Thursday, September 2, 2010

Farm Stand Lasagna

I am a farm stand junkie.  I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again. Once I get there I buy produce that looks perfectly fresh and potentially delicious. I know that I am not alone.  I don't necessarily have plans for all that I buy so I have to get creative or compost.  This time, I have some fresh zucchini and Japanese eggplant that I haven't used up. I also have some tomatoes from my garden that are just past seeing their best days and I want to use them before they need to be composted.  So tomato sauce is in the works for dinner tonight which goes really well with lasagna.

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.
Here are some of those tomatoes that were about to see better days, although I really like this picture.
I chopped them up and put them in the food processor and processed them chunky style puree.  Now for cooking the sauce.  It is very simple.  Saute 1/4 cup of diced onion until translucent.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and saute for a minute or two.  Add 4 chopped garlic cloves and saute for 1 minute.  Pour in the tomato puree which is 3 1/2 to 4 cups.  To the fresh tomatoes add a 6 oz can of tomato puree and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to meld the flavors.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Here is my finished sauce which is about 3 1/2 cups.  The herb of choice of course is basil.  Where you expecting something else?  I have bunches ready in my garden so lets go get some.
Since I actually forgot about the basil until now, I chopped it and sprinkled some over the top of my sauce in my dish and put the rest in my sauce.  I add the fresh basil after I have cooked the sauce because it is going to cook again in the oven and the herb flavor will be stronger.  Fresh herbs should always be added at the end of cooking for best flavor unless it is something like rosemary.  There was about a 1/2 cup of fresh chopped basil added to the sauce.

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.
Now for the all important ricotta mixture. (I could eat this stuff by itself, but I won't.  I will just have a spoonful or two.)  I used a 15 oz container of whole milk ricotta but you certainly could substitute part skim ricotta if you want.  If there is liquid in the container when you open it drain it off.  In a bowl, dump the ricotta, a beaten egg, 1/2 cup of good Parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste.  Roughly chop the spinach and add it to the ricotta mixture.  That's done.
Next, I took my zucchini and eggplant and sliced them.  The zucchini were sliced width wise about 1/4 inch thick and the Japanese eggplant I sliced length wise (of course you can use regular eggplant and slice them like the zucchini).  I brushed them with olive oil, salt peppered them and placed them on the upper oven rack under the broiler until they started browning.  I took them out and turned them over and browned the other side.  They are really delicious just like this.  Alternatively, you could grill them if you like.
Now you are ready to put the lasagna together and you do this like any lasagna.
To get your dish ready for the lasagna, place some sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish, about 1/4 cup.  Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil that you might have forgotten to mix into the sauce.
First step is a layer of the zucchini or eggplant.  I alternated them.  I actually started with a zucchini layer but forgot to take a picture!
Second step is to spread 1/3 of the ricotta/spinach mixture on top of the veggie layer.
Third step is to spread about 1/3 of the sauce onto the cheese mixture.  Here the basil is mixed in verses sprinkled over the top.  I don't think it really matters which way it is done, that is basil sprinkled on the sauce or mixed into the sauce.  Many recipes for lasagna call for grated cheese such as mozzarella and of course, that is your option.  The Ricotta mixture is enough for me.

Repeat the previous 3 steps two more times.  If you have enough to do three then go for it.
This is my third layer of veggies.  I had a little of each left, so I mixed them up.
Ricotta and then the final layer of sauce.  I try to have the largest amount of sauce for this layer because it will fill in all gaps below and that is nice.
Now a layer of fresh mozzarella that was sliced and placed on top.  Grating the cheese and sprinkling it on is OK too.
Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan on top.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and pop that puppy in.  If it does not brown enough for your taste, then let it sit under the broiler until it is a lovely brown.  That is what I did and this is the result:
I was very pleased with how this tasted and served it with a side salad and whole grain bread.

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.
Isn't he funny.  He has always done this.  He is an old guy and hasn't been feeling well lately.  He gets picked on by the younger cats (those hooligans) although I think they really just want to play.  He is just not up for it.  He is looking pretty good today.

Farm Stand Lasagna

1 large zucchini, or 2 medium
8 Japanese eggplant, or 2 medium sized regular eggplant
olive oil
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.


Print recipe


  1. what beautiful photography! and an absolute stunning sounding dish. perfect for spring, will definitely have to give it a try. Really like the addition of mozzarella, and I can't get enough of fresh herbs!

  2. The photo is gorgeous...not too flashy, but just so evocative of a moment! Makes me wish I was at your table!

  3. Thank you so much. I am glad you enjoy the photography and if you give the lasagna a try, let me know how it turns out


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