I once told a horrible tale about suffering through month after month of vegetarian lasagna.
This is not entirely accurate.
Yes, it was the summer when I was pregnant and deluged with weekly deliveries of vegetable-filled CSA boxes. It was exhausting, but it was also thrilling – each week opening a box to something new, something fresh, plucked from the ground only a day or two before.
I don’t know how much vegetarian lasagna I made that summer but it was enough to put a spare freezer on my Amazon Wishlist. Never mind the lack of space in my apartment. Details…Throw an afghan over it and there you go, instant coffee table.
What I really should have done is gotten a food manufacturing license and started to sell them at the local Walmart. They would have flown out the door, especially given the competing options which are full of cultured Dextrose and other unmentionables.
My technique is simple – I make a quick tomato sauce – in a pinch you can use a good jarred version. But it takes three minutes to sautee an onion & carrot, add a can or two of tomato puree, season, and let it simmer while you tend to the rest.
With the sauce simmering, I cook (most often grill on my indoor grill pan) the vegetables and prepare the remaining ingredients.
Although I’ve made lasagna with fresh pasta before, it can be time consuming, and you can get great results with no boil noodles. When you’re using no boil, or oven ready noodles, you definitely need a filling that has some heft – this isn’t the time for an airy cream sauce. I cut my vegetables into thick slices, drizzle some olive oil, season, and grill then until they’re nice and charred. No indoor grill pan? Slice them the same way, and roast them in the oven instead. They’ll still pack plenty of flavor.
When the vegetables are done, all I have left to do is to mix an egg into the ricotta, and I’m ready to assemble.
The layering is pretty simple. Here’s my rule – don’t sweat it. Even after layering countless lasagnas, I still lose track of what goes where. It’s hard to remember the order – was it noodle, sauce, ricotta, veg? Or noodle, sauce, veg, ricotta? Don’t panic! This is not life or death. As long as you have some sauce on the bottom, and leave enough sauce for the top, it will be….just….fine….
I only say this because I was once that person – the lasagna novice who was overly concerned about having the layers in the right order; I would dart back and forth from the recipe, reading the instructions once, twice, thrice. Child’s play! Now you know my secret – that with homemade tomato sauce, fresh ricotta, and grilled vegetables, you really can’t go wrong. Just do me a favor- season it well- those plain noodles need to be salted and if you’re just seasoning the fillings, the noodles will be bland.
So whether you’re starting your own battle with a CSA box this spring, or just have a hankering for homemade lasagna, I hope this recipe finds a place in your arsenal. It’s a perfect meat-free meal, but be my guest and doctor it up with ground beef, shredded chicken, or even ground lamb. Enjoy everyone.
- For the sauce
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
- 1 28-oz can tomato puree
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 Tbsp salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- For the lasagna
- 4-6 Tbsp olive oil
- 3-4 medium zucchini, sliced 1/3 inch thick (they’ll shrink when cooked)
- 2 Italian eggplants, sliced 1/3 inch thick
- 1 4-oz package of goat cheese, I love the Vermont Creamery brand
- 1 15-oz container of ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 9oz package of no boil or oven-ready lasagna noodles
- 1 1 lb ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced ( you should have enough slices to cover the whole top of the lasagna)
- 4 Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt & pepper
- To make the sauce
- Heat a Dutch oven on medium high heat and when shimmering, add your onions and carrots.
- Sautee for 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften.
- Add the white wine and deglaze the pan, stirring, and reducing the liquid by half.
- Add the tomatoes and puree along with the thyme.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover partially, and cook while you prepare the other ingredients.
- After about 20 minutes, the vegetables should be soft enough to puree with a handheld immersion blender. If you don’t have one, break up the whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Taste again for seasoning- it should taste a little on the salty side so that you’ll flavor the noodles.
- To make the vegetables
- Preheat your grill pan on medium-high heat.
- Rub olive oil into the sliced veggies, and season with salt and pepper.
- Grill the vegetables on the pan for a few minutes on each side, until grill lines are pronounced. (If you don’t have a grill pan, roast the vegetable slices on a sheet pan in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes, turning once)
- Save the vegetables to a plate, and turn off the grill pan.
- To assemble the lasagna
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, crack the egg into the ricotta, season with 1 ½ tsp of salt, and mix well. Set aside.
- Set up your lasagna assembly station – you should have at the ready: 1. The tomato sauce, 2. The noodles, 3. The veggies, and 4. The goat cheese.
- In a large casserole dish, start your layering. Start with the tomato sauce, spreading enough to cover the bottom of the dish (about ½ cup).
- Next, layer your noodles, overlapping slightly – my pan usually fits 4 noodles across.
- Spread 1/3 of your ricotta mixture over the noodles.
- Top with a layer of zucchini (you’re aiming for 2 total layers of zucchini)
- Crumble half the goat cheese on top of the zucchini.
- Add more sauce to cover the veg & cheese.
- Repeat with the noodles, and ricotta, and then layer your eggplant (you only need one layer of eggplant, so feel free to use it all).
- Cover the eggplant with sauce, and repeat the next layer: noodles, ricotta, zucchini.
- Crumble the remaining half of the goat cheese on top of your zucchini.
- Add more sauce to cover the veg & cheese.
- Top with a final layer of noodles, and cover with the remaining sauce.
- Add the mozzarella slices and sprinkle the parmesan.
- If you’d like, drizzle a little olive oil over the whole lasagna, and season once more with salt and pepper.
- Cover with foil, and bake in the oven covered for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes.
- If at this point the mozzarella isn’t fully melted, turn on the broiler and watch it carefully so that it doesn’t burn.
- Most important, rest your lasagna for 5 minutes before slicing so that the pieces stay intact.
- Serve and enjoy!
- Although the recipe looks long, the lasagna itself doesn't take much time to make and assemble, and can be done ahead of time. Just cover with foil and bake when ready, adding 10 minutes to your covered cooking time.