So a little while back when a group of us were in Ibiza, lamenting the terrible fate we had brought to bear upon our heads, we got talking about Lasagna. And when I say talking about lasagna I literally mean an hour long conversation about how great lasagna is and who had the best recipe. Was it our token Italian M’s family recipe, C’s pack it with cheese offering or our resident chef G’s ‘I have formal training’ classic. Things got heated particularly when we started talking non-traditional secret ingredients!
There was only one thing for it – A LASAGNA OFF!
Now I’m not the only free-from person in our group – we’ve got veggies, gluten shirkers and dairy deniers. Whilst the other two were more easily dealt with a real challenge lay within finding a suitable dairy-free option. So many recipes were tried and tested. Poor N had to sit through some pretty dodgy disasters mostly involving yeast flakes…
Then it happened – shortly after declaring myself a failure as a cook and accepting that in fact you did need dairy to make a good lasagna – I came across this beauty.
Hours of googling had failed to provide any suitable options but 5 minutes with my girl Nigella and I found this Calabrian classic. A lasagna which didn’t require bechemal! Did my eyes deceive me!?
Now this recipe isn’t originally 100% dairy-free but the amount of cheese is so negligible I figured no one would miss it.
Turning up with a dish that looked less like lasagna and more like a sharpei I got a lot of questions – however once everyone tucked in the approving smiles started. I’d like to say I won the lasagna off but alas I ended up 3rd (out of 7). Just missing out on being crowned Lasagna Queen.
Whilst I hadn’t quite proved that dairy-free was the way forward I had at least highlighted it’s potential. I also won the eternal love of a Calabrian friend and if you can serve up a lasagna that gets the seal of approval from an Italian I think you can take that as a win.
Dairy-Free Calabrian Lasagna
- 4 eggs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion (peeled and chopped)
- 1 tsp sea salt flakes
- 1 tbsp chilli flakes (you can adjust to taste we like our food spicy so I actually added an additional tbsp of chopped scotch bonnet)
- 500g minced beef
- 60ml red wine or vermouth
- 1L tomato passata (plus 1L water)
- 500g lasagne sheets (dried not fresh)
- 350g sliced ham (I used honey roast sandwich ham)
Boil your eggs to your desired softness. Nigella says 7 mins but I like my a little softer so went for 5 mins. Once cooked leave them to cool in cold water.
In a pan with a lid cook the onion with the salt and chilli flakes until soft.
Add the meat and turn in the pan until browned.
Add the red wine or vermouth, then the passata and water. Allow it to simmer for five minutes with a lid on the pan.
Peel and slice the eggs.
Grease a lasagna dish – Nigella recommends using one measuring 34 x 23 x 6cm but whatever you have to hand will work fine.
Put enough of the meat sauce (which is quite runny) in the dish to line the base and then layer lasagna sheets on top to cover. They don’t have to be totally even and you can overlap/break bits off to plug various gaps as needed.
Add another ladleful of sauce, or enough to cover the lasagna sheets, and then add a layer of ham slices, using up a third of them, before dotting with a third of the egg.
Then add another layer of lasagna sheets, followed by a covering layer of sauce followed by a third of the ham, then egg.
Repeat with one more layer of lasagna sheets, a few more ladlefuls of sauce and then the final third of the ham and egg.
Top with a final layer of lasagna sheets and pour the remaining sauce on top. You should still have a fair bit left.
Cover the dish with foil, trying to make sure the edges are sealed. Then stick it in the oven for an hour.
When the hour is up, remove the foil and push a knife point through to check the lasanga is soft – if not, re-cover it and return to the oven for about 10 minutes – then let it stand uncovered, for 15-20 minutes before slicing into hearty slabs and serving.
We discovered that this tastes even better at room temperature if you have the will power to wait for 2 hours for it cool.
The original recipe (with cheese) can be found in Nigella’s Nigellissma cook book.