Lasagne with a vegetarian filling of spiced cabbage and tomatoes, baked with a cheese topping. No keto, no meat, no fuss.
Warning: this dish is not what you think! It is not recommended for the keto diet, it does not feature cabbage leaves replacing pasta sheets but very much features pasta. The cabbage element is the filling in between the lasagne sheets.
My cabbage lasagne origin
My twist on vegetarian lasagne is loosely based on Polish peasant food, lazanki z kapusta (lazanki with cabbage). It is clearly a recipe borrowed or stolen from Italy including the name of the pasta: lasagne morphed into a more Polish sounding word.
I speculate it must have happened in the 16th century, when Polish king Sigismund I the Elder married Italian-born princess Bona Sforza. The Queen Consort was a fierce lady though perhaps not as dangerous as her aunt, Lucretia Borgia.
She must have been horrified by the North-European menu of pork and cabbage and promptly imported Mediterranean produce, recipes and chefs.
Polish version of lasagne? With cabbage!
Thus pasta became one of Polish staples, but considering the distinct dearth of tomatoes, aubergines or artichokes, Poles would put what they had into the pot with it. No zucchini? Cabbage will do nicely thank you. And the pasta sheets were promptly cut into small squares, much easier to handle than those enormous panes of lasagne.
Polish lazanki with cabbage is a slightly different dish than layered lasagne and, needless to say, rather more basic. Boiled pasta is simply stirred together with cooked shredded cabbage, either fresh or the fermented variety, sauerkraut.
Being predominantly poor people’s food, it was usually dressed just with a little butter; with sausage or bacon added as a special treat.
Al forno transformation
That doesn’t sound appetising, but my Grandma used to make a crispy baked casserole out of lazanki, though she was probably oblivious to the Italian roots of the recipe. That was my absolute favourite as a kid, and I’d sneak the crispiest bits of pasta stuck to the dish it baked in.
Unlike my Granny, I’m going directly back to the Italian roots in my recipe. The pasta is in sheets, and the cabbage filling is layered between them. All is melded together with tomato sauce or even plain passata. And there is a layer of cheese on top. How can you possibly have lasagne without cheese?
How to make the cabbage filling for lasagne?
This dish works absolutely the best as utilised leftovers. I frequently cook stir fried cabbage as a side dish and often far too much of it. On the following day all I need to do is spread it over stacked pasta layers and smear some tomato sauce on top. Sauce from a jar is perfectly acceptable here, by the way.
But it’s a great enough dish to make it from scratch. The cabbage needs only a few minutes of stir frying, with some wilted or overripe tomatoes and lots of seasoning.
Lasagne can be fresh or dried and it absolutely does not need pre-boiling. The tomato sauce or the passata (try chopped tinned tomatoes at a push) will soak the pasta sufficiently, and the cabbage filling also renders some moisture – though it shouldn’t be watery.
The mozzarella topping is a must and here comes a cheap, cheerful and vegetarian Italo-Polish dish!
How to bake lasagne?
This is a general comment, applicable to any type of lasagne: meaty, mixed vegetal or spinach and ricotta. The best lasagne should be creamy and/or succulent, with only the top and edges crisp and browned. The trick to achieve it is to cover the assembled lasagne with cling film, then with kitchen foil.
The cling film must be food grade of course, but there is no need to worry that it will melt into the food in the oven. It won’t, the kitchen foil will protect it, and what it will do is keep the lasagne moist, creamy or juicy while it cooks.
At the end of the baking time both covers need to be discarded and the pasta dish to finish and crispen uncovered.
And don’t forget to let it stand for at least 10-15 minutes when baked – otherwise it will be impossible to cut it, it will burn your tongue and the flavours will not come through.
More lasagne recipes
The classical, traditional lasagne with meat ragù is always fabulous. I always make a second batch of sauces to freeze for another occasion.
If you sniff at my cabbage filling, here’s the Mediterranean version of vegetable lasagne: with peppers, courgettes and tomatoes.
But everybody’s secret favourite is the spinach and ricotta version. I know it’s mine!
More cabbage recipes
Sweden is a cabbage country as well and they do good things with the vegetable there: kalpudding is a baked meatloaf with cabbage topping and it’s fantastic.
Did you think cabbage was a bit common? Here’s a dish of scallops with spiced cabbage to defy it.
And I couldn’t leave out another Polish cabbage classic: stuffed cabbage rolls with pork and rice.