Classic lasagna with layers of pasta, cheese and meat sauce is one of my ultimate comfort foods, but area restaurants have taken a classic and turned it into a vegetarian, seafood and even a breakfast favorite.
Vegetarian Lasagna is not something I would have expected to see as a special on the board at Willows British Tea Room, 461 Harrison Ave. in Panama City, but owner Linda Smith gives it a distinctively European spin with a homemade béchamel sauce.
"I just threw some things together; it's a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I do believe if you make vegetarian food taste good, you don't miss the meat. It's very filling and nutritious," said Smith, who had a computer shop in Newmarket, Suffolk, England, before moving to Panama City in 2006. "My only cooking experience prior to Willows was family and friends. What was going to be a part-time hobby has turned into full-time hobby."
Her refreshing dish combines al dente veggies, including mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, onions, peas, bell peppers and kidney beans in a tomato sauce, layered with sheets of pasta and béchamel sauce, which Smith uses to keep the dish creamy.
"Pasteurized cheese can get crusty around the edges. The béchamel sauce with the cheese layers helps the top layer from drying out," said Smith, who likes to have a vegetarian special once a month.
The lasagna had such a wonderful cheese flavor that I wasn't surprised to find out it had three cheeses in it - Vermont sharp cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan - and was served with buttery garlic toast and a salad. I didn't miss the meat.
Hannelore Holland of Somethin's Cookin', 93 E. 11th St. in Panama City, makes a quick vegetarian version, Lazy Wonton Lasagna, inspired by a dish she had "a long time ago in Portofino, Italy."