Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
Normally, I have no interest in lasagna.
I’ve always found the process of peeling apart sticky noodles, squeezing moisture out of spinach, and tackling towers of dishes in the name of a casserole far from fun. And so, while I’m happy to eat lasagna, its production is something in which I want no part.
A few weeks ago, things changed. Sort of. I was treated to a particularly delicious lasagna-eating experience at a friend’s dinner party. Shortly after, I agreed to help host a dinner party. Visions formed: Maybe I too could build a successful evening around a dish of baked pasta!
For a week, the idea happily bubbled away in my mind. And on lasagna-making day I woke up, ready. I started Googling, in search of a recipe that was simple, delicious, and included some vegetables (as demanded by my lasagna-making partner who, like me, had recently consumed a lot of cheese).
And…I got nothing. Which isn’t to say that that particular recipe didn’t exist somewhere, I just didn’t have the time to find it and get groceries and make a lasagna before the party started. Which is obviously bad planning on my part, but bear with me, because it leads us to this: A simpler approach.
Unwilling to bend to the demands of the recipes, we improvised. And in doing so, we managed to skip the most annoying parts of the lasagna-making process: the noodle boiling and the spinach squeezing.
Here’s the idea: So long as your dish has enough moisture, you don’t need to boil your pasta in advance of baking it (or use those rubbery pre-cooked noodles). So: Up the sauce a little, keep the baking lasagna covered for longer to retain more moisture, and you’re golden. As for the spinach: Keep it fresh and let the water in the leaves help to cook your pasta. We also skipped the cooked cheese sauce, opting for a healthy dose of ricotta mixed with mozzarella.
This is still lasagna, of course, and so it still takes work – there are zucchini to fry, layers to be constructed, and baking time to wait out. But, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a path to homemade lasagna, where no path existed before.
Easy Vegetarian Lasagna
Serves 8-12 (depending on your love of lasagna and the presence/absence of side dishes)
Note: We decided in the end that our lasagna should be saucier, so I’ve increased the quantities of cheese and sauce a little. As a result, your final lasagna should look a little saucier than ours.
40 oz seasoned tomato sauce (like a mild marinara or pasta sauce), homemade or otherwise*
3 cups of ricotta cheese
1.5 cups of grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp salt
3 medium zucchinis, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
Salt, pepper and oil for frying and seasoning
15 sheets of dry lasagna noodles
3 cups of fresh spinach, washed and patted dry
1 cup each of grated mozzarella and parmesan
1/2 cup of water
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. If you’re making your tomato sauce from scratch, do it now! The easy recipe I use is below.
3. In a large bowl, mix together your ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, and 1/2 tsp of salt.
4. In a large frying pan, heat a tablespoon of oil (or so) over medium heat. Place a few strips of zucchini the pan (as many as will comfortably fit) and season the tops with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Fry until the bottoms are golden, 2-3 minutes, then flip them and fry the other sides until they’re golden too. Transfer the cooked zucchini to a plate. Repeat with the remaining zucchini strips, until you have piles of golden zucchini.
5. Assemble your lasagna: Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the base of a 9x13 inch pan. Top that with three sheets of dry lasagna noodles. Spread 1 cup of the ricotta cheese mixture evenly over the noodles. Top the cheese with 1/3 of your spinach, 1/3 of the zucchini and 2/3 cups of tomato sauce.
6. Create two more layers: noodles, ricotta, spinach, zucchini and sauce + noodles, ricotta, spinach, zucchini and sauce. Finally, top your lasagna with 3 more noodles. Spread overtop of that 1 cup of tomato sauce and 1 cup each of grated mozzarella and parmesan. Pour 1/2 cup water evenly down the long sides of the baking dish.
6. Tightly cover the top of the lasagna with tinfoil and bake for 45 minutes, or until the noodles are nearly tender. Remove the tinfoil and bake for 15-25 minutes more, or until the noodles are tender and the top layer of cheese is bubbly.
*To make a simple, tasty marinara sauce: Sauté 4 cloves of minced garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. When the garlic is golden, stir in 36 oz of crushed tomatoes, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, and 1 tsp salt (you can also add a sprinkling or two of chopped fresh or dried herbs). Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season as you see fit. And that’s it!