Saturday, August 9, 2014

Summer Vegetable Lasagna

My entire family makes fun of the fact that I do not cook or serve a lot of meat-based dishes. This is not based on any food philosophy, dietary restriction, or generalized abhorrence of animal products but rather simply because I enjoy eating fruits and vegetables much more than meat. Thus, they normally take the center stage at mealtime. Everyone in my family feels sorry for Paul. Naturally, being a male, Paul must feel deprived by not being able to eat his fill of bloody, rare steaks on a regular basis. After all, a man has to eat man food - not effeminate dishes full of beets, carrots, and quinoa! I wish I was kidding when I admit that my parents are known for stocking our freezer full of bacon in honor of Paul's birthday.

However, I believe that meatless meals can still be just as flavorful and satisfying as those featuring chicken, beef, or pork. This vegetable lasagna is just one example - but it's a good one! It's packed full of awesome summer produce - zucchini, eggplant, summer squash - and then sandwiched between layers of pasta, chopped kalamata olives, a Parmesan cream sauce, a tomato-basil red sauce, and a generous sprinkling of Mozzarella. Oh my word, it's fabulous!

We made this lasagna for a dear friend who came over to dine with us earlier this week. I decided upon a vegetarian dish simply because I could not pass up on the beautiful produce at the farmer's market and because I love using the time the lasagna needs to bake in the oven to clean up all the mess from the dinnertime preparations. Nothing is worse than sitting down to dinner with a mountain of dirty dishes piled up behind you. Especially when company is over.

Anyway, our friend arrived with a bottle of imported Italian wine in hand, a bottle he had carefully selected to be paired with a good steak dinner since he was positive that Paul was going to be grilling that night. But instead, we plopped down a casserole dish of vegetable lasagna. I have to admit, I think he was a bit skeptical. He's definitely more of a "meat and potatoes" type of guy. However, he was a good sport and talked about how beautiful and delicious it looked. Then he took a bite - and the compliments continued - only this time, I could tell that he meant it! He kept talking about flavorful the entire dish was - the perfectly cooked vegetables, the perfectly seasoned sauce! He couldn't stop and was already digging into his second generous piece before I could finish my salad. I'm telling you folks, this meal is enchantingly delicious. It's not just me!

Do yourself a favor and make this. Make it, make it, make it! If you're not feeding a crowd, you might be eating lasagna for a few days. But that's ok! These are leftovers you'll look forward to enjoying!

Summer Vegetable Lasagna
from Cook's Illustrated Magazine

For the Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the Cream Sauce:
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1 cup whole milk cottage cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the Vegetable Filling:
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 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup minced pitted kalamata olives
12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

To make the tomato sauce, whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Set aside.

To make the cream sauce, whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Set aside.

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 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. 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 the lasagna, spray 13" x 9" baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 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 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining olives, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 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.

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