Monday, June 1, 2009

Supportive Supper

I had been dreaming of making vegetable lasagna for a couple of weeks when a young friend's emergency trip to the hospital gave me the perfect motivation - her family is vegetarian and needed some hot dish love.

I got the basic recipe from a student at Stanford when I worked there years and years ago. We compiled a fun little cookbook called The Mirrielees House Pocket Gourmet from recipes the students' mothers had given them. I did all the typing (no computers back then!), design, layout, art work, mimeographing and assembling of the book, so it is precious to me. My copy, however, is all spattered with years of cooking juices, especially the page with the recipe for veggie lasagna.

I can't say that I make this from scratch - I use packaged noodles, frozen chopped spinach, store-bought cheeses and canned tomatoes. To those, I add all kinds of veggies, depending on what looks good in the store, and lots of herbs. This lasagna is not as heavy as traditional meat lasagna - you can have a second helping without regretting it later. It's a bit of a chore to make but worth the effort once you are sitting down to a steaming plate.

The recipe in the book is pretty sketchy so I will flesh it out a little here but it's one of those where you can really add whatever you like in the way of veggies and herbs and it will still be delicious.

Mirrielees House Vegetable Lasagna

1 15 oz can tomato sauce (I sometimes add a can of chopped tomatoes, too)
15-20 small fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 large chopped onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 green (or colorful) pepper
any other vegetables (I typically use carrots, zucchini, pattypan or summer squash, cauliflower)
1 cup dry red wine
a big pinch of herbs de provence, and/or basil, oregano, thyme - whatever herbs you like
salt, pepper

16 oz ricotta cheese
8 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 package lasagna noodles (8 oz package to make a small pan of lasagna)

Grated mozzarella cheese for the top

Cut up the veggies in a coarse chop. Brown the mushrooms in olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Once the mushrooms are browned, add the onion and garlic and soften them, then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes or an hour, uncovered.

While the sauce is bubbling away, mix the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses with the thawed spinach. You can squeeze out the spinach if it's very watery - otherwise, I just mix it in. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add a little salt and the lasagna noodles and cook until they are pale but still firm. They will cook more in the sauce so you don't want to overcook them now. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to make them easier to handle and to keep them from sticking together.

When the sauce is ready, cover in a thin layer of sauce the bottom of your lasagna pan to keep the first layer of noodles from sticking to the pan. How big a pan you need depends on how much sauce you have made. Sometimes, I can fit it all into an 8" square pan - other times, I really need a larger one. I'd err on the side of one too large, rather than too small.

Lay in a layer of noodles, then filling, then sauce. Repeat until you have used up all your ingredients, ending with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella and cover the pan with foil, crimping the edges to seal. Can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour (30 minutes if you didn't refrigerate), uncovering for the last 15 minutes to allow the cheese on top to brown lightly. Remove from oven and let stand for about 15 minutes to firm it up and to cool it a bit - otherwise, it's too hot to eat.


I have it on good authority that even small children enjoy this lasagna, despite the spinach; my friend's young son had two big helpings. She is doing well, by the way, sailed through the surgery in fine style and was texting messages to Facebook within an hour of waking up. Happy ending for us, too, as we kept our own pan of lasagna to enjoy at home.

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Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

Glad to read your friend is ok.
The very best recipes are the besplattered ones,don't you think?

Monday, June 01, 2009  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

You made me drool for lasagna.
Oh noes! I can no longer digest fresh cheeses! (This might turn out to be harder than I first believed!)
You are a good friend, Zoomie.

Monday, June 01, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Morgan, not only okay but headed home already and, yes, kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit, the best recipes are well used.

Cookiecrumb, are you sure? I'd have to have that confirmed by three experts before I'd give up lasagna! But, knowing you, you'll figure out how to adapt the recipe using some non-dairy magic.

Monday, June 01, 2009  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I have a lot of 'sperimentin' left to do. I'm off cheese entirely this week, and may reintroduce it next week. It'll be fine. No cream in the vichyssoise; tant pis. But tofu is an amazing substitute, and then there are the nut creams and "cheeses." Cool. I'm a vegan.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Cookiecrumb, did you _ever_ put cream in your vichyssoise? Seems too traditional for you and Cranky. Hope you find that you can tolerate some cheeses since they are so yummy - maybe it's just the empty stomach that rebels?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009  

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