Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sadie's Vegetarian Lasagna

Lasagna is a layered Italian casserole with meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces.  In Northern Italy, you will most likely be served a lasagna with a white sauce known as Bechamel; it is made with butter, flour and milk with a dash of nutmeg. In the Southern parts of Italy, you will be served a lasagna with a red sauce made out of tomatoes or ragu, which is a tomato and meat sauce. 
I love both sauces and I find them to compliment each other in this recipe. I have made this vegetarian lasagna for years and it is far from traditional; but it is delicious. 
After many years of making this recipe, I finally took it from my head and wrote it on paper.  This recipe will be added to my cook book and I thank my friend Hayven A. for asking me if I had a vegetarian lasagna recipe; which I did, but it was in my head.  So I took the time to write it down and it feels great to have this complete on paper. I'm sure it will run its course of editing, but at least I have it down on paper.  Thank you Hayven for encouraging me to get this done and I hope when you make this recipe that you and your family will like it.

Sadie’s Vegetarian Lasagna
Where North meets South (white sauce and red sauce) in the Laurenti Kitchen

4 tablespoons plus extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
½ cup sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped (reserve olive oil )
4 medium sized zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 whole red onion, diced
4 medium sized carrots, grated
2 portabella mushrooms, diced
1 packet (1oz.) porcini mushrooms, hydrated for 20 minutes, discard water and chop
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
16 ounces of fresh baby spinach
2 cups ricotta cheese, drained
2 – 3 cups of mozzarella cheese, grated
½ cup parmesan cheese
1-28ounce can of Marinara sauce (I like Trader Joe’s brand)
1 pound lasagna noodles (I use the no cook from Trader Joe’s when I don’t make it myself)
Béchamel sauce  recipe: go to (
Preheat oven 425*F
Place sliced zucchini on a sheet tray (cookie sheet); combine reserved olive oil from dried tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of EVOO and brush both sides of zucchini with oil.  Place sheet tray on top rack and bake for 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Turn zucchini over and bake until golden brown. Roasting the zucchini helps to bring out the sweetness of the zucchini and reducing the amount of moisture in the vegetable.  It also enhances the flavor in the lasagna with its sweetness.  When done, remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Reduce oven temperature to 350*F
In a large sauté pan, over medium heat; saute onions in reserved 2 tablespoons of EVOO, until golden. Add grated carrots, chopped sun dried tomatoes, both types of mushrooms, garlic, herbs, nutmeg, salt and pepper and place lid on sauté pan over medium-low heat.  Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until carrots are tender (al dente).  Remove lid and cook for another 5 minutes while stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced by 25% (the mushrooms are very moist and when cooked with a lid, it will release some of its moisture). The liquid from the mushrooms will add a rich flavor to the vegetables.  Add salt and pepper to taste again (if needed).  When done, remove from heat and carefully stir in roasted zucchini to the cooked vegetables.  Let cool.
Make Béchamel sauce:  I like Mario Batali’s recipe, it is very similar to mine and very tasty. Go to web site for recipe: 
In a 3 quart (13x9x2) pan, coat bottom of pan with tomato sauce (marinara) to keep pasta from sticking to the bottom of pan.
First layer: pasta, a good coat of tomato sauce, mixed vegetables, a handful of fresh spinach to layer vegetables, dollop ricotta over spinach (using a tablespoon, dollop ricotta every 2-3 inches apart), sprinkle mozzarella.
Second layer: pasta, a good coat of béchamel sauce, mixed vegetables, a handful of fresh spinach to layer vegetables, dollop ricotta over spinach (using a tablespoon, dollop ricotta every 2-3 inches apart), sprinkle mozzarella.
Alternate layers with tomato sauce and béchamel sauce and ending with a little of both on top (be sure to coat top layer of pasta well with sauces) and add mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until bubbly and cheese is golden brown.  Set aside for 15 minutes before serving.
Buon Appetito!
Chef Notes:
Use fresh herbs if they are available, instead of dried herbs. If using fresh herbs, be sure to increase amount using as dried herbs are more potent than fresh herbs.

When I am not making my own tomato sauce and pasta, I like using Trader Joe’s Marinara sauce and their no cook lasagna noodles. Bonus for an easy bake lasagna.
Use a ladle to spoon in tomato sauce and béchamel sauce on each layer instead of a spoon.
I prefer not to steam or cook the spinach before layering this lasagna.  I prefer that the spinach cooks together with the vegetables in the oven, so that it releases its vitamins in the baking process rather than loosing it in the pre-cooking state. If you want to steam or cook your spinach beforehand, you can.
Place a sheet pan underneath the lasagna pan to catch drippings (makes it easier on oven cleaning).
Always be sure that you let your lasagna sit to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  This helps all the juices to quiet down and become absorbed by the pasta and ingredients.  Also, so that you don’t serve a saucy and super hot lasagna that will burn your mouth of your guests and family.