Even though lasagna seems to be a winter dish, I think a summer version is in order. The zucchini and eggplant can replace the pasta with a meatless sauce and voila!, I have a farm stand version of lasagna. I have never tried substituting vegetables for pasta before and was I ever happy with the results. In fact, I think it is the best lasagna I have ever made. I love it when I come up with something that is indulgent but airs on the side of healthy. I did not miss the pasta or meat at all and it was garlicy and spicy. Adding Italian sausage to the sauce would probably be quite good if you are one that prefers meat in their lasagna. In the summer, I tend to skip meat altogether, because that is just me and I don't miss it. I call this Farm Stand Lasagna because almost all ingredients can be purchased at the farmers market. There are cheeses at my farmers market but they were out of ricotta and they don't have Parmesan. The fresh mozzarella was made locally and am sure it is sold at some farmers market somewhere.
So how did I put together this scrumptious farm stand lasagna? Glad you asked.
I wanted spinach in my ricotta mixture (which is optional, but really good) so I got out a 10 oz box of organic spinach from the freezer. Frozen spinach is one of my favorite and few go to processed foods. Spinach is a big deal to prepare and after all that washing and cooking and squeezing and chopping the nutritional and taste quality is about the same. But most important - it is a lot less work and makes adding spinach to dishes easy. I usually save fresh spinach for a quick saute or salads. So cook the frozen spinach according to the package instructions (I always microwave the spinach in a glass pie dish with a tablespoon or two of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 4 minutes on high, stir and break it up and microwave for about 3 more minutes) then put it in a strainer over the sink or bowl and squeeze it with the side of a spatula until you have gotten most of the liquid out.
Repeat the previous 3 steps two more times. If you have enough to do three then go for it.
The broiled or grilled zucchini has a nice mild, sweet, nutty flavor and the eggplant tastes like, well, roasted eggplant. This is a really nice way to have zucchini other than bread/muffin or cake, which are delicious and I make them all the time.
All the while I was making this lasagna I had the feeling someone was watching me. It was a subtle feeling but there none the less. So finally I looked around and there was Grandpa Kitty, also known as Oliver or Ollie sitting under the table intently watching me. This usually means the food bowl is empty. Maybe lasagna was starting to look good to him, too.
Farm Stand Lasagna
1 large zucchini, or 2 medium
8 Japanese eggplant, or 2 medium sized regular eggplant
salt and pepper
For the Tomato Sauce:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 cup of chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups of fresh tomatoes, pureed chunky
1 can 6 oz tomato paste
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
For the Ricotta Mixture:
1 15 oz container of whole milk ricotta, (part skim ricotta is an option)
1/2 cup of Parmesan, grated
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano (or 1 teaspoon of fresh oregano)
1 egg, slightly beaten
salt & pepper to taste
1 10 oz package spinach, prepare by package instructions (optional)
8 oz of Fresh Mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch or grated, whole or part skim
1/4 cup of Grated or shredded Parmesan
8 X 11 inch, 3 inch deep baking dish, or similar sized lasagna pan
To prepare the Tomato Sauce: Place the chopped onion into a heated saute pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Saute over medium heat until translucent, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and saute for another minute or two. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute and then add the pureed tomatoes and the tomato paste. Add a teaspoon of sugar and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Take off the heat and add the chopped fresh basil. Set aside.
To prepare the Zucchini and Eggplant: Slice the zucchini width wise 1/4 inch. Place on a baking pan and brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put under a preheated broiler on the highest rack until the zucchini are slightly browned. Take them out and turn them over and brown the other side. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
Repeat with the eggplant. Cut the japanese eggplant length wise in half and place on a baking sheet. If using regular eggplant, slice them width wise 1/4 inch. On both sides of the eggplant brush with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place under preheated broiler on the top rack until browned. Flip the eggplant over and brown the other side. Remove from the oven and let them cool.
To prepare the Ricotta filling: Place the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, oregano, and egg in a bowl and mix together. Salt and pepper to taste. Take the spinach and place in a colander or strainer and squeeze the excess liquid out. Roughly chop the spinach and stir into the ricotta mixture.
To assemble the Lasagna: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees as you assemble the lasagna. Cover the bottom of a 8 X 11 inch pan (3 inch deep) with tomato sauce (about 1/4 cup).
Step 1: Place a layer of grilled veggies into the pan.
Step 2: Place 1/3 of ricotta mixture on veggie layer.
Step 3: Place 1/3 of tomato sauce on ricotta layer.
Repeat steps 1 through 3 twice more. Place the mozzarella slices on top of the last layer of tomato sauce. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until browned and bubbly. If the lasagna is not browned enough, place under the broiler until golden brown. Take out and let it cool for 15 minutes before serving.