The title is a bit misleading, eh? Well, I had the best of intentions and set out to build a delightfully vegetarian lasagna. I ran to the store to buy missing ingredients and immediately set to work on the lasagna assembly. Mid-way through my tummy began to growl and before I knew it, I was crumbling sweet italian sausage on the top, as though covering it in a blanket of meat.
Lasagna is one of my favorite foods. I prefer using a combination of noodles and vegetables to create the lasagna’s structure. This makes for a wonderful vegetarian lasagna (also a great way to sneak veggies to kids), but you can also dress it up with a bit of sausage if that suits your mood.
Over time I’ve slowly morphed my lasagna making process into an abbreviated version that I feel gives the same end result. I use 60% fewer pans and the lasagna is made 75% more quickly.
My 3 principles to making a quick, no-mess, delicious lasagna:
1. Don’t precook the pasta — no need to cook them and dirty another pan. Using a slightly thinned sauce along with fresh vegetables will provide enough liquid for the pasta to cook while baked.
2. Cut back on carbs and replace a few pasta layers with thin slices of sturdy vegetables like zucchini and eggplant. Slice vegetables thinly so they are able to cook during the lasagna baking time.
3. Crumble the raw meat on top so it cooks quickly and during the lasagna’s baking time. As an added bonus, placing the meat on top has a delicious gravity effect. Juices from the cooking meat will go downward into the lasagna. This means more flavor in the lasagna!
Here are the ingredients I used to make this lasagna for dinner. Feel free to mix it up with your favorite ingredients, lasagna is fairly forgiving.
1/2 lb. lasagna pasta (uncooked)
1 large eggplant, thinly sliced (1/8″)
4 small zucchinis, thinly sliced (1/8″)
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1 jar spaghetti sauce of your choice
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan
2 cups ricotta
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried orgeano
3 sweet italian sausages with casings removed (optional)
The lasagna is constructed of alternating layers of sauce, cheese, pasta or veggies. For the sauce, in a bowl I mix 1 jar of spaghetti sauce with a cup of milk and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan. This creates a basic creamy tomato sauce that I like to think of as the rosé of pasta sauces.
In another bowl, prepare the creamy cheese layer by adding the ricotta, egg, basil, and oregano. Stir until blended.
Now, it’s time to begin layering. I always begin with a thin scoop of sauce on the bottom of the pan, then a layer of pasta. For my pan, 3 and a half strips of pasta fit in one layer. I then topped with a thin layer of the ricotta mixture and sprinkled with a 1/2 cup of mozzarella, and finally a couple scoops of sauce.
I repeated these steps and created the following layers – remember between each layer you spread with ricotta, sprinkle 1/2 cup mozzarella, and coat with a couple scoops of sauce.
5. mix of any leftover pasta, eggplant, zucchini
As you go from layer to layer, keep an eye on how much cheese and sauce you have left so that you use it evenly throughout the layering process. You should have an excess 1 cup mozzarella to top the lasagna. I crumbled the sausage which had been removed from its casing on top of the lasagna. I then topped with my remaining mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. I like the top to be golden so I do not cover it at all while baking. Since cooking time may vary based on your ingredients, use a sharp knife to poke through the lasagna to see if it feels done. If the knife slides in easily without having to push through any uncooked layers, then it’s done. Otherwise, bake an additional 15 minutes and check again.
It’s important to allow the lasagna to sit for 15-20 minutes before cutting. The juices are still dancing around and haven’t settled. The waiting time allows the lasagna to settle and makes serving it much easier.
I ate a huge piece and it was wonderful. The addition of sausage on top turned out to be a rather satisfying last minute addition!