Improvised Veggie Lasagna
I would love to say, “…back by popular demand…” But the fact is, I’ve never done this one before.
Oh, sure, lasagna is everyone’s favorite. It surely is one of mine. On the other hand, making a truly great lasagna is a whole lot of work. But, you say, “It’s worth it in the end,” don’t you? I think it is.
On the other hand, I still can’t bring myself to put all that effort into a really great dinner dish and settle for sauce from a jar. That offends me. You certainly can if you wish, but not me. If I’m going there, I will, every time, opt to make my own sauce.
It’s not that hard, really. Some herbs, lots of garlic, good tomatoes, some wine (both for the sauce and for the chef), and away we go.
This time I found myself 3000 miles from home—visiting family in LA—and was asked to make dinner for family I hadn’t seen in a few years. A chance to show off the skills. But it was in an unfamiliar kitchen, with many unfamiliar ingredients in the cupboards, so the game was on.
The challenges were interesting. One guest was vegetarian, one was Kosher, one I had never met before but who knew from the grapevine that I do have some skills. So the pressure was on.
What to make? What would satisfy all the disparate tastes. Can’t ever go wrong with lasagna. In deference to my vegetarian daughter-in-law—the one who has made an honest man of my fabulous son—veggie lasagna was on the board.
I took full advantage of the year-long bounty that is the SoCal food market. Off to Ralph’s. And then I just sort of winged it. What looked good. What didn’t.
And so, I made up a recipe, one that sounded good on paper, and gave me the opportunity to do something I hadn’t done in a while—make a good marinara. I DO make a good marinara, and it’s so easy it almost isn’t fair.
Follow along, and try this, it’s a show stopper. Oh yeah, and don’t bother boiling the noodles first. Just use them right out of the box. And you don’t need those “no-boil” noodles. They’re a scam. Regular old lasagna noodles are just fine.
The recipe looks long and involved. It’s not, if you do all the prep work at once. The only “must have” is really good tomatoes. For this recipe I used canned San Marzano tomatoes, because my home-grown, personally canned San Marzanos were 3000 miles from LA. Alas, I will be making this again soon for my family, it’s that good. Here’s the blueprint:
Improvised Veggie Lasagna
For the sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
• 1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped and divided
• 1 bunch basil, chopped
• 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
• 4 Tbsp. tomato paste
• 3 28-oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
• 1 cup Chianti, divided
• 1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
• 3 teaspoons kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
For the lasagna
• 9-12 sheets lasagna noodles, uncooked
• 1/2 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
• 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
• 1 large zucchini, half-moon sliced
• 8 ounces white or Cremini mushrooms, sliced
• 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced
• 1 large container whole-milk ricotta
• 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, divided
• 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
• chopped parsley (see above)—two Tablespoons for the cheese and more for garnish
1. Heat a large pot over low-medium heat about three minutes; Add olive oil (reserving 1 Tablespoon) and garlic slices. Cook until the slices just begin to brown.
2. Add the basil and parsley, reserving 2 tablespoons, cook until completely wilted, 3-5 minutes. Add 1/2 onion and cook, stirring constantly until transparent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fully browned. Add 1/2 cup wine, deglaze the pan, and continue cooking until the wine is almost fully evaporated.
4. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, the remaining wine, and salt and pepper, turn up the heat and stir well, bring to a soft boil, then reduce the heat to low, and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking…
5. Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, and then the remaining olive oil. Add and sauté—one at a time, in this order—the carrots, onions, zucchini, and mushrooms, and cook until just soft. Remove from heat.
6. Slice the eggplant the long way into 1/4-inch slices, brush both sides with olive oil, and broil under low heat, until just beginning to brown; turn over and broil the second side. Remove from the heat and set aside with the sautéed vegetables.
7. In a large bowl, combine the cheeses (reserving 2 Tablespoons Parmesan), minced garlic, and reserved chopped parsley, and mix well.
Assemble the lasagna
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
9. Spoon 2 cups sauce into a 9×13 glass baking dish.
10. Arrange one layer noodles on the sauce. Spoon half the sautéed vegetables over the noodles, add half the mixed cheeses, then layer half the eggplant over the cheese.
11. Spoon and spread 1 cup sauce over the eggplant, then repeat the noodle, veggie, cheese, and eggplant layers.
12. Add one more layer of noodles over the eggplant, then 2 more cups sauce, and spread completely over the noodles.
13. Top with mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese begins to brown, about 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven when it browns to your liking (I like mine very brown and a bit crispy on top). Remove from the oven, cover loosely with the foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Servings: a lot! This is a big-ass lasagna, and rich.
14. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top and serve.