I feel very fortunate to live near the famous botanical gardens at Kew and one of my favourite times for visiting is on Sunday mornings when I get in early at opening time and beat the weekend crowds. Once away from the main gate, it’s possible to gain a sense that you have the gardens all to yourself, with barely another person in sight. However, it’s not long before the coachloads descend, and that’s usually, an hour or so into my walk, when I decide it’s time to head home. If that sounds a bit unsociable, I apologise. But to me they’re my ‘local gardens’ and what I love about going in when it’s quiet is the peace of the place. There are a number of different areas in the gardens, all quite different to each other, from the formal to a more wooded area, wide open avenues lined with trees and the lake with the beautiful Sackler Crossing bridge, but always there’s a sense of calm and therefore it’s a perfect place to relax or reflect in a meditative way as you wander round.
I’ve had a season ticket for years and it allows me to pop in whenever I want and it’s great to visit at different times of the year and see what’s in season. This morning I was expecting a riot of autumn colours – blazing reds, burnt orange and deep yellows – and was quite surprised to find remarkably little evidence of autumn, even though we’re halfway through October. It must be the continuing mild weather staving off the onset of winter.
I found the odd tree changing colour and dropping its leaves, but most bright colour came from gorgeous large displays of flowers planted in clumps at various points.
Back home I started to prepare the lasagne I’d decided to make for supper. It’s a rare thing for me to go veggie on a Sunday. A little of my upbringing and the thought that a proper meal contains meat (meat and two veg!) persists slightly with Sundays, although I do eat lots of meat-free meals during the week. However, I’d come across a tempting lasagne made with kale and mushrooms in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! yesterday. And I happened to have a large bag of kale and an almost full punnet of chestnut mushrooms in the fridge, so really, I couldn’t do anything other than try this recipe!
Here’s what I did – with slight adjustments to Hugh’s recipe for making only about half the original amount, and personal preferences. First of all, heat a pint of milk with a bay leaf, a sliced shallot, a few peppercorns and about half a celery stalk (I also added some leaves which give quite a strong flavour). When the milk comes to a simmer, take from the heat and leave to infuse.
Shred the kale if needed (mine was already prepared) and put in a pan with cold water and some salt; bring to the boil and then simmer for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Drain and set aside. Now slice 250g mushrooms (nice tasty ones like Portabello or chestnut) and put in a pan with about 25g butter. Fry, stirring frequently, until softening. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, a crushed clove of garlic and a good pinch of dried thyme. Stir well and cook for a minute or so more, then take from the heat and put aside.
Now make a béchamel sauce: heat 50g butter with 50g plain flour in a pan. Stir to form a roux then slowly add the strained milk that has been infusing, beating well after each addition to make a smooth sauce. Check seasoning and then add salt and pepper to taste. Also add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.
Let it bubble for a minute or two then take from the heat. Mix almost half of it into the drained kale.
Now everything is almost ready for putting the lasagne together. I used an ovenproof dish that’s about 18 x 25 cm. I also used lasagne sheets that don’t need pre-cooking … but I still always like to soften them first in some hot water. A lasagne with undercooked pasta is not a nice thing! Play safe. I pour boiling water into a big bowl and then put a couple of sheets of lasagne in for a minute or two to soften. It also helps if you need to cut it at all to fit the dish properly. For my lasagne I found 2 sheets for the each of the first two layers were enough but I added an extra one on the top to ensure a good layer that fitted well. Put a little of the remaining béchamel on the bottom of the dish. Then add two lasagne sheets. Cover these with all the kale mixture.
Even though it wasn’t in the original recipe, I added a good dusting of grated Parmesan too for a nice cheesy flavour at the end. Cover with 2 more sheets of lasagne. Spread over a little of the béchamel (leaving a good amount for the top), then add the mushrooms and another dusting of Parmesan.
Cover this with the final sheets of lasagne. Spread over the remaining béchamel and then grate over a good layer of Parmesan. Dot with a few knobs of butter and now it’s ready to go into the oven.
I prepared mine a couple of hours ahead of time and just left it covered until near the time I wanted to eat. Put into a preheated oven at 108C/Fan 160 for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Leave to rest for about 5 minutes while you make a green salad to go with it. Then cut a slice and place in a serving bowl or plate. I probably could have squeezed four small portions out of this but it’s probably only big enough for three; or two very healthy portions!
It was really delicious. Nicely creamy with a good full flavour from the mushrooms and kale. Hugh suggests you could use cavolo nero as an alternative to the kale; I think spinach would work well too. I haven’t made vegetable lasagna much in the past, but now I think I should experiment with some other vegetable mixes! It’s a great way to enjoy more vegetables and not as heavy as a meat lasagne (not that I can ever imagine giving those up!).