There is something about the cold crisp autumn weather that just requires long cooking sessions in a warm cozy kitchen. It beckons you to pull out those comfort food recipes and make something delicious and heartwarming in order to fill the entire house with warmth. Those slow baked, home cooked meals are the ones that take you back home. Back to the happy moments when you were younger and your mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, sister or brother cooked for hours and hours. Prepared delicious meals that always tasted knocked you off your feet.
Early one Sunday morning, you take a walk to your local grocery store, maybe even a farmer’s market. The organic atmosphere of the friendly environment instantly makes you feel better. Sure you haven’t been eating the healthiest lately, but its all about to change tonight for dinner. You are determined to make something that is filled with vegetables. Something that wont fill you to the top with guilt. Everyone is strolling around checking out the stalls. Looking at the fresh produce, feeling for the “best” picks, perhaps even trying a few ripe juicy fruits. Amongst all of the environmentally friendly people, the recycle-loving, free-spirited people; there with the non-chemical, natural produce all around, you get the sudden urge to make a comfort dish that is not only healthy but satisfying. With a goal in mind you travel through the different vendors and pick the produce that is best for you and the lasagna you plan to make.
Zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, mushrooms, and fresh herbs. The ideas come cascading like a waterfall. A noodle free lasagna that would please any hungry appetite out there. Gluten-free but only by default, its the perfect dish to make in order to get on the healthy track. You arrive home, turn on the oven, and allow the grilling vegetables to fill your house with the aroma of summer; although you know that your right smack down in the middle of autumn. As the marinara sauce simmers, and you start to assemble the lasagna, you start to get excited and happy. While the lasagna bakes, you can’t decide which is more terrible, the 40 minutes you have to wait, and then the 20 minutes of cooling or the fact that you have to share with others. Satisfied you pull out the lasagna from the oven and allow it to rest before cutting. The solution to the problem; you serve yourself a big piece, and everyone else a smaller but modest piece. Enjoying every last bite, you vow that this will be added to your cooking repertoire. Content and more than happy, you sleep well at night because you know you’ve just had a healthy and satisfying meal; no guilt required.
We start off with our fresh organic farmer’s market vegetables. I have eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and flat leaf parsley.
Grab the zucchini.
Slice off the ends.
And now make 1/4 inch slices.
Is that even a 1/4 inch slice? I’m guessing….that seems about right.
Yea, we’re very precise here as you can see; just make some slices okay?!
Toss the slices into a large bowl.
Do the same with the summer squash.
And the eggplant.
Before we grill our veggies, lets make a tasty marinade for them. After all we’re trying to build up as much flavor as we can.
Since these grilled vegetables are taking the place of the lasagna noodles, they need to be the star of the whole show.
To make the marinade we need:
Red Pepper Flakes Onion Powder Oregano
Garlic Powder Kosher Salt Black Pepper
Fresh Thyme Fresh Rosemary Red Wine Vinegar
The next step is to add the extra virgin olive oil. You want to slowly stream in the oil as you whisk rapidly, to make sure the dressing gets well mixed.
And now chop up some fresh flat leaf parsley.
Add it to the dressing/marinade. You can actually use this recipe as a dressing for salads or couscous. It’s my go-to recipe for a lot of recipes. I like adding it to healthy meals to make them more tasty.
Today I am using it for these veggies, to add flavor when we grill them.
Whisk once more to incorporate the fresh cut herbs and pour it over the sliced vegetables.
Give the vegetables a good toss to coat each piece evenly with the marinade.
You can cover these with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to enhance and permeate the vegetables.
Meanwhile, as the vegetables marinate, let’s make our hearty marinara sauce.
Now, I’m no Italian and I don’t claim this to be an authentic marinara sauce. It is my take on a classic that I find to be delicious. Give it a try. Its perfect for this lasagna.
First things first, heat up a large pot over medium heat and add some olive oil.
Grab an onion, peel it, cut it in half, and give it a small dice. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The best part of comfort meals is that it can look rustic and hearty. Just hack away at the onion. Break it down.
Let’s not get all technical here…..we’ll leave the preciseness for our baking.
Add the chopped onion to the preheated pot.
Give it a stir and allow to saute.
Now for a little garlic.
Peel the garlic and mince it.
Add it to the sautéing onions.
Season with salt, pepper and a little crushed red pepper for a kick.
Next step is to peel a couple of carrots.
Again, give the carrots a rough chop. If you’d like to be precise, because it’s against your nature to do rustic and messy, well then give them a dice.
Add it to the party; the sautéing garlic and onions.
Toss and throw in a couple bay leaves. Fresh or dried, you decide.
Toss around and allow the carrots to cook for a bit.
Now for some mushrooms.
The guy at the farmer’s market insisted that I try his wonderful mushrooms (no comment). Needless to say, they were the best I’ve tasted.
