Think that thick lush-looking white sauce cascading over the lasagna stack is a heavy cream-based bechamel—rich beyond words?
The sauce here doesn’t have a speck of dairy, let alone the high butterfat favorite. Nor does it use any soy or tofu based products to mimic cream or cheese.
It’s cannellini beans!
And, not just any cannellinis. These are Rancho Gordo’s pride–great, fat white runner beans, that swell up to mammoth proportions when soaked, with meaty interiors that become creamy-dreamy when pureed.
This recipe experiment was prompted by Bill’s simultaneous love and intolerance of All Things Dairy. It might be better to say that, while this vegetarian loves it, it doesn’t always love him in return.
And, while I have no interest in omitting cheeses and milk from our diet, I have been considering different ways to achieve that creamy satisfaction in cooking—without him resorting to a carton of Lactaid.
Doubtless you have made Tuscan White Bean Dip—that garlicky puree we like to serve alongside a bowl of pita chips, or spread across crisp crostinis. Our White Bean Sauce is made in similar fashion—just thinner.
It’s like you’re making a vegetarian White Bean Soup, vigorously seasoned with garlic, onion, bay leaf, thyme, that you puree, beans and broth, until the melange becomes velvet—a smooth and pourable sauce.
Like all lasagnas, it’s really more a matter of creating all your layers that takes the time. Assembling them goes quickly.
I decided that sauteed Swiss Chard would make a terrific lasagna layer–seasonal, and compatible with the sauce. Other winter greens would be good too. I recommend Lacinato, or Black Kale.
I had an opened jar of sundried tomatoes packed in oil, shoved into the back of my fridge. In keeping with my intent to use good things before they go bad, I sprinkled these over the chard in my layering process. They added a sweet, sunny note to the dish.
I admit, this is not the most eye-appealing lasagna. When it bakes, there’s a slight crustiness to the top layer of white bean sauce. Not pretty–but savory.
I had some extra sauce left after the layering. You can warm it, and pour a little over your servings. It softened the look, and added more of the cannellini goodness.
I served this at our potluck—an icy night where 17 potluckers braved the slickened streets for good food. We were surprised that anyone came! But those who did loved the no-cheese lasagna. It had rich creamy mouthfeel, robust greens, a hint of heat and sweet.
Bill did not miss the cream, not one bit.
WHITE BEAN LASAGNA
White Bean Sauce
2 cups Cannellini Beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
6 cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 large Onion, sliced
Red Pepper Flakes
In a deep saucepan on medium heat, warm the olive oil. Saute garlic and onions for five minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Add soaked and rinsed cannellinis. Stir until the beans are coated with the olive oil.
Cover beans with water. Add a couple of bay leaves, a few pinches of thyme, and a shake of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.
Simmer, covered, for two hours. Check periodically and give the beans a stir.
Test for bean doneness-the exterior will remain intact, but will give way to a creamy interior.
When beans are tender, remove from heat. Discard bay leaves.
Puree beans and broths, a few cups at a time, in the food processor. (Or,use a portable immersion blender if you like) Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Sauce should be smooth and pourable—ready to go! But, this can be made in advance, and refrigerated until you are assembling the lasagna.
Swiss Chard Layer
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 bundle Swiss Chard, cleaned, stems removed and diced, leaves coarsely chopped
Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute onions, garlic, and chard stems. Season with salt and a dash of red pepper flakes, and cook for about 9 minutes. Stir in leaves, and cook until they are collapsed. Add 1/2 cup water to facilitate the “collapsing” process–and allow the water to cook away. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
1 Box dried Lasagna, cooked al dente, drained, cooled and oiled
1 cup Sundried Tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1 9″x13″ casserole/lasagna baking pan, coated with olive oil
Preheat oven to 350º
Spoon a layer of the white bean sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top with lasagna noodles. Spread sauteed chard over the pasta, dot with sundried tomatoes, and place pasta layer over that. Repeat the layering, until the pan is filled.
Be sure that you finish with the white bean sauce, dotted with sundried tomatoes.
Also, reserve about a cup of the white bean sauce to spoon over the cooked lasagna squares when you serve them. Garnish, too, if you like, with additional sundried tomato pieces.
Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and finish baking for another 10 minutes. You want the casserole to be heated thoroughly. Since all the elements are already cooked, now you are cooking them all together.