Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vegetable Lasagna

I don't actually watch that many cooking shows. For some reason they never cook on them anymore, but rather endure some sort of extreme cupcake challenge, whilst displaying distasteful hairstyles and an unsafe amount of cleavage (watch out for a boob grease burn). I know, I sound like such an old crank, but where did all the cooking shows go? Even holy Ina has sold out.

Once more, public broadcasting comes to my rescue. Without fail, every Saturday, the geniuses at America's Test Kitchen grace the airwaves with practical, technique-driven cooking programming. Ahhhh...cue to chorus of angels. Their recipes are certainly not exotic, but focus on the best way to prepare American favorites. They seriously test everything.

I usually watch to pick up good tips and technique, but after seeing this Vegetable Lasagna, I actually followed a recipe. Well...almost. They've officially solved the mushy veggie lasagna epidemic. This popped with bright flavor and the layers held up beautifully.

It all starts with some gorgeous fresh ingredients. Take a moment to smell the fresh basil, it has probably been months since you had it. You'll instantly be transported to the stuff of Caprese dreams.

Technique comes in to play immediately. Eggplant has a tendency of getting watering or bitter. By salting and cooking the microwave (atop paper towels) before adding to the lasagna, you remove all of the excess moisture, but none of the flavor or meaty texture.

After a run in the microwave, the eggplant is combined with zucchini and yellow squash in a quick saute, adding a flavor infused oil at the end for fresh herb flavor.

In another round, spinach is sauteed and again drained on a paper towel. Is this methodical? Yes, but it really does work to take out the extra water that ruins a typical well-intentioned lasagna.

Separately, ricotta, parmesan and half and half form a simple cream sauce. This is one area I strayed from the America's Test Kitchen recipe. Maybe I'm a purest, but I do prefer the authenticity of good ricotta, as opposed to cottage cheese. I also figured half and half would give me the same effect with, you guessed it, half the fat of cream. 

The original recipe also called for a no-cook tomato sauce. Maybe I'm conceited, but I thought my homemade marinara would just be better. I had the time, so I made a big batch and now my freezer is stocked up for hectic weeknights. Worth it.

Now you've got all of your components ready, so set up to assemble. This is the fun part after all.

Look at those lovely layers! While I didn't follow the recipe to the tee, I learned some valuable techniques to improve on any lasagna. Plus I didn't have to see Christopher Kimball's boobs.

Vegetable Lasagna
3-4 cups homemade marinara
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

For Cream Sauce
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For Filling
1 1/2lbs eggplant, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon salt
1lb zucchini, diced
1lb yellow squash, diced
5 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon thyme, minced
12oz baby spinach
3 cups shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine cream sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss eggplant with salt. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and microwave for 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Return eggplant to bowl and add zucchini and squash. In a small bowl, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and thyme; set aside.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat (a nonstick skillet is ideal, since eggplant can stick) and add vegetable mixture. Cook for about 6-7 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in two rounds. You want to avoid the veggies being piled on top of one another. Once vegetables have softened, push to the sides of the pan and add oil, garlic and herb mixture to the middle of the pan. Cook for 30 seconds before tossing ingredients together in the pan. Remove vegetables from pan and reserve.

Heat remaining olive oil in pan and saute spinach for three minutes. Remove from pan to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Combine with eggplant mixture.

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray and prepare your ingredients for assembly. Start with 1 cup of marinara sauce at the bottom of the dish. Next add a layer of noodles, followed by half the veggie mixture. Cover with half the cream sauce mixture and then half of the mozzarella. Repeat with sauce, then noodles, then veggies, then cream sauce and cheese. Top with a last layer of noodles, 1 cup of sauce and then remaining cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 20-25 minutes before serving, letting the lasagna set. Sprinkle with fresh basil before serving.

Original recipe from America's Test Kitchen


  1. Could you make it ahead of time up to a point?

    1. Definitely! You could fully assemble and keep in the fridge, covered, until you're ready. I'd avoid freezing this version though, as the vegetables may get mushy. Enjoy!


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