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A vegetable lasagna for omnivores

I've always liked the concept of lasagna. Noodles, good sauce and cheese layered and baked together should be yummy. Yet, more often than not, I'd have some and think. . . eh.  Then one day someone made me a vegetable lasagna which was truly satisfying. I'm having trouble describing this--it was as if all the flavors popped, in a good way.

I tried to replicate the recipe. The results were tasty enough, but it felt like something was missing.

One summer we were up at a cabin in Quebec, and I decided to make it for a crowd. When shopping for the ingredients I tried to convert ounces into grams but got it wrong, and we ended up with twice the amount of frozen spinach than I had intended. Oh well, I thought. We'll be hungry. I cooked it up, and voila—the best lasagna recipe, ever! The key was the extra spinach. Who knew?

This will serve 8 to 10 hungry people. For those omnivores out there, trust me, you won’t miss the meat. Serve with a green salad, fresh bread, and your favorite wine.

VEGETABLE LASAGNA

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles (need 12 lasagna noodles)
1 lb. mozzarella, grated
1/4 lb. good Parmesan, grated
15 or 16 oz. ricotta
2 eggs
2 10 oz. packages frozen chopped spinach
salt and pepper, to taste
24 oz. jar tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. brown sugar
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini (or yellow summer squash), chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery, chopped
Fresh basil/fresh parsley/other fresh herbs, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add onion, green pepper, carrot, celery, zucchini, mushrooms and garlic. Cook until they begin to soften (approx. 5 minutes). Add tomato sauce, red wine, soy sauce and brown sugar. If you want to add fresh herbs, do so now. Stir occasionally and bring to boil. Turn heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. (Longer is just fine.)

Cook frozen chopped spinach as indicated on package. Drain thoroughly. (Note, if you microwave, no water is added and no draining is required.) Allow to cool, uncovered for about 1 minute. Mix in ricotta and eggs with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Oil a 9 x 13 non-reactive baking pan, such as Pyrex. Put a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of the pan.

Now you’re ready to layer. Place 4 no-boil noodles over the thin layer of sauce. They will overlap. Leave a little room at the outer edges to allow the noodles to expand. Cover the noodles with 1/2 of the ricotta and spinach mixture. Cover that with 1/3 of the remaining sauce. Cover that with 1/2 of the grated mozzarella.
 
Repeat: 4 noodles; remaining ricotta/spinach; 1/3 sauce; remaining mozzarella.

Cover last layer of mozzarella with 4 noodles, remaining sauce and the grated Parmesan.

Cover pan tightly with foil. Place on a cookie sheet lined with foil (to catch any overflow once it starts boiling). Bake in oven for 50 minutes. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes.  Uncover and serve.

All of the vegetables added to the jarred sauce are optional. You may substitute any vegetables you like, and leave out any you don’t like. If you like it spicier, add cayenne or a chopped jalapeno pepper to the sauce. I have had success in halving the recipe and using an 8 x 8 square pan instead. In that case, reduce baking time to about 45 minutes.

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