This amazing homemade lasagna boasts a beautiful fresh tasting red sauce and a lovely white bean and spinach béchamel sauce. It would make any Italian grandmother proud. A fabulous Whole Food Plant Based recipe. Oil free, vegan, sugar free, no highly processed ingredients, and gluten free.
Hi! Robin here.
Oh my goodness, it’s been crazy cold here in Ohio. We have been having below zero temperatures for well over a week now. Every day we’ve been hunkering down trying to stay warm. The oven’s constant use has kept the kitchen warm and cozy. This cold snap made us think that it might be a perfect time to explore a Whole Food Plant Based lasagna recipe.
Converting this recipe to WFPB has been on my mind for a very long time. I have been hesitant to make it as I was trying to find a way to ensure that our WFPB lasagna has a lot of flavor and texture without having meat and cheese, while also excluding vegan processed cheese as they tend to be made with a lot of oils.
As most of you know by now, TP109 is Sicilian. He grew up eating delicious and authentic Italian dishes. He is extremely picky about his Italian food and he will be the first to tell you, me, anyone if an Italian dish is good or if it needs “work”. Trust me, I know! LOL
So, Monkey and I have been discussing different ways that we can make a Whole Food Plant Based lasagna that can compete with a traditional Italian lasagna in flavor and texture. We were up to the challenge. We believe we have accomplished our goal of creating a delicious Italian lasagna that is sure to please everyone at your dinner table.
This WFPB lasagna is utterly delicious. We used two sauces, a tasty red tomato based sauce and a béchamel sauce. The red sauce is made with Pomi strained tomatoes. These tomatoes are so good. I had never used them before. I had heard that they were delicious so I wanted to try them, and I am so glad that we did. We love them! They have this beautiful fresh flavor that I have not seen with any other tomato sauce to date.
We used the “strained tomatoes” in this recipe; they are very similar in consistency to regular canned tomato sauce. The flavor is unparalleled in my opinion. And NO, this is not a sponsored advertisement in case you were wondering. You could totally swap out the Pomi strained tomatoes for different tomato sauce (brand of your choice), but I honestly believe the price and flavor are totally worth it. Unlike Mr. Frugal – TP109, I am willing to pay a little extra for ingredients to make amazing food.
This recipe is definitely worth the time and effort that goes into it. I would consider setting aside a dedicated 2 1/2 hours of uninterrupted time to make and assemble this beautiful dish. This is not a dish where you can have a ton of interruptions while making it as there are a few steps that require focus and attention to detail. It is not complicated, but just like anything worthwhile, it requires your attention.
Do you love spinach? If you love spinach, then the 3 cups of frozen spinach are perfect as the spinach flavor does shine in the béchamel. However, if you have any concerns about a distinct spinach flavored béchamel, then scale back the spinach to 1 or 2 cups of frozen (or fresh chopped) spinach. This way you will get a hint of spinach to complement the béchamel.
If using chopped frozen spinach, make sure you thaw it and heat it, then squeeze it to remove as much water as possible from the spinach. You can accomplish this by heating the spinach in the microwave until warm, then placing it in a colander and pushing the excess water out with your hands or a wooden spoon. If using fresh spinach, chop it up and place it directly into the béchamel sauce and cook the spinach until it wilts.
Béchamel, what is that?
A béchamel sauce is a white sauce, primarily made from a white roux and milk. In this case, we do not use butter or oil to make our roux. Ours is primarily comprised of gluten free flour, and cashew cream which consists of plain unsweetened almond milk (or any plain, unsweetened plant based milk will work equally well) and cashews.
The béchamel is a classic white sauce that is smooth and silky. We added roughly smashed cannelloni beans and chopped spinach to give it substance and texture in our lasagna. The creamy smashed cannelloni beans combined with the béchamel give the lasagna this creamy, almost cheesy like texture. It was a perfect pairing. We were so happy!
Vegan “Parmesan Cheese”
Since this lasagna is completely cheeseless, we wanted to find a way to dress it up a bit. We made a Vegan “Parmesan Cheese” that is comprised of raw cashews, blanched almonds, sea salt, garlic powder and nutritional yeast to sprinkle on top of the lasagna, or on individual servings. It is a beautiful nod to the real thing, but completely optional.
Italian Taste Test
Monkey and I were a little apprehensive when we asked TP to taste test the lasagna as we know how hyper-critical he is when we try to take traditional Italian recipes and convert them to Whole Food Plant Based. We were trying so hard to be nonchalant about it when he took the first bite, but we couldn’t pull it off. We were all over him. “What do you think?” “Honestly, do you like it, love it, or hate it?” “Thoughts?” “Would it make your grandma proud?”
TP really relishes and takes being a taste-tester very seriously. He is always honest and forthright which we love, but he really savors providing long drawn out dissertations on our food. You would think he was on a Food TV Network Food Challenge show providing his expert “chef” opinion. LOL
He totally loved it. He said he couldn’t believe it. He thought the béchamel filled with smashed cannelloni beans with spinach was a creamy ricotta with spinach. He loved the red sauce too, which is huge for him as he is super picky about Italian tomato sauces. Plus, he thought it had a really nice fresh flavor. The Pomi tomatoes really come through. Score!
