ZUCCHISAGNA: A TWIST ON A CLASSIC

I don’t think there is such a thing as a person who doesn’t like lasagna. I may have already mentioned that the technician of the lab where I did my PhD in Brazil did not like chocolate nor french fries. Outrageous! She still loved lasagna, proving the point I just made. I hope you’ll let this stretch in Logic 101 slide… ūüėČ Anyway, I am a lover of this Italian classic, but it’s one of those dishes that can make you feel super full at the end of the meal, even if you exercise severe portion control. Layers of pasta with bechamel, meat sauce, usually a pound of cheese per square inch…. I never order it in restaurants, and confess to making it at home only once in a blue moon. Using thin slices of veggies to play the role of the pasta lightens things up quite a bit. You can use eggplant, butternut squash (Anne Burrell has a great take on this version, BTW), and of course, zucchini as I did here.  A couple of details are important to keep in mind, though. You must pre-cook the zucchini slices or you’ll run the risk of having a watery, unappetizing concoction in your hands. And use a light hand on the cheese.  The delicious meat sauce should be the center of  your attention. Vegetarians? This dish is not for you, sorry. Primal-afficionados? Grab your forks, and dig in!

Zucchisagna1ZUCCHINI RIBBON LASAGNA
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled plum tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
12 ounces ground turkey, preferably dark meat
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
5 medium zucchini, trimmed
olive oil and lemon juice for brushing zucchini
1 + 1/2  cups full-fat ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Make the sauce: Pulse tomatoes with juice in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook shallot and red-pepper flakes, seasoned lightly with salt, stirring occasionally, until shallot is tender. Add turkey; cook, breaking up any large pieces, until browned. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until thick, about 20 minutes. Stir in oregano and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let cool.

Make the lasagna: heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with the egg, season with salt and pepper. Reserve. Slice zucchini lengthwise into thin strips (about 1/8 inch thick) using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Brush each slice with a 1:1 mixture of olive oil and lemon juice, and cook on a griddle or grill pan for a few minutes on each side until the slices get some color. Blot on kitchen paper and let them cool to room temperature. Place 5 or 6 zucchini slices, overlapping slightly, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Top with 1 cup sauce. Dot with ricotta. Repeat twice with zucchini, remaining sauce, and ricotta, alternating direction of zucchini at each layer. Finish with a final layer of zucchini, cover the dish with ricotta, sprinkle the Parmigiano on top.

Bake uncovered until lasagna bubbles and top is nicely brown, about 50 minutes. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: As I read the recipe from Martha Stewart’s site, a few things bothered me. First, the use of raw zucchini to assemble the lasagna.  In my opinion, that is asking for trouble. Second, the ingredient lists TWO medium zucchini for the full recipe. Unless their zucchini was treated with massive doses of auxins, two won’t be enough.  I used 4 medium zucchini, 50% more ricotta than called for, and my ingredients were enough to assemble a 7-inch square dish instead of an 8-inch.  Of course, some variation is expected, but overall I think the recipe as published in her site had some issues. My version worked great, this was a delicious meal, satisfying without that feeling of “I am going to explode if I don’t go for a walk” often associated with the real lasagna.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but… when you want something lighter, try this version. It won’t disappoint you at all…

served1

Dinner is served: Zucchisagna with Baby Greens in Lemony Dressing

ONE YEAR AGO: Ricotta Meatballs

TWO YEARS AGO: Farro Salad with Roasted Leeks

THREE YEARS AGO: It all started with a roof

FOUR YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sweet Potato Puree

FIVE YEARS AGO: Impromptu Pasta Dinner

VEGETARIAN LASAGNA

Lasagna: layers of noodles blending hearty Bolognese sauce, melted cheese or bechamel sauce with mushrooms, chicken, sausage…whatever your palate craves, then baked until bubbly and browned on top.  The creator of this dish deserves a place in the Gastronomic Hall of Fame. I like to think it was a grandma from Firenze, but some sources indicate that she was actually born in Greece! Whatever the origin, today you will find all sorts of lasagnas, some so streamlined that it‚Äôs inappropriate to even keep the name. If you google ‚Äúvegetarian lasagna‚ÄĚ you’ll find yourself sorting through many thousands of hits. I browsed through a few pages for inspiration, but then I made my own version, which even that old Italian grandma would be pleased with.

