Jul 8, 2012

Lasagne al pesto with a twist

Years ago, when I was a child, my Dad had to spend a weekend in Corniglia, one of the Cinque Terre, for work. My parents decided the whole family would go and I remember that weekend as one of the most beautiful of my life, even though as soon as we arrived I became sick with a virus and could not taste all the delicious food Corniglia had to offer for most of our stay. But I could still walk around and take in the beauty of the place, the vines right onto the sea, the narrow streets of the town and the paths that connected Corniglia to the other Cinque Terre, the beach and the square with a stunning view of the sea. I remember that on Sunday there was going to be a fair where typical food would be served: lasagne al pesto and boar stew are the two things that became engraved in my mind. I was determined to be well enough by Sunday as not to miss those delicious dishes; you see, I have always been very very fond of good food. And I had never tasted lasagne al pesto before. Luckily I actually got better and was allowed to eat a moderate amount of both dishes, plus some focaccia ligure (trust me, Ligury is famous for many different kinds of focaccia and is absolutely the best place to taste it).

Through the years we have replicated those lasagne a few times, but we never really hit the spot until recently. We had some pesto left in the freezer from last summer and my Mom suggested I made crêpes and we turned them into lasagne. She could not have had a better idea: the result was incredible: they are creamier that actual lasagne, but equally tasty, plus they cook faster! We liked them so much we have made them twice in a couple of months, whereas we only made lasagne al pesto a few times in years. 

Don't be discouraged by all the things you need to cook separately, they can all be made in advance and it only takes about ten minutes to assemble the lasagne.

CRÊPES (makes about a dozen)

  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g white flour
  • 1 cup/250 ml milk 
  • butter for the pan
Combine eggs, flour and milk until you have a smooth batter. If it is too thick you may want to add some milk. Heat and butter the pan (I usually butter the pan every three crêpes) and add 1/4 cup of batter per crêpe. Rotate the pan so that the batter is evenly distributed. Cook for a minute or two or until it starts to brown and then turn the crêpe with the help of a spatula. Let cook for another minute, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Repeat process until you finish the batter. Set aside.  

Crêpes can be made ahead and kept, covered, in the fridge.

(This is a variant of the real pesto as it does not include garlic and calls for hazelnut instead of pine nuts. We got the recipe from a family friend, and we found it lighter than the original pesto) 

  • 25 g basil
  • 40 g grated parmesan cheese
  • 20 g hazelnut
  • 100 ml(1/2 cup minus 2 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
Combine basil, parmesan, hazelnut and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add olive oil in a stream and keep pulsing until everything is well combined. If you don't use it all for the lasagne you can keep it in a glass jar in the fridge covered with 1 tbsp olive oil and with the lid on for 4 or 5 days. 


  • 5 tbsp flour
  • 1 liter milk
  • nutmeg
  • salt
This is a lighter version of the usual besciamelle sauce as it does not call for butter or cheese. Put flour in a bowl and start adding milk VERY gradually, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Keep adding milk until you have an almost liquid mixture, then pour it into a pan, add the rest of the milk and bring to a boil on low heat stirring constantly. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, always stirring; the sauce should be quite thick in the end. Add salt and a little bit of grated nutmeg (how much depends on your liking), as for salt start by adding a generous pinch and then taste, it should not be too salty. Remove from heat and let cool, covered.

Besciamelle sauce, like crêpes, can be made the day before. 

  • cheese (we used taleggio cheese, but asiago or cheddar probably works as well)
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • a little butter for the baking dish
  • a deep baking dish (I used a round one that is just the right size for the crêpes, but any shape will do)
Butter the baking dish and assemble a layer of crêpe Add about 3 spoonful of besciamelle sauce (or enough to cover the crêpes), 3 tsp of pesto, a few pieces of cheese and a little parmesan cheese. Cover with another layer of crêpe and keep arranging layers this way until about one inch from the edge of the dish (or until you have no ingredients left). The finishing layer should be crêpe, besciamelle sauce and a generous amount of grated parmesan cheese. 
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 390°F/200°C. It should be brownish on top.
Let sit out of the oven for about 10 minutes before serving or let cool completely and before serving warm single servings in the microwave or the whole dish in the oven, covered with tin foil.

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