Never rinse mushrooms by running them under water. This makes them tough and rubbery. No one likes rubbery mushrooms do
they? Do people go into restaurants and ask for mushrooms that have the consistency of rubber bands? That would be awful.
The way to give them a good cleaning is to dampen a cloth towel or paper towel and give the caps a brush.
Once all of the mushrooms are cleaned, remove the stems, and give the caps a slice.
Add the sliced mushrooms to the pot of cooking veggies.
Give them a stir and allow the veggie mixture to cook until the mushrooms are browned and caramelized.
You might want to add a little more salt and pepper at this time as well.
And now for some real flavor.
Pay close attention, because this is the most important step.
Yup, a little white vino. Not only does the wine add some great flavor, but it also deglazes the pan and picks up all the caramelized bits from the bottom.
Throw in a splash. This isn’t the time to break out the most expensive bottle of wine. Use one that is inexpensive and that you actually would drink a glass of, after all that flavor is going inside the sauce.
You know what? It needs more…
A little more…..
Give the sauce a stir and allow to simmer as the alcohol evaporates and the flavors intensify.
I’m not quite satisfied yet. I think it needs more wine.
Oh to hell with it, just add the rest. Might as well! Why not?
I would just like to make a note and say that I am NOT an alcoholic.
The bottle was not at all full…it was less than half. Okay with that being said, let get back to our sauce.
Now we can let it simmer and reduce.
In the meantime lets get the tomatoes.
I’m using two cans of whole peeled tomatoes in their juices. Dump them into a large bowl.
Using your hands, the best free handy tools any cook has with them at all times, break down the tomatoes and mush them up.
Once the tomatoes are all mushed up and broken down into small small small pieces, add it to the simmering vegetables.
Add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste.
Give it a stir, dissolving the paste into the sauce.
And now season with:
Give it another stir.
Put a lid on it.
Lower the flame.
And allow to simmer for a few minutes…..hours would be best.
Let’s put it this way, the longer it simmers, stirring occasionally, the better tasting marinara you will have!
As the marinara sauce is simmering away, grab the marinating vegetables from earlier.
Heat up a stove top grill over medium high heat.
Lay out the veggies, in batches since they all wont fit, and cook for about 3-5 minutes per sides.
Or until they develop grill marks.
Once cooked through on one side, and give them a flip and allow the second side to brown as well. About 3-4 minutes.
Continue to grill the vegetable slices.
Once one batch is down, transfer to a plate and allow to rest as you finish grilling the remaining veggies.
Allow to cool, slightly, so you can handle them without burning your fingers.
Now for the cheese part of this dish. No lasagna would be complete without…
I’m using ricotta, mozzarella shredded and sliced, parmesan and frozen (thawed) spinach.
First thing is to grab the ricotta and dump it into a large bowl.
Now open the frozen spinach and place it on a clean kitchen towel.
Wrap it up, and give it a good squeeze over the sink. Drain out all of the moisture and liquid in the spinach.
You don’t want to water down the cheese mixture.
Add it to the ricotta cheese.
Give it a stir and season with fresh cracked black pepper and a tiny little minuscule amount of nutmeg.
You waited long enough for…..
Just because there wasn’t a batter or baked good in sight, doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t find something to do.
He is versatile, what can I say?
And now that our veggies are grilled, our ricotta spinach mixture is mixed, and our marinara sauce is simmering away, let’s put the
finishing touches on that sauce.
Grab some basil and flat leaf parsley. Give them a rough chop and add it to the sauce.
And now we’re ready to start assembling.
We start off by putting a layer of marinara sauce at the bottom of a 9x13x2 pan. And then layering our veggies, alternating one piece of summer squash, one piece of zucchini and one piece of eggplant like so…
Continue the layering of the veggies until a whole layer is formed. Top the veggies with more marinara and spread a layer of half of the ricotta and spinach mixture.
And then sprinkle the shredded mozzarella on top and grated parmesan. Continue the layering process by repeating the steps until the rest of the veggies and ricotta spinach mixture is used up.
Once you get to the top, spread the final layer of marinara, Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and arrange the fresh mozzarella slices on top, in two rows. Place the baking dish over a foil lined baking sheet to catch any drippings while the lasagna is cooking.
Cover the lasagna with a sheet of foil paper, to prevent the top from browning too fast. Make sure to pinch it into a tent so that the cheese doesn’t stick to it.
Cook in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes.
Uncover the lasagna for the last 10 minutes. Turn on the broiler and allow the cheese to brown and bubble.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.
This step makes it easier to cut and remove from the pan.
Once cooled, cut yourself a big piece.
Go ahead, and have a jumbo piece, its super healthy after all….