He ate the square of lasagna we gave him and wanted to know if he could have another. Monkey and I each took a square and ate it in another room, and when we went back to the kitchen, he had eaten another square (3 in total). He said he had not had lunch that day so he was extra hungry.
I hope you give this lasagna a try. It is perfect for a special family dinner or any dinner for that matter. We are really proud of it. 🙂
Our goal was to create an amazing Whole Food Plant Based compliant lasagna that rivaled our traditional and super amazing lasagna that Mom has been making for many years. We knew that it would be difficult to duplicate, but we were stoked to give it a try.
We were initially worried about finding a really great gluten free lasagna noodle. You can definitely use any compliant lasagna noodle you wish, but we needed ours to be gluten free and Whole Food Plant Based compliant. Some gluten free pastas self-destruct when you boil them. Some are gummy and others are sticky and too hard. We were delighted with the Tinkyada brand. The Tinkyada lasagna noodle ingredients are brown rice, rice bran and water. Now how cool is that, right?
We placed them into our recipe uncooked and they came out perfect. TP noticed a tiny difference when comparing a wheat pasta to the rice pasta, but I think that is the sacrifice we make when being gluten free. Tinkyada makes an excellent WFPB compliant lasagna noodle.
- Ceramic/enamel lined Dutch oven or other large kitchen stock pot. (Red Sauce)
- Ceramic/enamel lined large skillet (Béchamel Sauce)
- High Speed Blender (Cashew Cream and Vegan “Parmesan Cheese”
- 10 x 13 x 3 baking dish or similarly large lasagna pan
This amazing whole food plant based lasagna boasts a beautiful fresh tasting red sauce and a lovely white bean and spinach béchamel sauce. Vegan, Oil free, sugar free, no highly processed ingredients, and gluten free.
Red Sauce Ingredients:
- 1 large yellow onion, fine dice
- 3 – [ 26.5 oz boxes ] Pomi strained tomatoes *
- 1 cup dry red wine (vegan) *
- 1 Tablespoons dried minced onions
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt (+/-)
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper (+/- )
- Pinch red pepper flake
Béchamel Sauce Ingredients:
- 1 large yellow onion, fine dice
- 2 Tablespoons GF flour *
- 3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth *
- 2 cups water
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried crushed thyme leaves *
- 3 Tablespoons dried minced onions
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt (+/-)
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper (+/-)
Cashew Cream Ingredients for Béchamel Sauce:
- 1 cup cashews
- 1 ¼ cup unsweetened plain plant milk
- 2 – [ 15.5 oz. cans ] cannellini beans, roughly smashed
- 2 – [ 1 pound boxes ] no-cook lasagna noodles *
- 1 to 3 cups frozen chopped spinach (or fresh chopped spinach) *
- Fresh basil
Vegan “Parmesan Cheese” Ingredients (optional):
- ¼ cup raw cashews
- ¼ cup blanched slivered amonds
- 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt (+/- )
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- Place 1 cup of cashews in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 30 minutes.
- Make the red sauce: In a large ceramic/enamel lined Dutch oven or similar stock pot, add the finely minced onions and sauté until they begin to soften, approx. 7 to 9 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water if the onions start to stick to the pan.
- Add all the other remaining ingredients, including pouring 1/3 cup of water into each strained tomato box to rinse them out to obtain all the tomatoes. Stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.
- Bring the red sauce to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for one hour; taste test the flavor, add more spices as needed. Stir occasionally to allow the flavors to marry and the sauce to thicken.
- In the meantime, make the Béchamel sauce. Over medium heat, sauté the minced onion in a ceramic/enamel coated skillet until soft, approx. 5 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water if the onions start to stick to the pan.
- Sprinkle the flour over the sautéed onions and then sauté the flour with the onions for 2-3 minutes. They will look like flour covered clumps, that is fine.
- Add the vegetable broth and water to the skillet, stirring to thicken. Add the onion powder, garlic powder, sweet paprika, thyme, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Stir well to combine.
- Make the cashew cream. Drain the water from the cashews, discard this water. Place the cashews in a high-speed blender, add the unsweetened plain plant milk in the high-speed blender. Blend on high until very smooth.
- Add the cashew cream to the Béchamel sauce and heat until smooth and creamy. Allow to cook for 5 minutes on low.
- Microwave the frozen spinach until warm, squeeze all the water out of the spinach and then add to the Béchamel sauce. If using fresh spinach, chop it and add it to the Béchamel sauce, heat until wilted in the sauce.
- Drain and rinse 2 cans of cannellini beans and place them into a bowl. Using a potato masher, fork or wooden spoon, roughly mash them, leaving ½ mashed and the other half slightly mashed. Add to the Béchamel sauce. Cook for a few minutes.
- Keep the Béchamel sauce warm and stir occasionally until you are ready to assemble the lasagna. When you are ready to begin turn off the heat on the red sauce and Béchamel sauce.
