I often get asked the question “why did you change careers to focus on food?” My answer is I love how food brings people together, that the need to eat is something we all have in common.
Cooking, however, is another thing entirely: I love to cook but for many people it’s a chore or something to be avoided like laundry (I apologize if you truly enjoy doing laundry). And cooking with other people? Well, let’s just say that’s icing, especially when it means I get to spend time with loved ones.
So when my sister called last week to ask if we (yes, she included herself) could cook dinner for our family on Sunday I was thrilled. The location would be at our parents’ house, a kitchen I know well. As for the food, her only request was for vegetable lasagna.
No problem! While I think we had different expectations for the meal (her: canned tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash; me: homemade noodles and tomato-basil sauce, farmer’s market vegetables) the highlight for both of us was working together, although I think it helped that I got to be in charge. Basically, it’s what my friend Lori would call a “potchke” meal, meaning a bit fussy with a lot of steps, but in this case it was also a relaxing and enjoyable experience.
And the roasted vegetable lasagna? It was amazing! Light and fresh with layers of sweet and savory flavors and aromas, it practically melted in my mouth.
At my father’s request I used less sauce than usual and have to admit it worked really well to make the lasagna light and summery. The recipe for tomato-basil sauce was adapted from “Takashi’s Noodles,” by Takashi Yagihashi (I worked on the book) and makes just the right amount of sauce needed for this lasagna.
Here are the recipes for Tomato-Basil Sauce and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna:
Tomato-Basil Sauce (adapted from “Takashi’s Noodles,” by Takashi Yagihashi)
6 Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, remove the cores from the tomatoes and score an “x” on the bottom. Also prepare an ice bath.
Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute, then remove and submerge in the ice bath. Repeat this process one more time; the skins will crack. Once the tomatoes have cooled, use a paring knife or your fingers to remove and discard the skins. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove and discard the seeds, then dice the tomatoes.
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the diced red bell pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes, then stir in the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook until the tomatoes begin to soften and release water, about 5 minutes.
Season the sauce with fresh basil, sugar, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and let cool to room temperature. Stir in 1 to 1 1/2 cups room temperature water just before assembling the lasagna.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
1 recipe fresh pasta (1 pound), rolled into 6 thin noodles approximately 12″ x 5″(#7 on pasta roller)
1 recipe tomato-basil sauce (see above)
1 eggplant, sliced thin
1 zucchini, sliced thin
1 yellow squash, sliced thin
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Prepare the fresh pasta and tomato-basil sauce recipes. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Soak the sliced eggplant in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain well. Arrange the sliced eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash on two greased or nonstick baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables in the oven until soft and lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.
Decrease the oven temperature to 375°F and coat a 15-inch by 12-inch lasagna pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the lasagna noodles two at a time for 90 seconds. Drain the noodles from the pot and lay on a baking sheet or cutting board in a single layer to cool.
In a bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, basil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pinch pepper.
Spread a thin layer (about 1/4 cup) of tomato-basil sauce evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish, then lay 2 long pieces of lasagna noodles over the top. Use your fingers to spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture evenly over the noodles, then lay the eggplant slices over the top in a single layer.
Spread half of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and top with 2 more lasagna noodles, followed by the mozzarella cheese. Arrange the roasted zucchini and yellow squash over the cheese and top with the remaining sauce. Lay the last 2 noodles over the sauce and top with the rest of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375°F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes uncovered. Let the lasagna cool slightly before serving.