The Best Low Carb Lasagne
Updated: Aug 21
Anybody who tells you they don't like lasagne (or lasagna if you're that way inclined) is never going to be your true friend and should certainly not be trusted.
A perfectly made meat ragu, sandwiched between two sheets of delicious pasta, swaddled in a blanket of creamy bechamel sauce and a liberal coating of melty cheese and salty Parmesan, what's not to love?
But in her purest form, she's a wicked mistress, partner up all the protein from the meat, the fats from the dairy and the carbalicious pasta sheets and a portion of that comfort food sensation spells punishment at the gym if you don't want to increase your circumference. Add in a side of Garlic bread and my favourite lasagna accompaniment of french fires (classy) and that meal is well over the 1000 calorie mark.
If only there was a way to enjoy this Italian favourite without the guilt...well read on dear friend!
For those of you who follow my blog, you'll know that although it goes against every fiber of my being, I'm off the carbs and trying to shed some timber from my tummy and some blubber from my backside. Low carb is my weapon of choice as a life without cheese is simply not worth it and it is actually the law to eat bacon at least once a week to achieve any level of life contentment (unless you're one of those vegans, and then, you're on the wrong food blog, begone!).
In my last post, I decided to try and find / make at least six substitutes of my favourite high carb ingredients, they will be known as the dirty half-dozen. Well this is number 1. It's a highly acceptable version of lasagne with a fraction of the carbs, in fact, the only ingredients that have any significant carbs are a carrot, some tomatoes and a small amount of cornflour, the rest is pretty much on your low carb list.
And the secret ingredient that will replace the pasta? Wait for it, Leek. Yep, you heard me, leek.
Now don't assuming this is going to be crap, you know what assumption did; it made an ASS out of U and ME (sorry, that's the small amount of 'manager" still left in me, I'll work on it)
Leek is actually pretty good for a lasagne pasta replacement. It comes in sheets, it goes stringy when cooked (in a good way, like mozzarella stringy) and unlike pasta it actually adds flavour, and in a good way. Somehow it gives it a slightly tangy note, a bit like you added extra red wine in the meat sauce. Trust me, try it, it works.
Ingredients - Enough to feed 6 people
For the Meat Ragu
1kg Minced Beef - A blend of beef and pork also works well
1 glass of Red Wine - White wine will do if you don't have red and if you don't have any wine or don't want to add it, that's fine
1 large finely chopped Onion
2 large finely chopped Carrots
2 finely chopped Celery Sticks
2 Cloves of Garlic
2 Tins of Peeled Plum Tomatoes - Pre-chopped is fine, if you see San Marzono on the shelf, buy them, if not, any will do.
2 tbsp of Tomato Puree/Paste
1 Beef Stock Cube - Chicken will work if it's all you've got.
100ml Milk - preferably whole / full cream milk
2 tsp dried oregano
Olive oil - Vegetable oil if you're out of Olive
For the Bechamel
900 ml of Milk
3 tbsp of Cornflour
1 large knob of Butter
400g of Mozzarella - Grated
200g of Mature Cheddar - Grated
100g Parmesan / Parmigiano Reggiano - Finely grated
For the "Pasta"
4 large Leeks
Salt and black pepper
In a large frying pan on a medium heat, fry the onion, celery and carrot in a little olive oil until beginning to soften, add the garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and in the same pan on high heat, fry the mince until brown and you hear a frying sound (dry) not a boiling sound (bubbling)
In the hot pan, pour the red wine in with he beef and cook for a further 5 minutes to reduce and burn off the alcohol
Add back in the vegetables and milk and cook on high heat for a further 5 minutes
Add the Tomatoes and Oregano and reduce the heat to medium
Boil the kettle, put the stock cube in a jug and add 500ml of boiling water to make the stock.
Pour the stock into the pan, add the tomato puree / paste and stir to combine
Turn the heat down to low and leave as long as you can to reduce down, stirring every 15 minutes until the liquid has combined and you have a nice think consistency (not soupy). Careful not to let it stick to the bottom of the pan.
Turn off the heat and leave to cool
Put on another saucepan of water and bring to the boil, add a pinch of salt
Take your leeks and cut off the end with the root and the green top
Take each leek and carefully cut half way through the leek length ways. That's length ways e.g. cut down the full length of the leek, the opposite to chopping it!
Add the leeks to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes (this is called blanching)
Remove and place into a colander in the sink to dry off and cool
In the jug you used for the stock, add the 900 ml of milk, the cornflour and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk until the cornflour has dissolved into the milk
Add the knob of butter and cover tightly with cling film.
Microwave for 4 minutes, remove and whisk the mixture
Re-cover with the cling film and microwave for a further 2 minutes, remove, whisk and repeat this process microwaving for 2 minutes until you have a thick saucy consistency. Don't cook for longer than 2 minute intervals or it will boil over and you'll have to clean the microwave.
Now prepare your assembly station with a large baking dish, the leeks, the white sauce, the meat sauce and the cheese (which you have already grated)
First, spoon a layer of meat sauce into your dish
Now take one of your leeks and it should fall apart giving you lots of "Sheets" of leek. cover the meat sauce with the first leek
pour a layer of your white sauce and smooth out over the leek
Sprinkle a quarter of each of the cheeses onto the white sauce
Cover with the second leek
repeat the process, meat, leek, sauce & cheese, leek, twice more then stop on cheese sauce.
Add all the remaining cheese and put a pinch of salt and a liberal pinch of pepper over the top
Leave to rest while you heat the oven up to 180C / 350f
Put the dish in the heated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese on top is bubbling and starting to brown.
Serve immediately with an optional rocket salad with balsamic dressing and Parmesan shavings
Tips & Tricks
In a normal Lasagne, you want your Ragu and Bechamel sauce to be reasonably loose and wet as the Lasagne pasta (most people use dry lasagne sheets) absorbs a large amount of liquid so your risk is that your Lasagne is dry. With this recipe it's the complete opposite, the leek is going to add liquid, not take it away so it's important that you:
meat sauce down further than you would normally so it's quite thick and is not soupy (basically you should be able to spoon it with a slotted spoon without it all dropping through the slots)
use the 3 tablespoons of cornflour and microwave your bechamel so it is quite thick, this is the one time where the consistency of wallpaper paste (without lumps) is acceptable
Dry your leeks in a colander before adding them to the lasagne
If you like things extra cheesy (who doesn't), you could use our Turbo Cheese Sauce in place of the bechamel and turn the cheese up to 11
Don't eat red meat? This will actually work pretty well with Chicken mince. Swap the oregano for Tarragon and you'll be glad you did.
If you stick to this recipe, you'll have the same consistency as traditional lasagne and a good rich flavour, if it's too wet, it will still taste OK but it's going to be like a creamy leek soup with some meat sauce in it.
I can promise you, if you take this time and make this right, it won't disappoint, and if you're trying to eat low carb like me, it will go straight into your weekend treat stable to keep the carb cravings at bay. Mrs H won't eat lasagne the traditional way anymore regardless of whether we're dieting or not and I have to say, I'm pretty close to it too.
let us know what you think in the comments and subscribe for more of the dirty half dozen in the coming weeks.