December 14, 2012 by annmquintero
Hooray! Someone finally made a request! And what a great one! Lasagna is a well-loved comfort food and surprisingly adaptable and customizable. The lasagna I remember from childhood was full of noodley, cheesy goodness; all warm and savory and gooey. Given that pasta doesn’t fit into the eating goals of a lot of our Amazons, I decided to focus on a pasta-free alternative. We’re going to use layers of thinly sliced vegetables in place of noodles for a gluten-free and paleo friendly version of the old classic. I know some of you aren’t doing dairy, so feel free to omit the cheese portions, but I’m going for it!
What you’ll need:
Casserole dish (I used a 9×13 Pyrex dish, but most anything will do.)
Foil lined baking sheet
Big, deep sauce pan
Spoon or ladle to stir
Grater or zester
Mandoline optional (A word about mandolines: If you’re not familiar and comfortable with this tool, just don’t use it. They can be great for getting uniform slices, but they can also be really dangerous, as evidenced by the loss of a bit of pinky for me. Don’t worry. It’s nothing that won’t grow back by itself. Use the extra time it takes to slice by hand to focus on honing your knife skills. Slow, methodical, precise cutting can vastly improve your skill and speed! Wax on, wax off, grasshopper!)
Zucchini (I used 5 smallish ones.)
Parsnips (2. Go for the thin ones, they’re more delicious and tender.)
Mushrooms (1 pint)
Fresh basil leaves
Ground beef (1lb.)
Fresh sweet Italian sausage, casing removed (2 links, uncooked, uncured, unsmoked.)
Canned whole tomatoes, with or without basil (28oz.)
Dried Italian herb mix (Usually basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage)
Red pepper flakes
Red wine vinegar
Whole milk ricotta (16oz)
Parmesan or pecorino romano
Flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Shredded mozzarella for top
Preheat your oven to 350F. I would recommend starting with your meat sauce. It’ll take some time to simmer and you can prepare everything else while it’s reducing and letting its flavors bloom.
Put a drizzle of olive oil into your saucepan on medium-high heat and add the chopped onion. Sprinkle a bit of salt on the onion to help draw out some moisture and encourage browning. As the onions are just starting to take on some color, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, quickly followed by the beef and sausage. Break up the meat with the back of a spoon so you don’t have lumps, especially the sausage. Don’t stir constantly. Allowing the meat to sit undisturbed will increase browning, and as we all know, BROWNING=FLAVOR (I’m gonna embroider that onto a pillow.). When the meat is no longer pink, add the canned tomatoes and the dried herbs. Allow the sauce to simmer for a good 15 minutes, tasting occasionally and adding seasoning as necessary. I found it needed a touch more acidity and brightness while cooking, so I added a splash of red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt. Just as a note, you want a lot of the liquid to evaporate. Remember that your sliced veggies are going to give off a lot of moisture in the cooking process, so to avoid a total swamp, you want your meat sauce to be relatively dry.
While your sauce is simmering and reducing, start slicing up your veggies. Parsnips are a root vegetable in the carrot family, but I find they have a richer, more interesting flavor and texture. You’ll want to peel the parsnips before slicing them as thinly as possible. It’s important that the parsnips be sliced more thinly than your other veggies; they’re denser and therefore require more time to cook, but you can reduce that time by slicing them thinner. This goes for all things: the smaller the pieces, the faster they cook.
The zucchini can keep their skin on. (I’m including a picture of parsnips and zucchini for fun identification purposes, because I know they’re not the most familiar thing for everyone.) Zucchini are a type of squash and can be easily mistaken for cucumbers. The quickest, easiest way to tell the difference is going to be the stem on the top of a zucchini. It’s shaped similarly to that on a pumpkin, which is in the same family.
Rinse the mushrooms, remove the stems, and slice. With the fresh basil, it’s important to rinse it thoroughly because it runs the risk of being sandy, which is a gross texture in the mouth. Once it’s been rinsed and patted dry, separate the leaves from the stems, keeping them whole.
The ricotta mixture is simple, but delicious. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, chopped parsley, a couple tablespoons of pecorino or parmesan, fresh ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, and lemon zest. If you’ve never used lemon zest before, it’s a great thing. It’s all the brightness and sweetness of lemon without any of the tartness. The outer layer of skin on citrus has tiny pockets of extremely fragrant, flavorful oil. Zesting releases those oils. Some people will add a beaten egg to the ricotta for texture and cohesion, but I don’t find it necessary.
Now for assembly! In truth, you can assemble in just about any order you’d like. It won’t make much difference after it’s been in the oven for a while, but I think it’s best to go veggie, meat, veggie, cheese, veggie, meat, veggie, cheese, veggie, meat. This time, I started from bottom to top with parsnip, meat, mushroom and basil, ricotta, zucchini, meat, mushroom, ricotta, zucchini, meat. You haven’t added the mozzarella yet, don’t worry!
Once your dish is assembled, cover lightly with foil, place on the lined baking sheet (in case of bubbling over), and place in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, pull out the dish, cover the top layer with mozzarella and parmesan and return, uncovered, to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
I know it’s tempting to dig right in after removing from the oven, but you and the dish will benefit from letting it rest for a while. As the moisture stops bubbling, the now cooked veggies will settle and condense a bit in the pan. As it cools, it’ll be easier to dish up without making a giant mess. And you’ll be less likely to burn the crap out of the roof of your mouth!
One of the coolest things about this dish is that with a few small adjustments, you could easily change the flavor profile to another ethnicity. Use feta and dill with ground lamb to go a little Greek. Chorizo with cumin, oregano, chile powder, and queso fresco and you’ve gone Mexican! The possibilities are endless! What would you like to try?
(If this is your first time reading EATS, I encourage you to check out the Introductions post for my philosophy and list of must-have kitchen items.)