What to eat? I usually have no problem answering that question, but I had just arrived home from a wonderful family reunion with my husband’s family in Lake Lure, NC. As you might expect, we had lots of fun and had many wonderful meals. Hence, my dilemma. After a weekend of good eating, you can’t just settle for any old thing.
Cookbooks came out and I started flipping through them hoping that something would appeal to me. A recipe for eggplant Parmesan caught my eye in Jamie Oliver’s cookbook Jamie’s Italy. I was intrigued by the fact that it called for grilling the eggplant instead of breading it and frying it. It sounded lighter than the traditional version and got me thinking about vegetarian lasagna, summer produce, and a way to incorporate the eight leftover, no-boil lasagna noodles lurking in the back of my pantry.
With those thoughts in mind, I created what is probably best described as an eggplant Parmesan version of lasagna. Light and refreshing with enough cheese to make it fun to eat, this was exactly what I had been craving. If you want a more traditional lasagna,increase the sauce and slice the eggplant thinner to make the dish more compact. I, however, preferred the whimsical look of the final product and thought that the crispy edges of the top noodle were a yummy treat. Grilling the eggplant and zucchini reduces the cooking time for the final dish, and the grill marks make the dish look like it took more time to make than it actually did. The recipe does call for an egg, but this can be omitted if you want it to be a true vegetarian dish. While the ingredient list may appear long, the dish itself comes together quickly. Feel free to make ahead and leave in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
Summer Vegetarian Lasagna
Pictures of the lasagna being constructed follow the recipe.
2 medium-sized eggplants, peeled and sliced crosswise in 1/2″ slices
2-3 small zucchini, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, broken-up and juices reserved*
1 cup Ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
3 oz fresh mozzarella cheese slices
1/4 cup bread crumbs, tossed in olive oil (optional)
8 “no-boil” lasagna noodles
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush grill or grill pan with olive oil. In batches, grill eggplant and zucchini slices. Set aside.
In medium saucepan, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, mix ricotta, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, egg, thyme, and oregano together in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large casserole dish, spread 1/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of the dish. Cover sauce with four lasagna noodles. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Add enough sauce to cover the ricotta. Add a layer of grilled eggplant slices. Sprinkle with sauce. Make a layer using the zucchini slices and sprinkle with sauce. Make a layer using the remaining grilled eggplant slices. Sprinkle with sauce. Cover with remaining four noodles and spread with remaining ricotta mixture. Cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup Parmesan cheese and add the mozzarella slices. If desired, sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes on middle rack. Uncover and bake for additional 15 minutes. If additional browning is desired, place under broiler for 2-4 minutes. Enjoy!
*While fresh tomatoes can most certainly be used, I find that most grocery store tomatoes are far from ripe and that I get better results with canned whole tomatoes. I’m partial to canned San Marzano tomatoes, because I think there flavor is much better, but any canned tomato will work. To break up tomatoes, I typically use a pair of scissors to cut the tomatoes while they are in the can. However, in a moment of sheer laziness last night, I added the tomatoes into the saucepan and used a potato masher to break them up. It actually worked quite well and saved a lot of time although its slightly unconventional.