I Love Lasagna and Happy Mother’s Day!

This meal is in honor of Mother’s Day! Last summer my mom and I took a vacation to Disneyworld. It was the first time either of us had ever been and it was so much fun! We stayed at the Movie All-Stars resort and we were able to go to Epcot, Magical Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Truly an amazing trip and it was so great to get to hang out just my mom and I. One night we made dinner reservations for Tony’s Town Square in the Magic Kingdom. We both ordered the vegetable lasagna and it was actually pretty darn good. Of course the portion sizes were huge so we wound up wishing we just would have shared (but then I wouldn’t have been able to eat ALL of the cheesy top so maybe it was better that way). Since that time I have had vegetable lasagna on my to-try list.

Part of the trouble with lasagna is that it makes a ton. It was just me eating the lasagna last night so I didn’t want to make a 9×13 pan. I initially planned on using a small Le Crueset baker that I have but after pulling it out I thought the sides weren’t tall enough. I wanted to have lots of room for cheesy goodness in my lasagna. I looked around the rest of my bakeware and finally I decided that my 9×5 bread pan was best suited for the small lasagna job. It worked out perfectly! I think as is this recipe would serve 3 people perfectly, or in my case dinner and leftovers for 2 lunches.

This lasagna was DELICIOUS! The bechamel sauce added a rich flavor that went so well with the tangy tomatoes. I used zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, and spinach, but this recipe is so adaptable you could really use any of your favorite vegetables. Eggplant and bell peppers would make an excellent addition. Play around and see what combination you like best!

Bread Pan Vegetable Lasagna

Vegetable filling –
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 zucchini, sliced
1/2 yellow squash, sliced
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 (14 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice
1/2 tsp dry basil
1/2 tsp dry oregano
pinch of rosemary
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

Ricotta filling-
8 ounces (1 cup) ricotta cheese
1/3 cup frozen spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out
1/3 cup shredded italian cheese blend (or a mix of mozzarella and parmesan)
1 egg, lightly beaten
3-4 large fresh basil leaves (cut in a Chiffonade)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Bechamel sauce- (adapted from Mario Betali)
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg

1 1/3 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
6 no-boil lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the zucchini, squash, onion, mushrooms and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes or until the onions start to turn translucent. Add the seasonings and can of whole tomatoes. Use a wooden spoon to break apart the whole tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer while you make the bechamel sauce.

In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, melt the butter. While the butter is melting heat the milk in the microwave for 1 minute and 30 seconds. When the butter is melted, slowly add the flour whisking constantly. After 4 minutes, when the butter is a light golden color, slowly add the hot milk whisking constantly. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking often. Cook for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and add the salt and nutmeg. (during this time I made the ricotta mixture, remembering to whisk often) Then remove from heat and set aside until ready to assemble the lasagna.

In a small bowl combine the ricotta, Italian cheese, spinach, egg, basil, salt and pepper.

Pour a small amount of bechamel sauce into the bottom of a 9×5 bread pan. Lay one whole lasagna noodle and break a piece off of another to fill the pan (about 1/3 of another noodle). Continue to layer the ingredients in the following order:

1. Noodle
2. 1/3 of the Ricotta cheese mixture
3. 1/3 of the Vegetable mixture
4. 1/3 cup Shredded cheese
5. 1/3 cup Bechamel sauce

After the 3rd group of layers, top off the lasagna with another noodle, the last of the Bechamel sauce and the last 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.

Cover the bread pan with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. (I also gave mine 2 minutes under the broiler to make the cheese a deeper golden brown)

Side Dish or Main Course?

If Jesse were home he would probably really enjoy this meal, but he wouldn’t really call it a meal. You see, in most cases, Jesse doesn’t consider it a main course if it doesn’t contain meat. It doesn’t matter if it is beef, chicken, pork or even a fish, it just needs to have some sort of meat. I know he would love this as a side dish to maybe grilled chicken or a steak, but I kind of like this as a main course because it is a complete protein without having the meat in it. I won’t become a vegetarian anytime in the near future, but every once in a while it’s nice to have a meatless option that is still filling. Especially with the price of meat in California.

I made this the first night Jesse was in China because I didn’t have any meat except some frozen chicken breast and I was a little chickened out at the time. It was so good that I thought about it over the weekend and by Monday night I had a full blown craving. By Tuesday I didn’t have a choice, I had to make it again. So call it a side dish or a main course, either way, it’s delicious.

Black Beans and Rice

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced yellow or red onion
1/2 cup bell pepper cut into strips, * (red, yellow, green or all 3)
1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely diced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 can (14.5 ounces) black beans, drained
1/2 can petite diced tomatoes, drained (or 1 small tomato, diced)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
dash of smoked paprika
3/4 cup chicken broth **
1 tbsp dry parsley or cilantro for topping
black pepper to taste
2 cups cooked jasmine or basmati rice

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet. With the heat on medium, add the onion, bell peppers, and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the kosher salt and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Next, add the black beans, tomato, and seasonings. Reduce heat to low and stir in the chicken broth and let simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the beans are heated through. Serve immediately over rice.

* Obviously fresh bell peppers are always the best, but they can be pricey and sometimes go bad before being used. I started buying a frozen pack of precut tricolor bell peppers (kind of like this). They are perfect for quick weeknight meals. And it’s nice to have the trio of peppers without wasting half of each color pepper for smaller meals.

** I only used a half of a cup of chicken broth tonight and it was just a touch dry.