The Veggie Lasagne You've Been Waiting For
"This Christmas will be a very healthy Christmas for me..."
Every year for Christmas, for as long as I can remember, we've been eating lasagne. Some years my mom would make it and others my dad. When I moved from home, it was my sister or whomever that made it at a family get together. Last year was the first time I made lasagne ENTIRELY on my own, and it was amazing, but this year completely tops it.
How I did it was simple. I used zucchini and yellow squash, and I made a sauce from scratch. Now you could just as easily buy a jar of Ragu, Prego, Newman's Own or your go-to brand of sauce. Normally I wouldn't judge or chastise anyone for doing so, but this is a special occasion, it's the holiday season. Also, the variety of cans of tomato sauce are typically cheaper and on sale this time of year, so no excuses. My father usually goes all out and slow cooks beef shank and other cuts of meat to meld into the sauce adding meaty depth to the lasagne. However, this year, I took a different approach by making a veggie lasagne, but to be honest, I do not miss the meat at all!
I typically make all of my tomato sauces with crushed tomatoes, they typically come only in larger cans around 28oz in size. A tip for a good lasagne is to drain off as much of the water from the can of crushed tomatoes and keep mainly the pulp. This will keep your lasagne from getting watery. Additionally, I bought a can of whole tomatoes, which I've seen many of Food Network chefs crush by hand for their tomato sauces. My sauce was the perfect vehicle for my secret ingredients.
MAJOR KEY ALERT: Roast some onion and garlic cloves.
First of all, great tomato sauces have a certain level of natural sweetness to them, and when you roast aromatics like onion and garlic, their sweetness comes out. Also, it's a mellow contrast to just chopped garlic, a lot less harsh to palates that don't agree with garlic without sacrificing flavor. After roasting four garlic cloves and a quarter of an onion, I blended them with my whole tomatoes and added it to the crushed tomatoes in a simmering sauce pot with some fresh chopped onions and garlic (using the ingredients in different methods add a lot of depth). I added traditional Italian flavors, such as dried oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, a little garlic powder, salt and pepper. You can let the sauce simmer as long as you'd like, the longer, the better, but also remember that the lasagne gets baked anyway.
Building the Lasagne
For the zucchini and squash, I used a mandolin to slice them thinly lengthwise. When building anything in a baking dish, I've always learned to spread some of the sauce down first before adding something on top, so I began that way before layering some zucchini. Next, I very lightly drizzled some olive oil and added salt and pepper because I feel that all layers should be seasoned individually.
Don't Forget the Ricotta
Then I had a little ricotta mixture (traditional in lasagne, although you can also use a bechamel sauce) with fresh parsley, shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan that I spread on top of the zucchini.
Top It Off
Finally, I added some more sauce and repeated the process but alternated between zucchini and yellow squash. On top, I just added more mozzarella and parmesan then covered the dish with foil and put it in the oven. After about 30-45 minutes, the lasagne is ready (and remember to let cool before serving so the lasagne can set up).
Yes, there is a sort of unctuousness when you let meat soften and break down in a very well seasoned sauce, but there's also a heaviness, some sort of "-itis inducer" that makes you want to fall asleep before you finish your first plate. While the idea of that comfort food is a guilty pleasure for most of us, it isn't always necessary to achieve flavor. So, be a little daring this year and save the calories for dessert.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!