- To assemble the lasagna, preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Spread a generous even layer of red sauce to coat the bottom of a 10 x 13 x 3 inch deep lasagna pan or deep baking dish. Layer uncooked lasagna noodles lengthwise in the pan. Break a few in half in order to line the entire bottom of the pan. Press the lasagna noodles into the sauce, then add another layer of red sauce on top of the noodles to ensure that the noodles are covered in red sauce.
- Next divide your Béchamel sauce in half in the skillet. Use half of the Béchamel sauce and cover the red sauce coated lasagna noodles by very carefully dolloping it onto of the red sauce in 8 or more large spoonfuls in sections. Then using the back of a spoon, gently spread it out into an even layer. Try not to mix the red sauce and the Béchamel together. You want the Béchamel to be its own distinct layer.
- Next place down another layer of uncooked lasagna noodles lengthwise in the pan. Break a few in half, if needed, to complete a layer.
- Next spoon a generous layer of red sauce to completely cover the uncooked noodles.
- Use the remaining Béchamel sauce left in the skillet and cover the lasagna noodles by dolloping it onto of the red sauce in 8 or more large spoonfuls in sections. Then using the back of a spoon, gently spread it out into an even layer. Try not to mix the red sauce and the Béchamel together. You want the Béchamel to be its own distinct layer.
- Now place down the last layer uncooked lasagna noodles lengthwise in the pan. Break a few in half, if needed, to complete a layer.
- Cover the last layer of uncooked lasagna noodles with a layer of red sauce that covers all the noodles. (You may have approx. 2 cups of red sauce left over, store in the fridge or freeze for another recipe.) Or if you are like us, you may wish to serve the lasagna with an additional side of sauce.
- Cover the pan tightly with foil and place in the oven. Put a cookie sheet on the rack below the pan in order to catch bubble overs. Bake for 35 minutes.
- After 35 minutes, carefully remove the foil. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, make the vegan “Parmesan cheese” by adding all the ingredients into a high-speed blender and pulsing for one minute.
- After the lasagna has baked uncovered for 15 minutes, carefully remove from the oven and sprinkle a light layer of the vegan “Parmesan cheese” (about ¼ cup) over the top and return to the oven for 5 minutes. (Save the remainder “Parmesan cheese” for individual servings.
- Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.
- Chiffonade several fresh basil leaves and scatter across the top of the lasagna.
*Pomi Strained Tomatoes: These tomatoes are perfect for this recipe. They have a beautiful fresh taste of a garden ripe tomato. You can substitute an equal amount of tomato sauce if you wish; however, you may need to compensate with some additional seasonings. Taste test as you go. Note: Pomi Strained Tomatoes are very fresh tasting and are low in acidity. If you don’t use Pomi, then consider adding 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to help reduce the acidity. Again, we highly recommend using Pomi Strained Tomatoes. They are available in most grocery stores. They come in a 26.46 oz. box (carton-style box container).
*Lasagna Noodles: If making with gluten free lasagna noodles, we have found Tinkyada Pasta Joy Organic Brown Rice Pasta Lasagne noodles works well. If you do not have a gluten allergy, then you can use the lasagna noodle of choice. This recipe calls for 1 ½ boxes of lasagna noodles. Don’t worry, we have another recipe keyed up for broken and left over lasagna noodles.
*Lasagna Pan: We can’t stress the importance of using a good lasagna pan. We use a 10-inch width by 13-inch length by 3-inch height. Those measurements work perfectly with this recipe. If your pan isn’t deep enough, you won’t get 3 layers and could potentially have a lot of bubble over in your oven.
*Spinach: The spinach is optional. If you love spinach, use 3 cups. If you enjoy spinach, use 1 cup.
*Vegetable Stock: We use Pacific Organic Low Sodium Vegetable Stock. We love this brand because it is Whole Food Plant Based compliant, as it does not contain MSG, has no oil, and does not contain any highly-processed ingredients.
*Dried Crushed Thyme Leaves: We use Penzeys French Thyme. Dried and crushed thyme leaves are not the same as ground thyme. Ground thyme has a powdery consistency. Whereas dried and crushed thyme leaves have texture. You can use either in this recipe. We used dried and crushed thyme leaves, so if you are using ground thyme, scale back to half of the amount indicated in the recipe and check for flavor consistency.
*Vegan Red Wine: The red wine flavor makes a difference. It totally makes this recipe by adding dimension. The alcohol burns off/reduces and you are left with this beautiful nuance of flavor. You do not have to add the red wine. We tried it with and without the wine and the flavor is very good without it, but the red wine just takes this dish to the next level of deliciousness. We used Vegan Honoro Vera Red Wine or any Vegan red wine will work equally well. (Note: Most of the WFPB doctors cook with wine as the alcohol evaporates and you are left with beautiful flavor). If you decide to leave the wine out, then compensate with about 1/2 cup of veggie broth or water with the understanding that the sauce may need some extra seasoning and will not have the full depth of flavor.
*Sea Salt: Please adjust the sea salt based upon your family’s sea salt preferences and/or based upon dietary needs.
Storage: Cool to warm, place in glass/plastic storage and refrigerate. Freezes well.