My dad’s best friend, my Uncle Tony, is Italian and as a boy I looked forward to family parties at his house because his mother was the greatest cook I have ever known.
Her specialty was the lasagna. Layer after layer of pasta, meat, tomato sauce and gooey cheese, its flavor was indescribable. I still tear up a little thinking about it.
Long before it was Garfield’s favorite food, Uncle Tony’s mother’s lasagna was — and remains — the single greatest dish I have ever tasted. The woman was a genius.
Over the years, I have attempted to replicate this lasagna hundreds of times, both in commercial kitchens and at home, but I have never fully succeeded. Don’t get me wrong, my lasagna is super delicious. But it’s like comparing my line sketches to DaVinci’s.
I first made Vegetarian Lasagna back in 2003, when the South Beach Diet was popular. Remember that one? To this day, cauliflower is banned from our dinner table because of that diet’s use of it as a substitute for mashed potatoes.
But this Vegetarian Lasagna isn’t much different than regular lasagna, except you replace the meat with vegetables and you use whole wheat lasagna noodles.
Back then, I had to make a special trip to Whole Foods to buy the whole wheat lasagna noodles, which cost like $4.00/box, as I recall. Now, I can buy them at my local Jewel (on sale for $1, bonus!).
This lasagna has five elements — the pasta, the vegetables, the spinach, the sauce and the cheese.
For the pasta, there are two schools of thought: The first says the lasagna noodles are pre-cooked into soft noodles prior to lasagna assembly. The second says they are put in dry and soak up the sauce as it cooks. Having mass produced lasagnas in restaurants, I’m in the latter camp because it’s easier and tastes the same.
I replace the meat with zucchini and yellow squash. The South Beach version called for asparagus as I recall, but we found it made the lasagna taste bitter. I also added an eggplant because I had one left over from the Farmer’s Market.
The sauce is my standard super easy tomato sauce. In this dish, you don’t even need to cook it because it will cook inside the lasagna.
If ricotta is too expensive, you can subsitute cottage cheese. I was prepared to do this when I discovered that the generic ricotta was cheaper than cottage cheese. Winning!
This recipe, inspired by Uncle Tony’s mother, is adapted from the South Beach Diet Cookbook.
Whole Wheat Vegetable Lasagna
For the sauce
3-8 oz cans tomato sauce
2 TBS Italian Seasoning
2 tsp sugar
For the cheese filling
15 oz package reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 TBS Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 zucchini, sliced into thin strips lengthwise
1 yellow squash, same
1 eggplant, cut into 1/2″ cross sections
9 sheets whole wheat lasagna noodles
10 oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
1/4 cup fresh mozzarella cut into discs (or shredded)
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9″x14″ baking dish with pan spray. In cast iron pan, sear off zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant in EVOO until brown and a little crispy, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside.
2. In mixing bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan, egg, Italian seasoning and S&P.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and sugar.
4. Assemble lasagna by starting with a layer of 3 pasta sheets, topped with a layer of pasta sauce, topped with a layer of the cheese mixture, topped with a layer of the spinach, then a layer of zucchini and yellow squash. Repeat, using eggplant instead of zucchini. Top with a final layer of pasta sheets, tomato sauce and the mozzarella.
5. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and return to oven for another 20 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes after removing for oven so it holds its shape when it’s cut.
What is the best dish you have ever eaten? Share your thoughts in comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!