanced portion of carbs and healthy fats.
Whether you decide to hand stretch the fresh pasta yourself, or turn instead to packaged dry lasagna for this dish, you’ll need to pre-cook the pasta sheets before assembling the actual dish. Some folks build their lasagna with dry, un-blanched sheets of pasta. This is something that would make my Nonna faint.
As far as condiments, if on one hand it’s OK to trust store-bought organic pesto sauce (some Italian delis make their own and sell it by weight), I steer away from industrial béchamel. Mixing milk, flour and butter into homemade béchamel makes all the difference in flavor, too. In this dish, the delicate white sauce contrasts the audacious gusto of the pesto, adding mild creaminess to the bold baked statement.
While you pre-heat your oven at 180°C (356°F) the next step is whisking up the béchamel, which is the “hardest” part of this otherwise very simple recipe.
Assemble the following for the béchamel
100 g (1/2 cup) all purpose flour, sifted
100 g (1/2 cup) butter
1 lt (4 cups) whole milk, boiling
A pinch of ground nutmeg
Melt the butter over low heat in a stainless steel pan. Gradually sprinkle in the sifted flour, and stir well with a wooden spoon until smooth in consistency.
Simmer gently until the mixture becomes lightly golden. Gradually add the boiling hot milk, stirring to avoid lumps. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring constantly.
When the béchamel becomes rich and creamy in consistency – not too thick and not to runny, rather forming ribbons on the surface as it dribbles from the spoon – remove from the heat. Adjust salt and add a pinch of ground nutmeg.
Upon completing this step, you’ve completed 3/4 of the dish.
Now you can build the lasagna using the following ingredients
1 kg (2 lbs) uncooked lasagna sheets (store-bought or fresh)
200 g (1 cup) organic basil pesto sauce
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 stick of butter + more for greasing the oven pan
A handful of pine nuts
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to it so the pasta won’t stick during cooking. Cook the lasagna sheets for 5 minutes, fish them out with a slotted spoon and lay them flat on a clean kitchen towel to dry. Keep aside a cup of the pasta cooking water, and stir 2 tablespoons (or more) of it into the pesto sauce.
Butter a large, high rimmed 9×13″ baking pan, and lay a single layer of parboiled lasagna sheets to cover the bottom, just barely overlapping them. Smear evenly with 3-4 tablespoons of diluted pesto sauce and a thread of olive oil. Next, slather on the béchamel and a few flakes of butter. Dust with a light hand of grated Parmigiano. Repeat the layers until you reach the top of the baking pan, or you run out of lasagna sheets. Should find you are running low on béchamel, you can always make more. It’s never too much. On the other hand, having too little could signify a dry, parched final outcome instead of scrumptious, succulent and creamy. For best results, overdo the top layer with béchamel, butter flakes and grated Parmigiano.
Bake your pesto lasagna in the oven for 10 minutes, or until a crispy, golden crust forms. Scatter the surface evenly with the pine nuts and let cool slightly before digging in.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.