Like Garfield, (paraphrasing Will Rogers), I never met a Lasagna I didn’t like. And as everyone knows, two lasagne are better than one (paraphrasing an old English proverb). So when asked to make lasagne for 20 for lunch, how could I resist? I knew one of the lasagne would be based on the wonderful recipe from Elena Nappa’s collection of favorite dishes [compiled into a charming welcome gift for all visitors to her bed and breakfast in Tuscany, Borgo Argenina]; a dish she made for us while we were there.
Elena’s method allows for many, many layers of pasta and tomato sauce because there’s just one layer each of ricotta (blended with sauce), mozzarella and parmesan. Here’s my version using fresh homemade pasta; sauce with San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil; fresh homemade ricotta; good mozzarella and a good aged Parmesan from Dorothy Lane Market. I do add an extra layer of cheese on top because it makes for a nice presentation, and this lasagne also had a layer of browned and drained ground beef.
The other lasagne was to be vegetarian; this would be a first for me. So I go where I always go when I need a tested recipe that I know will work – Cook’s Illustrated. The Cook’s recipe calls for no-boil pasta and cottage cheese, but I prefer fresh pasta and homemade ricotta. This looks like a boatload of ingredients, but the end result is really worth the effort.
No Cook Tomato Sauce
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 TSP kosher salt
- 1/4 TSP red pepper flakes
No-Cook Cream Sauce
- 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
- 1 cup homemade ricotta cheese
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 TSP cornstarch (NOTE: do not substitute flour for cornstarch as the raw taste will not cook away)
- 1/2 TSP kosher salt
- 1/2 TSP freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
- 1 pound yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
- 5 TBSP plus 1 TSP extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 TBSP minced fresh thyme
- 12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
- Fresh pasta rolled to #7 setting and cut into large squares
- 1/2 cup minced pitted Kalamata olives
- 12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
- 2 TBSP chopped fresh basil
FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.
FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.
FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters (paper towels work, too) and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.
Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. (NOTE: Use a no-stick skillet! I tried using my All Clad stainless and the vegetables stuck to the bottom and did not brown). Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.
Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel–lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.
TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle one layer of fresh pasta noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, followed by half of olives, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with pasta noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining olives, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place another layer of noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.
GARFIELD: Life is filled with joy.
JON: Instead of lasagna, I decided to serve granola for dinner.
GARFIELD: Life was just toying with me.