Lasagna is the quintessential easy–to–throw–together, comforting, affordable and satisfying dish to serve a crowd. Think of the bubbly cheesiness being cut through by bright tomato sauce and perfectly cooked noodles. It's the perfect food!
This recipe also includes my secret weapon ingredient, which lightens the richness up a smidge and no one will ever know. Can you guess what this mystery item is? Don't knock it till you try it!
The stealth ingredient here is tofu. Now before you get all riled up about how much you dislike tofu and that its inclusion in the recipe is a blasphemy on tradition, I want you to hear me out. Tofu is very good at adapting to the other flavors around it, and its texture when smashed into cheeses is firming. No one but you would actually know that there's tofu in this dish, unless you care to tell them. In this preparation, the mozzarella, ricotta and tofu mixture homogenize to become the most rapturous filling I've ever met in any lasagna. The tofu stabilizes the cheese and adds heft and shape (the pieces stay tall instead of oozing their cheesiness all over the plate). Not to mention, it sneaks in a sliver of zero-cholesterol protein, not that you are all that concerned with these sorts of things when you're sitting down to a plate of comfort food.
This recipe also calls for a jar of tomato sauce. While I'm all for making homemade sauce, occasionally I'll just use a jar I keep in the pantry to make life easier. If you want to go the distance and make your own sauce, by all means, this would be a lovely opportunity to use it but if you're in a jam, here are some recommendations for store-bought from Bon Appetíit.
1 lb no-boil lasagna noodles
5 cups (usually 1 1/2 jars) of tomato sauce (I like Whole Foods 365 Brand, no added sugars or preservatives)
1 15-ounce package of extra firm tofu
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
1 15-ounce can jarred roasted peppers (or roast 2 red peppers yourself)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the tofu, ricotta and mozzarella cheese with your hands. Squeeze it to get the mixture even and smooth. Add the smoked paprika and salt and pepper to this cheese/tofu mixture. This may take a few minutes and your hands are the best tool in the kitchen for breaking down the tofu and getting it to evenly incorporate with the cheeses.
Preheat oven to 400. Using a 9 x 13" casserole pan, place about 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the pan, smoothing it into a thin layer with the back of a spoon. Layer about 6 noodles onto the bottom of the pan, covering the sauce as best you can. Layer on 1/3 of the jarred peppers. Place 1/3 of the tofu/ricotta mixture onto this bottom pasta/pepper layer, spread it out with your fingers, don't worry if it's not perfectly even (it will melt and become one with the pasta noodles).
Lastly, pour about 1 cup of the tomato sauce onto the cheese mixture, spreading the sauce as evenly as possible (don't stress this too much, as I said before it will all melt to become one yummy slice!). Repeat this process three times, ending with a pasta top. To this final pasta layer, add more sauce and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese all over the top.
Cover in foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and broil on high for 3-5 minutes more. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
• Related: How to Make Lasagna
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)