When one has fresh tomato sauce, homemade ricotta, and a huge haul of vegetables in one's fridge, a hearty lasagna is really the only possible course of action. If it doesn't yet feel quite autumnal enough to justify a plate of cheesy lasagna, that's fine — sneak a slice now and freeze the rest for meals to come.
If your memories of lasagna are of rubbery edges and soggy layers of cheese, I think you'll like this recipe. It's one of my favorites: cheesy and chock full of tender veggies. I love adapting it to whatever happens to be hanging around in the fridge and even dressing it up on occasion with such non-typical lasagna ingredients like butternut squash and swiss chard. It's also an inexpensive way to feed a crowd and still leave leftovers for weekday lunches.
Also, don't bother boiling the noodles ahead of time: the steam from the crushed tomatoes and veggies will cook the noodles just enough so that they're soft but not over-cooked. This always feels like a leap of faith as I'm assembling the lasagna, but after using this method for years, I haven't had any crunchy bits yet!
I make this lasagna entirely with vegetables — a mix of late-summer vegetables along with some mushrooms for their texture and earthy flavors — but you could certainly add some cooked sausage or other meat for an even heartier dish.
If you're freezing some of this lasagna for later, cut it into individual servings and wrap them in aluminum foil. They can be thawed in the fridge overnight, then reheated in the oven still wrapped in foil, or unwrapped and warmed in the microwave.
I have been making versions of this very same recipe for years, and I think I've got it juuuust about perfect now. The key is to dice the vegetables fairly small and then cook them just enough on the stovetop so they are no longer raw, but not so long that they break down into a sauce. The veggies best when they still have a little bite. It's also important that the vegetable filling be very well seasoned before it goes into the lasagna. Taste it when you're done and add more seasonings if needed. It's best if it tastes slightly over-seasoned — once you combine it with the noodles, cheese, and sauce, it will be perfect.
Go ahead and substitute whatever vegetables look good when you're at the store. If the eggplants are looking sad, swap in an extra bell pepper. Have a gigantic zucchini from a neighbor? Make a zucchini lasagna! Whatever other vegetables you use, I recommend keeping at least the onion and the mushrooms. Onions give the lasagna a good base flavor and the mushrooms add a savory flavor and nubbly texture that is missing when you're not using meat.
Enjoy! - Emma
Cheesy Vegetarian Lasagna
Serves 8 to 10
1 onion, diced small
1 (8-ounce) package baby bella mushrooms, diced small
1 small (12-ounce) eggplant, diced small
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
6-ounce package baby spinach
3 cups tomato sauce (or one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes)
15 dry lasagna noodles (regular noodles, not no-boil)
2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions are sweated and are just starting to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid and most of that liquid has evaporated, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add the eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper, and cook until all are softened, another 3 to 5 minutes.
Clear a little space in the middle of the pan. Add another teaspoon of olive oil, the garlic, salt, and spices. Stir the garlic until it is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 30 seconds, then stir it into the vegetables. Scatter the spinach over the vegetables and stir until it is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the skillet of vegetables from the heat.
Spread a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish. Lay 5 of the lasagna noodles over top, breaking them if needed to create a single layer. Spread 1 cup of the ricotta over the noodles, then half of the vegetables, 1 cup of the tomato sauce, and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Arrange another 5 noodles over the top, followed 1 cup of ricotta, the remaining vegetables, 1 cup of the tomato sauce, and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Top this with a final layer of 5 noodles and the remaining sauce. Dot the top with the remaining 1/2 cup of ricotta. (Reserve the remaining mozzarella for the end of cooking.)
Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour. Check to make sure the noodles are done by poking the lasagna with a knife; the knife should slide easily through all the layers. If it doesn't, cover and cook for another 15 minutes. When the noodles are done, sprinkle the remaining cup of mozzarella over the top of the casserole and bake, uncovered, until the mozzarella has melted, another 10 to 15 minutes.
Turn on the broiler and place an oven rack 6 inches below the heating element. Broil the lasagna until the mozzarella is browned and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.
This post and recipe have been updated. Originally published 3/04/08.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)