Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Most Complicated Vegetarian Lasagana Ever

I love, love, love Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food. It's chock full of delicious things (but no photos), and if I had more room for cookbooks in my hallway bookshelf I'd buy my own copy instead of repeatedly borrowing it from the library.

It seems like it has been a billion years since I made vegetarian lasagna. Now that the weather has turned crisp I've been itching to make it. Bittman has a wonderful recipe for it and at first glance it seems like every other vegetarian lasagna recipe I've made in the past. But here is where it gets complicated- Bittman's recipe called for fresh pasta (ha! I'm not where near that yet) and homemade sauce (which I have not made before but curious to try). Then he suggests 11 options for layers in the lasagna including:
Broiled or Steamed Greens
Roasted Artichoke Hearts
Grilled or Broiled Eggplant
Eggplant Slices with Garlic and Parsley
Sauteed Mushrooms
Caramelized Onions
Roasted Red Peppers
Oven Roasted Fresh Plum Tomatoes
Butternut Squash, Braised and Glazed
Panfried Pumpkin with Tomato Sauce
Baked Mixed Vegetables with Olive Oil

Now the recipe already calls for 3 cups fresh spinach so I didn't want to go overboard with veggies (actually I did, but Mr. Snowgoose who didn't). Mr. Snowgoose requested the grilled eggplant and since we had received a grill pan earlier in the week as a gift, I was glad to oblige him.

Before I continue I should show you exactly how small my kitchen is. I've had bigger bathtubs.

My small kitchen made the lasagna quite difficult. For starters the grill pan take up most of the stove top, so I had to grill the eggplant first and set it aside. Then I boiled the noodles (though we don't have a large pot to boil in yet) and started the tomato sauce. During the process I ran out of counter space and had to get creative on where I made my work stations.

Here is a breakdown of the recipes:
1 recipe any fresh pasta, rolled into sheets, or 12 dried lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons softened butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 recipes Fast Tomato Sauce
3 cups cooked spinach, squeezed dry and chopped or any other dropped vegetable
3 cups ricotta, plus more if needed
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the noodles (6 at a time for dried noodles) until they are tender but underdone (they will finish cooking as the lasagna bakes). Drain and then lay the noodles flat on a towel so they don't stick.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a rectangular baking dish with the butter and olive oil, add a large dollop of tomato sauce, and spread it around. Put a layer of noodles in the dish, trimming any overhanging edges; top with a layer of tomato sauce, 1/3 spinach, and 1.4 of the ricotta and Parmesan. Sprinkle some salt and pepper between the layers of tomato sauce and spinach as needed.
3. Repeat the layers twice and top with the remaining noodles, tomato sauce, ricotta and Parmesan. I added 1 layer of grilled eggplant instead of a layer of noodles.

4. Bake until the lasagna is bubbling and the cheese is melted and lightly browned on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Grilled Eggplant
2 medium or one large eggplant
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Peel the eggplant if the skin is thick or the eggplant is less than perfectly firm; cut it into 1/2 inch thick slices. Heat a charcoal or gas grill or the broiler to moderately high heat and put the grill rack about 4 inches from the heat source or the broiler rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.
2. If you like, stir the garlic into the olive oil, then brush one side of the eggplant slices with the oil. Place oiled side down, on a baking sheet or directly on the grill. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then brush with more oil.
3. Broil or grill until browned on both sides, turning once or twice, brushing with more olive oil if the eggplant looks dry and adjusting the heat or position as necessary to keep the eggplant cooking steadily without burning. , usually less than 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Fast Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or butter
1 medium onion chopped
one 24-36 ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan
chopped parsley or basil leaves for garnish

1. Put the olive oil in a 10-12 inch skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft 2 or 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, along with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
2. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break up and mixture comes together and thickens, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and immediately toss the pasta (garnish with cheese or an herb if you'd like)or use in other dishes.

The tomato sauce is really good!

Cook's notes:
The whole cooking process took over 2 hours, but was worth it. We took the lasagna over to my Father in Law's house for Sunday dinner. Both he and Mr. Snowgoose ate several helpings and took leftovers to work for lunch for two days. Mr. Snowgoose even requested we eat the lasagna two nights in a row. I suppose it helped I made an extra side dish of it.

Would I make this again? Probably, though I'd make the sauce ahead of time and probably just use caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms, though the grilled eggplant was a nice addition.

Also, I just mixed the ricotta and spinach together to make it easier to spread for the layers.

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