In my world, food is king. I am controlled by it. Sometimes, a craving for Spicy Noodles hits me at midnight, and I have no choice but to obey it. I have been known to put on a pair of jeans and run out the door late at night because I had just thought of dark chocolate, and I can’t live another minute without it. The truth is, there are some foods I can and will say no to, but I have never turned down pizza or pasta when offered to me. Exercise to me is only a way to justify all my untimely cravings, and to let my creative side eat its heart out.
This week, I can’t stop thinking about veggie lasagna. It’s one of the few noodles I prefer overcooked to al dente, and I’m pretty sure it’s only because that’s the lasagna of my childhood. You know the foods that you will never prefer the “correct” way because that would only interfere with your nostalgia? For example, I prefer hamburger helper to actual beef stroganoff. Taste and smell are so important to me that I will forgo a fresh ingredient for a memorable one. I eat to remember.
There is a part of me that goes against many of my childhood favorites, knowing what I know now about processed foods and packaged ingredients. But wouldn’t you give anything to eat a sloppy joe and be transported to your mother’s table? I know that I would.
Lasagna is universal, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love it. This version is my own, and I’ve made it with vegetables rather than a traditional bolognese. But, we’re coming into fall, and I want to get the most out of my more comforting meals. Vegetables are a great way to not only add flavor, but to keep this lasagna on the healthy-ish side. As the weather cools down, and you find yourself in the kitchen more, you’ll want to make this simple and warming Veggie Lasagna that you won’t regret. If you’re not wanting to saute them, feel free to try roasting them! I just didn’t feel like dirtying another dish.
Let’s get started on this recipe! First, we’re going to saute our vegetables one at a time. I do this so they brown and cook nicely. Overcrowding and moisture is the enemy of browning! Start with browning the fennnel, then the bell peppers, then the zucchini. As the zucchini start to brown, add the garlic and oregano. Then add this mixture into the fennel and bell peppers and mix it all together.
We’ll use the same skillet to make our sauce. Start with diced onion and carrots and let all this soften in butter. After the onion and carrots soften, add the sliced garlic and oregano, and cook for another minute. Now add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands into the pan to break them up. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, simmering uncovered for about 20 minutes.
While this cooks, boil some water for your pasta. Then we’ll prepare the ricotta mixture. First, defrost your spinach in a colander, running hot water over it until no more ice remains. Use your hands to squeeze out any excess moisture. Then use a paper towel to squeeze out any remaining moisture. Add this to the ricotta in a big bowl, and add 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, and 1/4 cup of pesto. I use any store bought pesto. Give it a half teaspoon of kosher salt and mix it all together with a spoon.
Boil your pasta to al dente, about 10 minutes. I used wax paper laid out to lay the noodles until they cooled enough to handle. If you’re using oven ready lasagna, do not boil the pasta! To prepare your lasagna, start by layering a half cup of sauce on the bottom of your 9 x 13 inch dish. Then add a layer of noodles. Over the noodles, layer the ricotta, then all the vegetables, sprinkle on the mozzarella and then another layer of sauce.
Next, add another layer of noodles, a layer of ricotta, mozzarella, then sauce. The last layer is noodles, then sauce, and top with the remaining mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano. Cover this in foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake an additional 30 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbly. See the full recipe below.
- 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- half of a fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1½ tsp kosher salt plus some to taste
- 2 red bell peppers, sliced thinly
- 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp oregano
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 10 oz frozen spinach
- 22 oz whole milk ricotta
- ¼ cup pesto
- ¾ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 tsp oregano
- 1¾ cups shredded mozzarella
- In a large skillet, add 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add the fennel, cooking until fennel is browning slightly and softening, about 8 minutes. Add a couple pinches of salt and stir. Pour into a large mixing bowl to set aside. To the same skillet, add another drizzle of oil and add the bell peppers, cooking and stirring until softened, about 8 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and stir. Pour the bell peppers into the fennel bowl and set aside. To the same pan, add another drizzle of olive oil and cook the zucchini until softened and browned. Sprinkle with salt and add the garlic and oregano, cooking for a minute more. Add this to the fennel pepper mixture and stir in the bowl to coat everything.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. While you wait on the water, in the same skillet you sautéed the vegetables in, add the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the carrots and onion. Cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and oregano. Cook one minute more. Add the juices from the tomatoes and crush the tomatoes with your hands into the pan to break them up. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low, uncovered for 20 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt and stir. Remove from heat.
- Once the water is boiling, add your lasagna and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain them into a colander, run them under cold water, and shake out the colander of excess water. Then spread wax paper on a long table and add the noodles in a single layer, not overlapping, on the wax paper to cool.
- Defrost your spinach in a mesh colander under hot water. Once no ice remains, squeeze out the excess moisture with your hands. Wrap the spinach in a large paper towel and squeeze out all the remaining water. In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, spinach, ½ tsp salt, ¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, and pesto. Stir with a spoon.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. To assemble the lasagna, in a 9x13 inch baking dish, add a cup of the sauce to the bottom of the pan. Add enough noodles to cover the bottom. Over the noodles, add half the ricotta, the entire vegetable mixture, ½ cup mozzarella, and a third of the remaining sauce. Add another layer of noodles, then the remaining ricotta, ½ cup mozzarella, and half of the remaining sauce. Add another last layer of noodles, topping with the remaining sauce. Then sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and ½ cup parmigiano reggiano. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes. Let it cool for 15 minutes before serving.