(Almost) Vegetarian Lasagna
I like to have my family over on Sunday for lunch. It motivates me to clean my house and to cook for pleasure. Like I mentioned before, I usually get home and just want to park myself on the couch to read Scandinavian murder mysteries and eat popcorn seasoned with Old Bay, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. If it's been a particularly tough day, I will treat myself to a Miller High Life in a pony bottle.
Anyway, for lunch today I made "lasagna". The reason I put this in quotes is because there is a world of difference between the lasagna that shows up on a plate in Italy and what you will get in America.
According to La Maman all the lasagna here is crap. Sorry, le crap. Noodles, greasy meat, too much cheese, and drowning in tomato sauce - too heavy and fatty for her European sensibilities. And while she and I will just never see eye to eye on the merits of Lucky Charms and of diet sodas, we are in complete agreement here.
Personally I love the idea of a gooey-saucy pasta melt, but the reality is that after I eat it I feel like sh*t.
My idea of a good lasagna is to have it chock full of vegetables, a few layers of very thin noodles, not too much cheese, and a very light tomato sauce.
This is what I came up with:
Looks like a lot of cheese, huh.
But it's not ricotta, it's tofu. Which pretty much sounds like lasagna heresy, I agree. And also you probably just threw up a little in your mouth. I know I did when I was looking around on the internet for a recipe that used tofu instead of ricotta and mostly they called for things like nutritional yeast or something that comes in granules, none of which is a staple in my kitchen.
The other reason I used tofu is because I had some from my Farmer's to You order. They recently started carrying tofu from Vermont Soy and I figured I would give it a try.
Plus not only does tofu have fewer calories than ricotta, it has much less sodium which, yes, makes me sound like a neurotic old lady BUT I am watching the calories these days and while I love salt so much I once tasted a salt lick, salt makes my Dad blow up like a balloon and I'd rather not do that to the poor man.
So instead of a recipe involving yeast and seaweed and assorted hippie sundries, I winged it.
Firstly I boiled up the lasagne*. No-boil lasagne is also available, and feel free to use that instead as it will save you a very big and boring step.
Once the lasagne was cooked, I plunged them into a basin of cold water. Why? I don't know, it just seemed appropriate. I left them in the cold water while I made everything else, only because they were out of the way in the basin.
As for the vegetables, I rummaged around in the fridge and decided to use up some aging mushrooms and on-the-verge spinach. I sliced the mushrooms and rinsed, stemmed, and tore up the spinach.
Then in a large pan with a bit of olive oil over medium-ish heat, I sauteed a large chopped onion, a chopped up shallot, and a couple of cloves of garlic. When the onions became translucent, I bunged in the mushrooms. Once those were browned a bit, I dumped the cleaned spinach in on top and cooked them just until wilted.
Remove that from the heat and make some tomato sauce. This is the easiest thing ever. In a heavy pot, heat up some olive oil and then heat up some tomato paste in the oil. This will cook out the tinny flavor that tomato paste can sometimes have. Add some minced garlic if you like, as well as some salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Then empty in a large can of chopped tomatoes and a few cut up basil leaves and cook until heated through, about 7 to 10 minutes - maybe less.
Lastly make the tofu filling. Ok so it is a good idea to drain the tofu in advance. Also you will need to use firm tofu for this. Silken tofu would probably ooze out and look grody.
Drain the tofu very well and crumble it into a bowl. Add in ground black pepper, finely chopped basil, about a quarter cup of pecorino romano and mix it all together. Use your hands for this. Very satisfying. Oh, but don't mush it together, gently mix and crumble it together okay.
Now for the fun part - layering everything together and hoping you don't muck up the proportions. I put a very thin layer of tomato sauce at the bottom for luck. Then a layer of lasagne, a layer of tofu, a layer of the cooked veg, and a layer of tomato sauce, and repeat once.
So now for the top, it should just be a layer of lasagne with a thin layer of tomato sauce over the top. Then sprinkle about half a cup (or so, depends on the size of the pan) of shredded mozzarella evenly across the top.
Bake it for about an hour in a 350 oven. I use a glass dish with a lid which I remove about 15 minutes before the end to brown the top. If your pan hasn't got a lid, just fashion one from tinfoil.
Lasagna is one of those dishes that is relatively un-f*ck-up-able. I swear, however I do realize that these instructions are pretty vague. But the key to cooking is practice and figuring out things when they go wrong. Believe me, I have eaten (or at least attempted to eat) my share of kitchen disasters and they do get fewer and farther apart.
Just remember, build any lasagna you like as follows:
Dollop of sauce
Filling (tofu or ricotta)
Covering of sauce
Filling (tofu or ricotta)
Covering of sauce
Sprinkle of shredded cheese
Also, you can make it the day before you need it, just refrigerate it. Take it out of the fridge about half an hour or so before putting it in in the oven.
*Apparently lasagna is the dish, and lasagne are the noodles. Yer welcome!