What could be more comforting than a big pan of lasagna? Nothing, that's what. But lasagna can also be rather heavy and the caregivers I was cooking for lean much more to the light side. Searching my memory for a recipe that would be comforting but not anchoring, I remembered a veggie lasagna recipe that I've been making for years.
Back in my salad days, I worked for a couple of years as the manager of a dormitory on the Stanford University campus, Mirrielees House, while my first husband worked on his MBA. It is a big building, modern in style but keeping that Stanford look of cream walls and terra cotta tile roofs, filled with small one-bedroom apartments for unmarried students.
My job was not taxing - in fact, after a couple of weeks of virtual boredom, I felt compelled to confess to my boss's boss that I was wasting the university's money. He reassured me that my presence was important despite the long hours of doing nothing and urged me to bring books or knitting to while away the time. I got a lot of reading done during those two years. One of the ideas I came up with to kill time was to compile and print a cookbook of recipes from each apartment.
I put a notice in each mailbox and asked the students to contribute recipes they enjoyed. In those benighted pre-computer and pre-copier days, I typed out the recipes, drew little illustrations, ran off the copies on the ditto machine (which broke down frequently), collated and stapled the book. It even had beverage suggestions, a place for cooking notes and serving suggestions. It is called "The Pocket Gourmet" and includes this recipe for veggie lasagna that I have made ever since. I took two copies of the book for myself, and still have both. One is stained and dog-eared, the other pristine. All these years later, I am still very proud of conceiving and producing that funny little paperback book from start to finish.
As I worked on the lasagna, I was remembering the good times at Stanford - my wonderful African American boss who taught me so much about race relations and about patience with students, the fun of the Spouse Quarter Courses I took and learned that I was smarter than I thought, the apartment in Escondido Village (on-campus married student housing) that my first husband and I shared as newlyweds - it had radiant heating, something I have dreamed of having ever since. All that good karma went into the lasagna.
The dish was a hit with the caregivers and, since one of them is Molly Wizenberg, I feel particularly flattered and pleased. But now I'm just braggin'; here's the recipe:
Vegetable Lasagna, from the Pocket Gourmet, 1973
The best part about a recipe like this is that it's an outline - you can change it up and spiff it up any way you like, subbing in different veggies and using interesting cheeses. I also top this with mozzarella cheese before baking, although the original recipe didn't call for that.
16 oz can tomato sauce
10-12 mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 chopped onion
Green pepper (I always leave this out as green peppers don't like me)
Any other vegetable, chopped (I used carrots, scallions, garlic this time but I vary it with whatever I have on hand - zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, whatever)
Herbs to your taste - I usually use thyme, basil and sometimes a bay leaf, which I remove after cooking.
8 ounces ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (I have gotten fancy in my old age and now use ParmReg, freshly grated
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
8 ounces lasagna noodles, boiled to al dente in salted water
Chop the veggies. Brown the mushrooms in olive oil or butter, or both, add the tomato sauce and the rest of your veggies and simmer for about 45 minutes. Make filling by mixing the filling ingredients together and prepare the noodles according to package directions while the sauce is simmering.
Lay a layer of noodles into the bottom of a large baking dish or lasagna pan. Spread about 1/3 of the filling over the noodles and ladle about 1/3 of the sauce over that. Another two layers of noodles, filling and sauce. Top with slices of mozzarella cheese and bake for half an hour at 350 degrees.