VEGETARIAN LASAGNA
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 package of lasagna noodles
4 cups white mushrooms, sliced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups milk
3 T butter
4.5 T flour
ground nutmeg
3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise 1/8 inch thick
lemon juice and zest
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 small package of frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1 ounce shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese

Boil the noodles according to the instructions on the package (don’t overcook).  Plunge the noodles in ice cold water to stop them cooking, drain well and spread on a towel to remove excess moisture.  Lay them on a baking sheet brushing them ever so slightly with olive oil if you want to keep the cooked noodles in the fridge for assembling the lasagna later.  Cover well with plastic wrap.

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, until soft and all moisture has been released and evaporated.  Reserve.   Mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with some lemon juice,  brush the zucchini slices,  season with salt and pepper and grill until nicely marked on both sides.  Reserve.

Prepare the ricotta filling by mixing the ricotta with the beaten egg and the spinach, seasoning with salt, pepper, and a little lemon zest.  Reserve.

Prepare the b√©chamel sauce:  warm the milk in the microwave.  Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.   Add the hot milk all at once, whisking to prevent lumps from forming.  Season with salt, pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg.   Cook until thickened (about 5 minutes).  Reserve (dot with butter and place a plastic wrap over it to prevent a thick film from forming).

Assemble the lasagna:  Spread some of the b√©chamel sauce on the bottom of a baking dish.  Layer noodles to cover the surface with a slight overlap.  Add the mushrooms, and moisten them slightly with a few tablespoons of b√©chamel sauce.  Add another layer of noodles.  Layer the zucchini slices over them, add another layer of noodles.   Spoon the ricotta mixture carefully on top, add noodles to cover it, and spread the b√©chamel sauce on top, making sure to cover the whole surface.   Add the shredded mozzarella, sprinkle some Parmiggiano, and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes, uncover, and bake for 15 minutes more to brown the surface.  If necessary, increase the oven temperature or turn the broiler in the last few minutes.   Remove from the oven, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


Comments: Most current recipes call for no-boil lasagna noodles.  I‚Äôve used them, and in a pinch I’d do it again, but not for a special dinner.  It is a little extra work to boil the pasta, but your guests (and you) deserve it. With boiled noodles the lasagna bakes more uniformly and the different layers better enrich each other, so that the final dish becomes more than the simple sum of its parts.  It’s gastronomic synergy in action  ;-).  If you don‚Äôt believe me, make two small, identical lasagnas, one by boiling the pasta and the other using the ‚Äúno-boil‚ÄĚ method. Then, let your taste buds be the judge.

Most vegetarian lasagnas use eggplant and mushrooms, a tasty combination.   I kept the mushrooms as one layer, but substituted grilled zucchini for the eggplant, because the texture of its skin is much better.  My version is lighter on cheese and the b√©chamel sauce filling, which I mostly reserved to the top of the dish with an appetizing gratin cover.

There‚Äôs something inexplicably nice about spending a Saturday afternoon preparing the fillings, cooking the noodles and assembling the lasagna, especially on a huge kitchen counter top with nice music in the background‚Ķ ūüėČ   I am very pleased with the way my veggie lasagna turned out, and hope that you’ll love it too.

Lasagna freezes extremely well, so we have leftovers conveniently packed in the freezer for our next trip home.  They’ll come in handy when we arrive from the airport,  a perfect antidote for the ‚Äúpeanut & pretzel treatment‚ÄĚ that the airlines inflict on their passengers‚Ķ  ūüėČ

ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Pao de Queijo (which happens to be one of my favorite posts)

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