I’ve been meaning to make lasagna for a while, but it tends to take forever to put together. Tonight we had a special treat though: Peter’s brother visiting from the Bay Area. His brother is a vegetarian, and I thought of nothing better to make him than one of my favorite vegetarian dishes: lasagna with ricotta and any vegetables lying around the kitchen. After a long day walking in down town, they came home and entertained me as I spent the next hour and a half putting this lasagna together. The last stage where you assemble the lasagna is always so rewarding, so I thought I’d take a photograph of each layer (see the alt-text for descriptions):
Lasagna with Ricotta and Roasted Summer Vegetables
6-8 wide lasagna noodles (or more if you intend to make more pasta layers)
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 15 ounce container of ricotta cheese
1 bag fresh spinach
1+ medium yellow onion
1 large summer squash, cut into 1/4 inch-thick circles
1 large globe eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch-thick circles
Salt and pepper
1/2 – 2/3 cup grated melty cheese (we used cheddar this time)
There are a lot of things to do, so I will describe each part individually.
Tomato Sauce: Pour the crushed tomatoes into a non-reactive pot, along with a 1/2 cup of water (I use it to get all the tomato out of the can), a bit of diced onion or garlic, two bay leaves, oregano (somehow I didn’t have any around… silly me), salt, and pepper. Let the sauce simmer on low heat while you do everything else, but don’t forget to stir it every once in a while. If you forget about it and it cooks down too much, just add more water. I’m sure a jar of good pre-made pasta sauce would be an easy alternative.
Ricotta Filling: Dice the 1 onion and cook in olive oil until tender. Wash the spinach leaves well (no one likes grit in their lasagna) and steam until just tender. Mix the onion and spinach with the ricotta and season well with salt and pepper. Add the egg and mix well again.
Roasted Vegetables: If using Japanese eggplants in place of the globe eggplant, no salting prep work is required. If using globe eggplants, though, I usually sprinkle them liberally with salt and let them sit for 20 minutes. Then I wash them thoroughly to get rid of most of the salt, and continue on. Mix the sliced summer squash with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Then add the eggplants and mix them around to cover them in a bit of olive oil. Eggplants have an uncanny ability to soak up massive amounts of oil, so beware! Since the eggplants will be baked with a cheese mixture and tomato sauce, I don’t find it necessary to use much oil in the roasting process. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 or 400 degrees F. Then turn the vegetables over and bake for another 10 minutes or so. If you’re in a hurry and have lots of frying pans, you could just fry the vegetables, but roasting them is less hands-on work.
Pasta: Boil a large pot of water with about 1 tablespoon of salt. When the water is boiling, add the lasagna noodles and cook as directed on the box. If they’re slightly undercooked, that’s alright, as they will cook more when the lasagna bakes. It is important to separate the noodles and stack them on a plate as soon as they are cool enough to touch so that they don’t stick together and don’t tear apart (a drizzle of olive oil is very useful here). Find the nicest noodles to put at the bottom of the pile, as these will become the top layer of the lasagna.
Assembling the lasagna: This is the best part! See the above series of photos for a picture guide. Lightly oil a baking dish with olive oil. Put a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom, then the first layer of pasta. Next, add layers of roasted eggplant slices, the ricotta mixture, the roasted summer squash slices, and finally a thin layer of tomato sauce, before adding another layer of pasta. My layers are always quite thick and I don’t use much pasta (I should just admit that for me lasagna is really more about the cheese, vegetable, and tomato sauce mixture). Make as many of these sets of layers as will fit in the pan and with the available ingredients (I managed to get two sets). For the top of the lasagna, finish with a layer of pasta. Lightly spread a drizzle of olive oil over the noodles to keep them from getting too hard while baking. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and finally top with a layer of the grated cheese. Bake the lasagna, uncovered, for about 30-40 minutes, until the cheese is starting to brown in places. Let the lasagna cool just a little bit before digging in.