I was challenged this holiday to come up with festive meals that would satisfy both vegetarian and carnivore hungry athletes at the same table. When I developed the menus, I had 3 requirements: 1) Each of the main ingredients’ attributes should stand on it’s own. For example, I’m not a fan of tofurkey, chick’n or any food being doctored up to substitute real meat. If tofu is an ingredient, then it should be prepared in a way that it can be savored; 2) The dish should be worthy of special occasions, requiring a little labor of love and; 3) The dish should be comforting.
Voila. For Christmas eve, the main dish was Vegetable Pot Pie and for Christmas day, the main course was Vegetable Lasagna. Each of these recipes can be modified to include protein, such as meat or tofu. The lasagna freezes well and is a fast and nutritious meal that heats up quickly after a workout or for a busy weekday dinner. If you have extra mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, make a little extra tomato sauce and roast a little extra zucchini and roasted peppers. You can use these ingredients to make a nice pizza the next day.
Here’s how I made the lasagna.
Serving size: 8-10
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 of large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 8 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can tomato puree
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 16 ounces shredded mozzarella
- 2 small zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick and roasted
- 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 2 roasted red peppers, cut into strips
- 8 ounce package oven-ready, no boil lasagna noodle
Preheat to 375F
In 3.5 quart French oven, sauté diced onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes more. Add diced tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, bay leaf, sugar, basil, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Simmer, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes.
Roast red bell peppers:
While the tomato sauce simmers, roast bell peppers. There are several ways to roast peppers. I like to blister the whole peppers over a gas flame. Allow the peppers to cool and remove the charred skin. I don’t bother to place them in a paper bag or cover with plastic wrap. It’s not necessary for this recipe to remove all of the skin.
Core the peppers and cut into quarters. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place the pepper quarters skin side up and roast in oven at 375F for about 20 minutes or until softened.
Using a mandolin, slice zucchini into 1/4 inch strips. Brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and roast in over at 375F. Turn over after 10 minutes and continue to toss until softened.
Building first layer of lasagna:
Remove bay leaf from tomato sauce. Coat the bottom of lasagna pan with tomato sauce. I used a 10.5 x 8.75 x 2.5 inch ceramic casserole dish. Place first layer of lasagna noodles over the tomato sauce, overlapping each noodle by ¼ inch. Gently spread ricotta cheese over the noodles being careful not to break noodles. Lay roasted zucchini strips. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and cover with thin layer of tomato sauce making sure to coat the noodles.
Second layer of lasagna:
Place next layer lasagna noodles over the zucchini and tomato sauce. Spread thin layer of ricotta cheese over the noodles, lay roasted peppers, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and cover with another thin layer of tomato sauce.
Third layer of lasagna:
Place third layer of lasagna noodles over roasted peppers and tomato sauce. Spread with thin layer of ricotta cheese. Squeeze out all the moisture from spinach and spread evenly over ricotta and noodles. Repeat layering with mozzarella and tomato sauce.
Last layer of lasagna:
Place forth and last layer of lasagna over the spinach layer. Cover with remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375F for 40 minutes.