Thu | May 23, 2019

No-meat Lasagna just as good

Published:Thursday | February 21, 2019 | 12:17 AM

There’s no reason why a vegetable lasagna should be any less satisfying than a meat-based casserole.

Some versions look tempting enough with a topcoat of bubbly cheese and thick tomato gravy, but cutting out a square of it invariably reveals trouble at the core. Often placed between the pasta sheets raw, the zucchini and squash turn out steamy and limp, flooding the dish with their juices, in some instances, undercooked and crunchy.

So what would it take to make a full-flavoured lasagna with vegetables that could stand up the cheese and sauce? Ridding the produce of some of its moisture and boosting its flavour before adding it to the dish would be steps in the right direction.

VEGETABLE LASAGNA

Servings: 8-10

Start to finish: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Part-skim mozzarella can also be used in this recipe, but avoid pre-shredded cheese, as it does not melt well. We prefer kosher salt because it clings best to the eggplant. If using table salt, reduce the amounts by half.

Tomato Sauce

1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cream Sauce

8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk cottage cheese

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)

1 cup heavy cream

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Filling and Noodles:

1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Kosher salt and pepper

1 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 pound yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

12 ounces (12 cups) baby spinach

12 no-boil lasagna noodles

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, minced

12 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (3 cups)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the tomato sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

For the cream sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in second bowl; set aside.

For the filling and noodles: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 °F. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over coffee filters; wipe out and reserve bowl. Microwave eggplant until dry to touch and slightly shrivelled, about 10 minutes, tossing halfway through microwaving. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and summer squash.

Combine one tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat two tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half of eggplant mixture, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about seven minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet. Add half of garlic mixture to centre and cook, mashing mixture into pan, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with two tablespoons oil, remaining eggplant mixture, and remaining garlic mixture; transfer to bowl.

Heat remaining one teaspoon oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about three minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel-lined plate and let drain for two minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

Grease 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Spread one cup tomato sauce evenly over bottom of dish. Arrange four noodles on top of sauce (noodles will overlap). Spread half of vegetable mixture evenly over noodles, followed by 1/4 cup olives. Spoon half of cream sauce over top and sprinkle with one cup mozzarella. Repeat layering with four noodles, one cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetable mixture, remaining 1/4 cup olives, remaining cream sauce, and one cup mozzarella. For final layer, arrange remaining four noodles on top and cover completely with remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle remaining one cup mozzarella evenly over tomato sauce.

Cover dish tightly with aluminium foil that has been sprayed with oil spray and bake until edges are just bubbling, about 35 minutes, rotating dish halfway through baking. Let lasagna cool for 25 minutes, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

AP