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Introduction
You do not need to be an accomplished chef to attempt to construct this dish. In fact, you do not need to know anything about cooking at all. It would probably be better if you were a simple bricklayer. Just follow the instructions, stay true to your quest, and you shall be rewarded with the finest lasagne in all the land. Good luck.
Ingredients
6 sheets fresh lasagne
1 aubergine
1 bag spinach
300g asparagus
1 large red onion
100g sun-dried tomatoes
300g mozzarella
200g mexicana cheese, or substitute cheddar with chilli flakes
1 large jar white lasagne sauce (700g)
1 bag fresh basil
1 bag fresh coriander
3 cloves garlic
soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Tools
ovenproof rectangular dish – 12″ x 8″ x 2″ deep
a second dish of similar size for holding hot water
large non-stick frying pan
small shallow pan
plastic potato masher
garlic press
steamer, grill or microwave for softening asparagus
colander
spatula
kettle
knife and chopping board

Preparation
These can be done simultaneously depending on your competence and number of helpers. When each bit is done you can simply set it to one side until needed. If you are really motoring this can all be done in 30 minutes. Give yourself 40 and enjoy a nice glass of wine while you do it.

1. Press the garlic into a small shallow pan. Chop the onions and sun-dried tomatoes and add to the pan. Add a bit of olive oil if your tomatoes are not already drenched in it and fry on a low heat until the onions are soft but not brown.

2. Heat a large non-stick frying pan on a high heat. Slice the aubergine into half-centimetre slices and add to the pan in a single layer. Douse with soy sauce and after a few minutes press the aubergine using a plastic potato masher, being careful to hold the pan steady. You should be looking to gently crush the aubergine so that it gives up its moisture and starts to fry in its own juices. Flip the aubergine slices as necessary and fry until browned on both sides. Continue until all slices are done.

3. Steam the asparagus for 5 minutes to soften it up. Alternatively, put under a grill for 10 minutes. As a last resort, microwave for 3 minutes. If you have bought fine asparagus then this step is not necessary.

4. Wash the spinach and place in a colander. Pluck the leaves from the basil and mix with the spinach. Pour over a litre of hot water from the kettle and mix gently with a spatula so that all of the spinach wilts.

5. Slice the mozzarella and mexicana – the mexicana needs to have enough area make a single layer in your dish and the mozzarella, two. You might find the mozzarella doesn’t look enough – don’t worry, you can leave gaps and it will melt.

6. Roughly chop the coriander.

7. Fill the second shallow rectangular pan or dish with hot water from the kettle, and dunk your fresh lasagne sheets in there to make them malleable.

8. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Construction
This is from the bottom up. At each stage you should be looking to minimise the amount of air in the dish by packing the ingredients tightly together. After each layer of lasagne you can even press down evenly across the whole dish to squish everything together. Shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
spinach and basil
1/2 of the mozzarella
generous black pepper
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
tomatoes, garlic and onion
coriander
aubergine – lay slices flat, try to fill the available space
other 1/2 of the mozzarella
generous black pepper
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
asparagus
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
mexicana cheese

If you have any ingredients left at this stage, you have failed. Go back to “Introduction”.

Cooking
Put it in the oven for 40 mins at 180C. If you like the top layer a bit browner and crispier, turn it up to 200C with 10 minutes to go.

Serving suggestion
Trust me, you do not need chips. A nice green leaf salad with a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing, and maybe a halved tomato or two should be ample.

Variations
Try adding any of the following:

  • pan-fried courgettes or peppers
  • broccoli
  • black olives
  • sliced artichokes in oil
  • stir-fried Mexican chicken (caution: may not be strictly vegetarian)
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Broccoli, sultana and chilli penneI found this recipe in the August 2007 issue of delicious magazine. Always in search of my creative and healthy ways to eat pasta, I was intrigued by this low-fat and low-salt recipe. Like a few other recipes I’ve seen recently, it uses chilli and lemon to add fat-free flavour. I went for the meaty variation and added some bacon as extra protein (and fat unfortunately). I used multi grain bread instead of ciabatta for the crumbs because I had some that needed using up. I had lots of extra Parmesan crumbs, which kept I kept in a sealed container. When I made this recipe for a second time the next week (for a different crowd of course!), I used up the leftover Parmesan crumbs, but they would also go well on a salad on top of other pasta dishes.


Broccoli, Sultana and Chilli Penne with Parmesan Crumbs

Serves 4.
Ready in 20 minutes.

350g penne
50g ciabatta bread, roughly torn
2 tbsp olive oil
20g vegetarian Parmesan, finely grated
1 small onion, finely chopped
250g tendersterm broccoli, cut into bite-size chunks
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 large red chilli, deseeded and chopped
25g sultanas
2 tbsp chopped fresh curly parsley
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1. Cook the penne according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium and line the grill pan with foil. Mix the torn bread with half the oil in a bowl and season with black pepper. Spread out on the grill pan and grill for 2-3 minutes, turning frequently, until crisp and golden. Cool slightly, transfer to a blender and whizz to coarse crumbs. Stir in the Parmesan.

3. Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the broccoli, garlic, chilli and sultanas, until the broccoli is tender – add a splash of water to prevent it catching.

4. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the parsley and lemon zest and juice. Season, toss, then divide between 4 bowls. Top with the toasted Parmesan crumbs to serve.

Per serving: 457 kcals, 9.8 fat (2.2g saturated), 17.2 protein, 80.1g carbs, 8.9 sugar, 0.3g salt

Variation: For a meaty version, fry some chopped bacon or chorizo along with the onion.

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