Sure there’s a little cheese here and there, but we can afford it since it’s layered with fresh grilled vegetables.
I served it with tofu wild rice and a corn succotash (recipes and posts coming soon).
Heads up, you will have sauce left over, quite a bit actually; you’re welcome! Place it in a airtight container and store it in the fridge. I’ll show you a quick weeknight dinner you can make with it, on the next post. Promise.
It’s really good….you’ll be happy.
Okay, so back to our lasagna.
This lasagna is the perfect meal for any vegetarian. Although you don’t have to live a meat-free life in order to enjoy this dish. It is also a gluten-free meal since the grilled veggies take the place of the traditional lasagna noodles. The hearty pieces of eggplant and mushrooms give it that meaty heartiness to the dish without actual meat. Whether you feel like eating healthier, one night out of the week, I mean come one, I can’t do vegetarian gluten-free meals every night of the week, I wouldn’t last. It’s the best meal to make when you’ve been eating a little too guiltily and need a little healthy pick-me up break. Enjoy.
Grilled Vegetable Lasagna
A gluten-free, vegetarian meal that would please all meat-eaters and meat-freers alike.
For the Grilled Vegetables:
- 2 Large Zucchini
- 2 large Yellow Squash
- 2 Medium/Small Eggplants
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flake
- 1 tsp Onion Powder
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp dried Oregano
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Fresh Thyme
- 1 tsp Fresh Rosemary
- 1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
- 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 Fresh Chopped Parsley
For the Marinara Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 medium Yellow Onion
- 2 Garlic Cloves
- 1/2 Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 2 Medium Carrots
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Pound Crimini Mushrooms
- 1 Cup White Wine, I used Sauvignon Blanc
- 2 Large cans of Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp Onion Powder
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Paprika
- 1 tsp Oregano
- 1/4 cup chopped Fresh Basil
- 1/4 cup chopped Fresh Parsley
For the Lasagna:
- 2 cups Ricotta Cheese
- 1 Box Frozen Spinach, thawed
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
- 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 8 slices fresh Mozzarella Cheese
Preheat the oven to 350.
Wash the zucchini, summer squash and eggplant. Cut off the ends, and slice each vegetable in 1/4 inch pieces. Put the slices in a large bowl. To make the marinade combine all of the spices, along with the vinegar. Slowly stream in the olive oil as you whisk rapidly to ensure that the oil mixes with the vinegar. Chop the parsley and add it to the dressing. Give it a whisk. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss completely. Cover with plastic wrap, place in the fridge and allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes. Several hours would be better.
Meanwhile, make the marinara sauce. Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Chop the onion and garlic, and saute in the pot with a little olive oil. About 3 tablespoons. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Saute for about 10 minutes until the onions are translucent and just barely caramelized. Chop the carrots and add them, stirring and continuing to cook for another 4-6 minutes. Toss in the bay leaves.
Rub the mushrooms clean, remove the stems, and slice them. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pot and saute along with the veggies, until the mushrooms are browned. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Stir constantly, picking up the drippings from the bottom of the pan. Allow to simmer and reduce so that the alcohol can evaporate.
In a large bowl, empty out the two whole tomato cans. using your hands, smush and mush the tomatoes until they are all broken down. Add the tomatoes to the pan. Throw in the tomato paste and the rest of the seasonings, reserving the basil and parsley until later. Cover the marinara sauce, reduce the flame and allow to simmer for several minutes, again, hours would be better. After it has simmered, add the chopped basil and parsley, mix.
While the marinara is cooking, grill the vegetables. Remove the marinating veggies from the fridge, and preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Place the vegetable slices on the grill in a single layer. Grill on the one side for about 5-7 minutes, until grill marks appear. Flip over the veggies and allow the second side to cook for 3-5 minutes longer. Work in batches as all the vegetables wont fit, removing the finished ones onto a plate to rest. Once all the vegetables are grilled allow to cool.
To make the spinach ricotta layer, mix the ricotta, thawed and drained frozen spinach, pepper and nutmeg.
Once the veggies are grilled, the marinara has simmered for a while, the ricotta spinach mixture is mixed, assemble the lasagna. Grab a 9x13x2 inch baking dish. First, spread a layer of marinara sauce. Then layer, alternating, the zucchini, summer squash and eggplant, until it forms one complete layer. Spread another layer of marinara sauce. Spread half of the ricotta spinach mixture, top with parmesan and shredded mozzarella cheese. Continue to layer repeating the same steps. A layer of veggies, marinara, the rest of the ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Then add the final veggie layer. Top with more marinara sauce. Arrange the fresh sliced mozzarella cheese on top in two rows.
Place the baking dish on a foil lined baking pan to catch the drippings. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for about 40 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes. Turn on the broiler and allow the cheese to brown and bubble on top. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes. Cut and serve. Enjoy.