Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vegetable lasagna


Every few weeks, I make a large vegetable lasagna for dinner. I usually do it on Monday, as we are devotees of the Meatless Monday movement. I like to make this lasagna because it's healthy and hearty and gives us leftovers, enough for a couple of lunches for the Bear to take to work with him.

I've been working on this recipe for a long time. Early in our marriage, we traveled to New Zealand for a vacation and visit with the Bear's parents; they live most of the year there. We spent some time in the small town of Taupo, near Rotarua, and ate dinner one night at an Italian restaurant where I ordered vegetable lasagna. This was my first experience with it; I have a partly Italian background and ate lots of lasagna all of my life but it was so different with the addition of veggies. It was very moist, fresher and lighter than lasagna made with just cheese, or cheese and meat. I went home and started trying to replicate what I had eaten in Taupo; over the years, I've tried numerous recipes, altering them in my own way, and I think I'm finally getting it right.

My recipe is actually very simple. I use "no-boil" pasta, a mixture of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, marinara sauce and assorted vegetables. I also add an egg to the cheese mixture to help bind it all together. For vegetables, I really like zucchini, carrot and broccoli but you could use almost anything in your lasagna: eggplant, yellow squash, greens such as spinach or kale, mushrooms. As long as it can be sliced or cut finely and layered between the pasta sheets, it's all good.

Ingredients

12-15 lasagna noodles (I prefer the "no-boil" type; notes to follow)
3-4 cups marinara sauce (I like Trader Joe's version; homemade is obviously most authentic)
16 oz. ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1-2 small zucchini squash
1-2 carrots
About a cup of chopped broccoli florets
1 egg
1-2 tablespoons milk
Boiling water

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pasta notes: I really love to use "no-boil" lasagna noodles; you don't need a huge pot of boiling water and you don't have to fish out the hot noodles. I always burned myself when I tried to do it. I started using the "no-boil" type a few years ago and it is easier, but "no-boil" is a bit of a misnomer, in my experience. I found that the noodles never got completely cooked if used in their dry form; at best, they'd be rubbery and sometimes they were even crunchy. This is not a good lasagna experience.

I learned a great technique from America's Test Kitchen, which is one of my favorite technical resources for cooking. They suggested soaking the dry noodles in boiling water for fifteen minutes before using them; this gives them time to soften and the water will be cooled after that time, making them easier to handle. It's a great technique and I really recommend it.

I start by placing two 9x13 Pyrex dishes on the counter, spraying one with Pam. This will be your lasagna pan. The other will be your noodle-soaking pan. I fill my electric kettle with water and bring it to a boil, then fill the noodle pan about 2/3 of the way. Then I drop the noodles into the water one by one, taking care not to press them against each other at all; this will make them stick. If you drop them in and let them float, they rarely stick.


While the pasta is soaking, you can prepare your cheese mixture. Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the ricotta and milk and stir to combine. You can add seasonings to the cheese at this point if you wish; I usually add salt and pepper and sometimes dried herbs like basil or oregano. Then stir in about 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese. I personally prefer to use whole-milk ricotta and part-skim mozzarella; I feel this gives the lasagna richness without being too heavy. But you can use whichever fat contents you prefer, it's fairly hard to go wrong with cheese.


Next, prepare the vegetables. With carrots and zucchini, I use a vegetable peeler to create long, thin strips. These work well for layering between the noodles and cheese. They will also cook better if they are thin. Be careful with the peeler, especially as you get down to thin slivers of the squash or carrot; it can get a little slippery when there's not much left to hold onto.


The pasta should be cool enough to handle by this point, so start preparing the sprayed baking pan. Place about three tablespoons of sauce in the pan and spread it around to coat the bottom of the pan.


Now you can start building the layers. Place a layer of pasta over the sauce and then spoon some of the cheese mixture over that. I like to use a small off-set spatula to spread the cheese evenly over the pasta. Once the cheese is spread, add some sauce to cover it.



Now you can add vegetables. I start with the zucchini strips because they are so flat and easy to fit into a neat arrangement. Then I'll place some carrot and broccoli on top of that. Make sure the veggies are laying nice and flat so that the next layer of noodles isn't lumpy; the cheese is harder to spread that way.



Keep working in this fashion; the final layer should be just pasta with sauce spread over it.


Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes. The lasagna will be bubbly when you remove it from the oven. Carefully remove the foil; there will be a lot of steam. Spread the remaining half-cup of shredded mozzarella over the lasagna and place it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, to allow the cheese to melt.


Remove from oven and let the lasagna rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing; this resting time will help it to set and it will be easier to slice and serve. I will usually slice this into eight large servings but it can easily be slices into larger or smaller pieces as you desire.

I hope you like this delicious lasagna! It's one of my family's favorite dishes and everyone looks forward to veggie lasagna night. The small Bears don't even seem to notice that they're eating veggies. Everybody wins! Enjoy my lasagna recipe and let me know if you make it; I'd love to hear whether it worked well for you, especially the noodle-soaking method.

12 comments:

  1. I really like the sound of this recipe, Jennifer. I have never made veggie lasagna before, but do order it sometimes when we go out to eat. I love the thought of the kids not noticing they are eating vegetables too!! We often have meat free days (I was a vegetarian many years ago!) but I really like the thought of having a set day each week to commit to meat free. Thanks for sharing! :o)

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  2. Mmmmm....Looks really tasty! I've only tried Veggie Lasagna once, and it wasn't that great. But this one looks good.
    ~Kim
    www.2justByou.com

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  3. That looks so nice! Thank you for sharing your recipe.
    M x

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  4. That looks really lovely. Think I may give this a go next week. :)

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  5. Lasagna plus veggies? I'm totally sold. Thank you thank you for this recipe!!! All my favorite veggies too.

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  6. Looks delish. Heading into Autumn here, so I'm on the lookout for healthy warming dinners. Will definitely try it out. Yum xx

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  7. Great step-by-step pictures, Jennifer...
    My son is a vegetarian, and I have made him vegetable lasagna...
    I find, that if I add enough liquid, the noodles will cook up just fine...
    Your method is very good...it would probably even work for Manicotti noodles..
    Enjoy your weekend...we are off to the cottage tomorrow...YAHOO!!!

    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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  8. Love it Jennifer. I used to make one with zucchini's when mine
    were growing up and had a good vegie patch. We are heading to nz
    next thurs for 2 wks yay.

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  9. That looks delicious. Although my fussy son would turn his nose up at the broccoli, but that's his loss! x

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  10. This looks so good! I am going to try it with gluten-free noodles. It looks like it would be a nice change from my regular meat lasagna!

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  11. This looks outstandingly delicious!

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  12. Yum, that looks great! My favorite vegetable lasagna has no noodles, actually -- it uses roasted eggplant instead! You don't even miss them. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/danny-boome/eggplant-lasagna-recipe/index.html

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Thank you for leaving a comment. It's so good to hear from you! I don't always have time to reply but I try to answer questions when I can.

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