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In this article:
Vegetable Lasagna with Fontina Cheese & Creamy Parmesan Sauce
Steam sautéed veggies
Sautéed veggies
Broiled veggies
Online Extra: Lasagna with Creamy Ricotta & Get-Rich-Quick Tomato Sauce


Luscious Vegetable Lasagna

Here's the only recipe you may ever need, with a gardenful of variations.


This white-sauced lasagna highlights asparagus and mushrooms. Flavor secret: Season veggies before baking.

Vegetable lasagna is a real crowd pleaser when I entertain. But the problem with some recipes is that the vegetables end up tasting bland and overcooked, the noodles leathery, the lasagna too dry or oozy rich. Here's what I've done to make this dish the best it can be.

Use oven-ready (no-boil) noodles. After performing 14 tests, I recommend Ronzoni. Besides being convenient, no-boil lasagna noodles are thin -- 28 to a pound vs. 18 for regular varieties. Thinner noodles mean more layers, resulting in a better-looking, more flavorful dish.
Soak oven-ready noodles in hot salt water. These noodles need moisture to soften (and thus rob water from the dish during baking). Presoaking ensures a moist, seasoned lasagna.
Make quick, highly seasoned sauces. Without meat to add richness, vegetable lasagnas can be bland. Boost the flavor by adding garlic cloves to the milk, using canned broth for part of the milk and adding Parmesan cheese.
Season and quickly cook the vegetables before assembly. Bland vegetables will not be magically transformed during baking.
Cover the lasagna with foil and bake it on the oven's upper-middle rack at a high temperature. The quicker the lasagna heats through, the less chance of overcooked vegetables. Then remove the foil and brown under the broiler -- it looks and tastes better that way.
Let it rest 10 to 15 minutes. A warm lasagna slices better than a hot one.

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Vegetable Lasagna with Fontina Cheese & Creamy Parmesan Sauce

Make this lasagna with the vegetables you like and have on hand. Combinations I've tried and liked: asparagus and mushrooms; zucchini and spinach; broccoli and carrot; eggplant and bell pepper.

Prep time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 40-42 minutes

4 cups cooked vegetables (choose two vegetable options on opposite page)
4 1/2 Tbs. butter
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 1/2 Tbs. plus 1/4 tsp. salt
15 oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup canned chicken broth
6 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
5 Tbs. flour
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 pound fontina (or provolone) cheese, grated (2 1/2 cups)

Heat 2 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add onion; cook until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Mix 1 1/2 Tbs. salt and 2 quarts very hot tap water in a 13-by-9-inch lasagna pan. Add noodles and soak until soft and pliable, 10 minutes. Drain and stack loosely. (Noodles tend to stick together as they dry, but pull apart easily.)

Make Creamy Parmesan Sauce: Microwave milk, broth and garlic in a 1 quart microwave-safe container on high power until steaming hot, about 8 minutes. (Or slowly heat in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.) Fish out garlic; discard.

Melt 2 1/2 Tbs. butter over medium heat in a large saucepan; when foaming subsides, whisk in flour and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until well blended. Pour in milk mixture all at once and whisk vigorously until sauce is smooth and starts to bubble and thicken. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat; place plastic wrap directly on the sauce's surface.

Adjust rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Smear 1/4 cup of the sauce over bottom of baking dish. Assemble the next 4 layers in the following order: 3 noodles, 2/3 cup sauce, 1/4 of the onions, 1/2 of one of the cooked vegetables (alternating each layer), 1/2 cup fontina and 2 Tbs. Parmesan. Assemble final layer with remaining noodles, sauce and cheeses.

Seal with foil and bake until bubbly, about 35 minutes. Remove foil, then broil until cheese is spotty brown, 5-7 minutes longer. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves: 12.
Per serving: 296 calories, 25g carbohydrates, 15g protein, 15g fat (9g saturated), 2g fiber, 624mg sodium.

