When you’re a vegetarian, you eat a lot of lasagna. For some reason, non-vegetarians (omnivores) become completely stumped by what to feed people who don’t eat meat, so the fallback is generally a lasagna. Luckily, I love lasagna, so this is fine with me, and the result is that I rarely make it at home.
Lasagna is a classic, though — great for feeding a large crowd, perfect for potlucks, and a clever way to get veggies into picky eaters. I actually suggested a vegetable lasagna to a friend the other day when she was telling me about how her teenaged son, who has always been a pretty good eater, is suddenly craving carbohydrates and doesn’t want any vegetables (I think it’s a growth spurt thing). The perfect solution is definitely a vegetable lasagna — packed with noodles and cheesy goodness, the layers can be laden with vitamin-rich produce, so that growing boy can get real nutrition out of every mouthful.
I promised you a recipe, so here it is, with a few prepatory notes.
1. Sometimes in the store you’ll see boxes of “no-boil” lasagna noodles, and I am all for anything that saves me from having to boil a big stock pot full of water. However, any kind of lasagna noodles can be “no-boil” — you don’t need a special kind. If you want to try the no-boil method, then mix 1/2 cup of tomato sauce with a 1/2 cup of water and pour that into the bottom of your baking dish, then assemble your lasagna in the usual way, using the dried noodles and topping each layer of noodles with slightly soupy tomato sauce. When you get to the top, leave off the last layer of cheese and cover with aluminum foil, baking for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees . Then pull off the foil, throw on the cheese, and bake for another 15 or 20 minutes at 375 degrees until it is nice and bubbly.
2. Go through your refrigerator and look for whatever odds and ends you can throw into that lasagna — waste not, want not. In yesterday’s lasagna, I threw in several spoonfuls of olive tapenade along with about a cup of millet that was in the freezer (don’t be scared about millet — it’s just a grain, like couscous, and I made something with it a while ago and froze the remainder because I figured it would come in handy some day).
3. If you have leftover cream cheese or goat cheese, cut it up into bits and throw that into a layer for just that little bit of extra yum. I did find a cup of mashed sweet potato — left over from another meal last week — and I was pretty excited about spooning that into a layer, but, sadly, when I opened it up, it was starting to sour. Oh well — my fault for not paying attention to the leftovers in the fridge.
4. You’ve probably heard this before, but lasagna is actually better when you make it ahead — the layers get a chance to kind of sink into each other and suck up each other’s tasty juices, leaving you with just a luscious casserole that surely tastes the way true love would taste if it had a flavor.
1 box of lasagna noodles (cooked or uncooked, your choice)
3 cups of tomato sauce (jarred, canned, or homemade, but have extra if you decide to do the “no-boil” lasagna)
4 cups of shredded cheese, any variety (I like to mix it up between mozzarella, sharp cheddar, and parmesan, although fontina is also fab)
1 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese, mixed with one beaten egg
Vegetables (this is your opportunity to be creative: go for it! Some suggestions are spinach, mushrooms, carrots, sliced beets, green peas, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, onions, water chestnuts, soybeans, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and just about anything else)
Olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper (I like dried tarragon and oregano, about a teaspoon of each sprinkled over the last couple of layers, plus maybe a little smoked paprika and a dash of nutmeg)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
How to construct a layer:
Place a layer of noodles on the bottom of the pan (follow instructions above for no-boil method). Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of sauce (add more if you like your lasagna extra-saucy) over the noodles, then dot with several spoonfuls of ricotta cheese mixture. Top with one of your vegetables, sprinkle with about 3/4 cup of cheese, and a little salt/pepper/etc. That’s a layer!
Keep building your layers to the top of the pan, leaving a little room to add your final layer of cheese — you want to reserve about 1-1/2 cups of cheese for that final layer, and you may want to sprinkle about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on your herbs, and throw it in the oven. It’ll take about an hour, maybe a bit longer, to reach that perfectly toasted golden goodness. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before slicing.