I don’t know about you, but when I hear “vegetable lasagna,” the first thought that comes into my head is the episode of Seinfeld when Elaine & Puddy go on a trip to Europe. On the plane ride home Puddy nicknames the guy next to Elaine “vegetable lasagna” because I guess that is what he ordered as his in-flight meal. The passenger isn’t too pleased with this nickname, but he is too wimpy to really stand up to Elaine to convince her to call him by his real name. As a result, when I think of “vegetable lasagna,” I think of wimpy.
Apparently I’m not the only one who has had a less-than-favorable opinion of vegetable lasagna. When the latest edition of Cook’s Illustrated magazine arrived in my mailbox, I was intrigued by the title “Best Vegetable Lasagna: Full-Flavored, Not Watery” on the cover. The author of the article bemoaned the fact that all the vegetable lasagna recipes he had ever tried ended up with “watery vegetables and dry, grainy patches of cheese.” In true Cook’s Illustrated-fashion, the author set out to scientifically figure out and fix all of vegetable lasagna’s problems.
Now, I know that the recipe below looks a little time consuming, and it is. I mean, you are making lasagna after all. But, there isn’t really anything tricky about it. You spend most of your time taking the vegetables from wimpy to yummy. Then you just whip up a no-cook tomato sauce and a no-cook cheese mixture and assemble it. The biggest problem I encountered while cooking this was that my power went out due to a bad thunderstorm. I ended up having to assemble it by candlelight, refrigerate it overnight, and cook it the next night when my oven was working again.
Vegetable Lasagna (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine)
- 2 small eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 2 small zucchini (about 1 pound)
- 2 small yellow summer squash (about 1 pound)
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (plus extra for serving)
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 12 ounces baby spinach
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 12 no-boil lasagna noodles
- 3 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
- 8 garlic cloves
- extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- coffee filters
- vegetable oil spray
- Peel the eggplant and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Put the eggplant cubes in a large bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon salt. Cover a microwave-safe plate with 2 layers of coffee filters. Lightly spray the filters with vegetable oil spray. Arrange half of the eggplant on the filter-covered plate (make sure the cubes are in an even layer and not touching). Microwave the eggplant on high power for 8 minutes (eggplant will be slightly shriveled). Repeat with second half of eggplant (be sure to use fresh coffee filters).
- While the eggplant is dehydrating in the microwave, cut the zucchini and yellow summer squash into 1/2 inch pieces. Put them in a large bowl and set aside. Add the dehydrated eggplant cubes when they have finished their stint in the microwave and toss to combine.
- In a 12-inch non-stick skillet heat 2 Tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the eggplant/zucchini/squash mixture, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook until vegetables are lightly browned, stirring occasionally (about 7 minutes). Remove first batch of sauteed eggplant/zucchini/squash mixture to a large bowl and repeat with the second batch. Add the second batch of sauteed eggplant/zucchini/squash mixture to the large bowl and set aside.
- While the eggplant/zucchini/squash mixture is browning, mix together the crushed tomatoes, basil, red pepper flakes, 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl. Set tomato sauce aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in the skillet that was used to saute the eggplant/zucchini/squash mixture (no need to rinse it out). Add spinach and cook until almost wilted, stirring frequently. Add the thyme and 4 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant and spinach is completely wilted. Transfer spinach to a colander and let drain for 2 minutes. Stir into the eggplant/zucchini/squash mixture.
- In a large bowl combine the Parmesan cheese, cottage cheese, heavy cream, cornstarch, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Set aside.
- Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Assemble the lasagna in the following layers:
- 1 cup tomato sauce, 4 noodles, half of vegetable mixture, half of cheese mixture, and 1 cup mozzarella
- 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetable mixture, remaining cheese mixture, and 1 cup mozzarella
- 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella
- Lightly spray a sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and use it to cover the lasagna. Bake 35 minutes (it should be bubbling at this point). Remove foil and broil until cheese is slightly browned (approximately 3 minutes). Cool lasagna on a wire rack for 25 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve with chopped basil.