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Steam-Sautéed Veggies

1 pound of one of the following: thin asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces, OR cauliflower, cut into medium florets, OR broccoli, cut into florets, stalks peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick coins, OR carrots, peeled and sliced into
1/4-inch-thick coins, OR spinach, rinsed and tough stems removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsps. butter
Scant 1/2 tsp. salt

If only thick asparagus are available, halve them lengthwise before cutting into pieces. To perk up cauliflower, add 1/4 tsp. dried basil to the pan.

Place selected vegetable, 1/3 cup water (leave out water if cooking spinach), garlic, butter and salt in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven.

Set pan lid ajar and cook over high heat until steam starts to vent. Cover pan and steam until vegetables are brightly colored and just tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook until water evaporates. Turn vegetables onto a plate; set aside. So that broccoli and cauliflower lie flat, cut the florets into thick slices before assembling the lasagna.

Yields about 2 cups.

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Sautéed Veggies

1 Tb. olive oil
1 pound domestic white or cremini (brown) mushrooms, rinsed and sliced, OR yellow or red peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
Salt, to taste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil starts to shimmer, add vegetables and a sprinkling of salt; cook, stirring often, until soft and liquid evaporates, 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Turn onto a plate and set aside.

Yields about 2 cups.

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Broiled Veggies

1 pound eggplant, OR zucchini, OR yellow squash, trimmed and sliced into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
1 to 2 Tbs. olive oil
Salt
2 minced garlic cloves
1/4 tsp. dried basil

Adjust oven rack to highest position and preheat broiler. Lightly brush both sides of vegetables with oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil, turning once until spotty brown on each side, 7-10 minutes. Toss with garlic and basil, and set aside.

Yields about 2 cups.

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Vegetable Lasagna with Creamy Ricotta & Get-Rich-Quick Tomato Sauce

I prefer a smooth, creamy ricotta compared with the more grainy variety. Short of buying and tasting all the ricotta brands, it's impossible to know what you're getting until you open the carton. A grainy-textured ricotta, however, can be quickly made smooth in a food processor.

Prep time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 40-42 minutes

1 pound each of 2 vegetables (see options and cooking instructions above, broiled or sautéed)

Get-Rich-Quick Tomato Sauce:

3 Tbs. butter
2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
2 minced garlic cloves
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
Salt, if necessary, and freshly ground black pepper
15 oven-ready lasagna noodles
Salt, as directed
1 pound grated mozzarella cheese (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare vegetables (see above) to yield about 4 cups; set aside.

For the tomato sauce, heat butter over medium-high heat in a soup kettle. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently until soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and basil; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Stir in tomatoes, rinsing out cans with about 1/4 cup water and adding it to the pot. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and simmer to blend flavors, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt, if necessary, and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, mix 1 1/2 Tbs. salt and 2 quarts of very hot tap water in the13-by 9-inch pan for baking the lasagna. Add noodles and soak until soft and pliable, 10 minutes. Drain and stack loosely (Noodles tend to stick together as they dry, but pull apart easily.)

Adjust oven rack to upper middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Smear 1/2 cup of the sauce over bottom of baking dish. Assemble the next 4 layers in the following order: 3 noodles, 6 tablespoons ricotta cheese spread over the noodles, a heaping 2/3 cup sauce, 1/2 of one of the cooked vegetables (alternating each layer), 3/4 cup mozzarella, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Assemble final layer with remaining noodles, sauce and cheeses. Seal lasagna with foil and bake until bubbly, about 35 minutes. Remove foil, then broil until cheese is spotty brown, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes, before cutting and serving.

Serves 8 to 12
Nutrition per serving based on 12: 334 calories, 18g protein, 27g carbohydrates, 17g fat (10g saturated) 3g fiber, 618mg sodium

Photo by BRIAN LEATART for USA WEEKEND
Contributing Editor Pam Anderson is the author of "How to Cook Without a Book" (Broadway, $25) and "The Perfect Recipe" (Houghton Mifflin, $27).


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