I've been making a cauliflower (sometimes broccoli), almond & chili pasta sauce for years. I used to load it with parmesan cheese & cream, but here I've veganised it & turned it into a lasagne. The crumbed topping is my very favourite cheese alternative for gratins & other bakes, stuffed vegetables, & even pizza. It gives the salty, savoury yumminess that cheese provides, with the added bonus of some texture & crunch. I think it's much more delicious than gloopy ol' cheese! You can alter the flavours for different recipes, adding lemon zest, cayenne pepper, basil instead of parsley - whatever you like.
This recipe is simple enough, but a little time consuming (as lasagne can be), so it's more of a special occasion dish. The lasagne is served on a puddle of garlicky tomato sauce, & although it's an extra step that you might not want to bother with, it's really worth it, because the creamy lasagne is complimented so well by the tangy, fresh tomatoes. You can whip the marinara sauce up quickly while the lasagne is in the oven. Recipe below...
Cauliflower & Almond Lasagne
1 packet of instant egg-free lasagne sheets (I used Delverde rippled sheets - they need a quick soak in hot water before you use them)
1 small-medium head of cauliflower, finely chopped & lightly steamed
1 cup (about 100g or 3.5oz) slivered or flaked almonds, toasted (I toss them briefly in a dry pan until toasty & golden)
The Cream Sauce:
2 Tbsp vegan margarine or olive oil
2-3 leeks, quartered lengthways & finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 red chilies, finely chopped (deseed 1 or 2 of them if you don't want the sauce too spicy)
500ml (17 fl oz) non-dairy milk of choice
500ml (17 fl oz) vegetable stock (I just dissolved 2 heaped teasp Massel chicken-style stock powder in freshly boiled filtered water)
2 bay leaves
3 rounded teasp mild English mustard (or mustard powder)
2 teasp vegan Worcestershire sauce (you could use light miso instead)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
pinch or ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp cornflour (cornstarch), blended in a little extra milk
2 heaped Tbsp chopped fresh parsley salt & pepper
The Crumb Topping:
2 Tbsp raw cashews
2 cloves garlic
2 heaped Tbsp nutritional yeast
2-3 slices of bread, any tough crusts removed (I used Turkish pide bread)
generous pinch of sea salt
ground black pepper
few sprigs of fresh parsley, stalks removed
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
The Marinara Sauce:
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 medium ripe tomatoes, skinned, cores removed, & roughly chopped
generous pinch dried Italian herb blend
1 teasp sugar salt & pepper
Making the Cream Sauce...
Sauté the leeks & garlic in the margarine or oil in a decent sized pot until soft. Add the chilies & cook a bit longer, then pour in the milk, stock, & bay leaves. Bring to a gentle simmer. It might curdle a bit, but don't worry, when you add the cornflour at the end, it emulsifies again. Stir in the mustard, worcestershire sauce, nutritional yeast & nutmeg. Then gradually add the cornflour mixture & stir until it's thickened. It shouldn't be too thick - you want the lasagne to be generously saucy, not dry, & the lasagne sheets will take up some of the liquid from the sauce. When it comes to seasoning the sauce, make it a little saltier than you would normally do if eating it on its own. Don't forget to remove the bay leaves!
Making the Crumb Topping...
Plonk everything but the parsley & olive oil into a food processor & whiz until it's the texture of bread crumbs. Then add the parsley leaves & whiz briefly, while drizzling in the olive oil.
Assembling the lasagne...
I use a 33x23cm (13x9") Pyrex dish, that makes a big lasagne of 6-8 serves. There's enough filling to make 4 layers in a dish that size. Start with a layer of lasagne sheets in your greased lasagne dish, scatter with a quarter of the steamed cauliflower, then ladle some of the cream sauce evenly over the top, & sprinkle with a quarter of the toasted almonds. Put down more lasagne sheets & repeat layering with cauliflower, cream sauce & almonds, then lasagne sheets, etc, until you've run out of filling, finishing with lasagne sheets on top & a final layer of the cream sauce. You might also like to season each layer with a little salt & pepper. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the final sauce layer, & bake for 20-30 minutes in a pre-heated 190C (375F) oven, until the crumbs are crunchy & golden. When you insert a knife in the centre, the lasagne sheets should be yielding & tender.
Making the Marinara Sauce...
While the lasagne is in the oven, gently sauté the onion & garlic in the olive oil in a shallow pan until soft. Add the skinned, chopped tomatoes, dried herbs & sugar & bring gently to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft & the sauce has reduced a little. Season with salt & pepper.
To serve... Spoon some of the marinara sauce onto a plate, spreading it a little. Top with a slice of lasagne. Enjoy!