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 overcooked. 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.
There's so much to love about this recipe: It's as comforting and cheesy as any meat-filled lasagna, yet feels so much more wholesome thanks to the serious dose of vegetables stuffed inside. After retesting this recipe, we reduced the original amount of ricotta cheese called for by 1/2 cup, as we (and many of you who made this lasagna already) felt it was just as rich and luscious without the few extra dollops, and it gives an opportunity for the vegetables to really shine.
- Sheela, October 2017
Cheesy Vegetarian Lasagna
Serves 8 to 10
plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
medium onion, small dice
cremini or baby bella mushrooms, small dice
small eggplant (about 12 ounces), small dice
small zucchini or yellow summer squash, small dice
medium red bell pepper, small dice
cloves garlic, minced
chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
minced fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
(5-ounce) package baby spinach
(24-ounce) jar good marinara sauce (3 cups), like Rao's or Newman's Own
dry lasagna noodles (regular noodles, not no-boil, about 2/3 of a 1-pound box)
whole-milk ricotta cheese (15 to 16 ounces)
shredded mozzarella cheese (12 ounces)
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. 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. Add the eggplant, zucchini, and bell pepper, and cook until all are softened, 3 to 5 minutes more.
Push the vegetables aside to clear out some space in the middle of the pan. Add 1 teaspoon of the oil, garlic, salt, thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes if using. Stir the garlic until it is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 30 seconds, then stir it into the vegetables. Add the spinach and stir until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Spread a thin layer of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Lay 5 of the lasagna noodles over the sauce, breaking them if needed to create a single layer. Spread 1 cup of the ricotta over the noodles. Top with 1/2 of the vegetables, 1 cup of the marinara sauce, and 1 cup of the mozzarella.
Arrange another 5 noodles over mozzarella, followed 1 cup of ricotta, the remaining vegetables, 1 cup of the marinara, and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Top this with a final layer of 5 noodles and the remaining sauce. (Reserve the remaining mozzarella for the end of cooking.) Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.
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 15 minutes more. When the noodles are done, sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella over the top. Bake, uncovered, until the mozzarella has melted, 10 to 15 minutes more.
Turn on the broiler and arrange 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.
Make ahead: The lasagna can be assembled and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw the frozen lasagna for 2 days in the refrigerator before baking.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
This post and recipe have been updated. Originally published 3/04/08.