How do you feel about lasagne? (And do you spell it lasagna?) I ask because my husband said something surprising the other night when I told him I was making it for a dinner party. First he made a face and then he said, “It’s kind of like making spaghetti.” Coming from him, that is basically an insult. For reasons that aren’t totally clear to me, Randy hates spaghetti. Give him some kind of delicious sauce on spaghetti and he won’t like it. Give him the same sauce on fettucine and he will love it. I don’t understand but I accept and don’t make spaghetti.
When pressed, he explained that he is used to me making really interesting and unusual things for dinner parties and that lasagne seemed boring and maybe even easy. I’m sure there are easy ways to make lasagne but for me, it has always been a fairly long and involved process. Making sauce, making various fillings, roasting vegetables. Lasagne is not a throw together meal in my world.
What’s more, we were having some friends over for dinner who I don’t know all that well. Actually, I know the wives well, but I have only met the husbands a handful of times. I didn’t want to make something really out there (aggressively vegetarian, as I like to call it) and have people not eat it. I also wanted to make something satisfying so that, if they are used to eating a lot of meat, they didn’t feel like they needed to stop for a hamburger on the way home. Everyone likes lasagne, right?
In my many cookbooks, I found a number of recipes that looked inticing. But I decided against a béchamel sauce and that ruled out many of them. I wanted something filling but I didn’t want a gut bomb and besides, Randy doesn’t do well with cream sauces. I settled on this one from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and I was very happy with how it turned out. Hearty and flavorful but not too heavy or cheesy. Eggplant and I are not the best of friends and I thought Madison’s idea to bake it and then chop it was genius. Trying to saw through an eggplant round in a lasagne is difficult – pieces of eggplant are easy. Finally, the greens in the ricotta filling are very welcome. She calls for chard, I used red kale because I had some. Their texture is welcome, the color makes it more interesting, and the “green” taste keeps it from being too rich.
Here is a silly little story. I used to make a very good (but very time consuming) lasagne that featured two different vegetable fillings. Whenever I made it, I would stress about the sauce. The amount that the recipe yielded was on the skimpy side and I would fret about it all coming out right. Not once did it occur to me to increase the amount of sauce I made. I just stuck to the rules and stressed. Now that I am older and wiser, I do things my way with lasagne. I like mine saucy so I make extra sauce. If the worst thing in the world is having too much homemade tomato sauce, then that is a pretty good world. You can use it another night on another kind of pasta (not spaghetti!) or you can freeze it with beautiful results. I give my recipe below, you will use ½ – ¾ of it for the recipe. And if you would like to just use jarred sauce, I won’t tell anyone.
One Year Ago: Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese
Lasagne with Eggplant and Chard
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
1½ pounds fresh pasta sheets, or 1 box dried
Tomato sauce (about 2 cups, recipe follows)
1½ pounds eggplant, sliced crosswise ¼-inch thick
½ onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch green chard, leaves removed from the stems
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 dry white wine
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Prepare the sauce. If you are using dried pasta, parboil it for a few minutes then drain it and lay out on a sheet pan so it doesn’t stick together.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush both sides of the eggplant lightly with oil. Place the slices on a sheet pan and bake, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 30 minutes in all. Chop coarsely and set aside. (DT: This step can be done one day ahead. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate.)
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the onion and garlic. Stir frequently for 3 minutes. Add the chard, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, cover and cook until the chard is tender and the pan is dry, about 10 minutes. Turn the mixture out onto a cutting board and finely chop. In a bowl, mix together the ricotta and the egg, then stir in the chard mixture. Season with salt and pepper. (DT: This step can be done one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Oil a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Coat the bottom lightly with sauce and then cover with a layer of pasta. Scatter a quarter of the Pecorino over the top and add a quarter of the eggplant, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. Follow with another layer of pasta and repeat for three more layers. End with a layer of pasta and top with sauce. (Sprinkle with more Pecorino if you like.) Cover with foil. (DT: The whole lasagne can be made one day ahead. Keep covered and refrigerate. It will need another 10 minutes or so of baking time.)
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until heated through. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Dana’s Tomato Sauce
Makes a lot
Of course you can halve this recipe.
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup good red wine
2- 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the onion along with a pinch of salt, and sauté until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for another 2 minutes, then add the herbs. Stir well to combine, then pour in the wine.
Cook, uncovered, until the wine is almost evaporated, then carefully add the two cans of tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the sauce has thickened, periodically crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a spoon, about 30 minutes. Taste, adding salt and pepper as necessary and a pinch of sugar if the taste is metallic. (In my experience, the better the tomatoes, the less of a need for sugar.) If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can purée it with an immersion blender, or in a stand blender or food processor. Let the sauce cool before you use a stand machine.