This Italian-inspired vegetarian bolognese lasagna is the perfect recipe for trying to reduce your meat consumption. The toasted walnuts and sautéed mushrooms work so well as a meat substitute, especially with help from a little soy sauce and MSG.
Lasagna bolognese isn't the easiest recipe - It takes a little over 3 hours. Although, the time it took doesn't matter after you take the first bite. This mushroom and walnut bolognese sauce is so complex and rich; it goes beautifully with the thin layers of noodles and creamy béchamel.
Other than a few adjustments, this is very much a traditional bolognese. It’s full of big tomato flavor and is filled with a mix of carrots, celery, and onions. Like any traditional bolognese, there’s a big glug of heavy creamy at the end, which adds to the already excellent mouthfeel.
- 2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped into small pieces
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 and ½ pounds cremini mushrooms, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 large carrots, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 2 yellow onions, finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon MSG
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter for greasing the baking dish
- 1 and ½ pound “no-boil” lasagna noodles (This is probably more than you'll need but running out is annoying)
- 8 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shredded
In a dry Dutch oven, toast the walnuts on medium heat for about 5 minutes – season with salt and pepper. Remove toasted walnuts to a medium-sized bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and sauté until browned. Remove to bowl with toasted walnuts. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of soy sauce over the walnut/mushroom mixture – stir everything together. Wipe the Dutch oven out with a paper towel
Add the rest of the butter and an additional tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the pot and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables over medium-high heat until soft and brown. Add the chopped garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add all of the tomato paste and stir everything together. Cook the tomato paste until it darkens – about 4 minutes.
Pour in the white wine and cook the alcohol off - make sure to scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the Dutch oven. Then add the mushroom walnut mixture, and vegetable stock - stir. Add the MSG, nutmeg, and bay leaf – stir everything together. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the pot’s contents to a boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce heat. Simmer over low heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Check seasoning and if needed add more salt and pepper. After 40 minutes, the sauce should’ve thickened. If not, allow to cook uncovered for 10 additional minutes. Once the sauce is thickened stir in the ½ cup of heavy cream. To save time the sauce can be made the day before.
Béchamel and assembly
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt the unsalted butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until it forms a thick paste. While whisking, slowly add the milk. Continue to whisk until the béchamel thickens. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the nutmeg and a small amount of salt and pepper. Pour the béchamel into a small bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap until it's ready to use.
Place the dry noodles in a large bowl and heat enough water (I use a tea kettle) to cover them. Pour the hot water over the noodles and allow them to soak for 20 minutes. Drain the noodles and lay them out flat on a large sheet pan.
Grease a 9x13 baking sheet with the remaining unsalted butter. Ladle ⅓ cup of bolognese into the baking dish, spreading it evenly over the bottom. Add the ingredients in the following order:
- A thin layer of bolognese
- Béchamel drizzled over the sauce
- Grated parmesan
Repeat until the baking dish is full. It’s okay if the noodles overlap a wee bit. The top layer should just be noodles, béchamel, and the remaining parmesan. Bake the lasagna for about 30-40 minutes. The sauce should be bubbling, and the cheese should be a nice golden brown. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.