This has been a bonanza year for people who like to complain about the weather. Between the drought in California and the…well, not-drought everywhere else, it’s been a strange, unsettling, and dangerous stretch of time. But–and I may be jinxing myself by saying this–it seems like things are starting to return to a sort of normal. At least, it’s been somewhat rainy in NorCal, the way it should be in spring.
This is the time of year when burly, rib-sticking meals are giving way to lighter, livelier fare. And for a rainy weekend afternoon, I think a vegetable lasagna is the perfect kitchen project. It’s got lots of little steps, none of which is particularly demanding: lots of chopping, some stirring, some simmering. It involves a bit of construction, layering sauce and pasta and cheese in a pan, but there’s no reason to worry about making it pretty or neat–in fact, the chunkier and more homemade it looks, the better. And it includes some of that precious oven-waiting time that’s so lovely on a wet day, when you can sit at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and enjoy the fact that the rain is outside and you’re inside.
The other great thing about a veggie lasagna for spring is how flexible it is. Any combination of in-season and in-fridge vegetables will work beautifully, as long as they’re cooked tender but not mushy before layering. The lasagna can be made as rich or as restrictive as you like, depending on how much cheese and pasta you work into it. I like a tomato-based sauce, personally, but spring vegetables take perfectly well to a cream or cheese sauce as well–or you could use both red and white sauces, if you’re in particularly ambitious spirits. The only thing I think is required is a generous shower of Parm on top.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I went over to my parents’ house and puttered around for a few hours making a lasagna. I decided not to try for anything particularly seasonal, and just to go with the vegetables that seemed appealing and easy: mushrooms, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and broccoli. I also mixed in a fat log of goat cheese with the more traditional ricotta, figuring that the animal tang of it would do nicely to perk up the vegetables. It was a very good decision: the sharp goat cheese and milky ricotta tasted so good together that I couldn’t stop dipping my spoon into the mixing bowl. The lasagna came together just as I’d hoped, with tender vegetables, a bubbling tomato sauce, and that familiar ricotta graininess. As a one-pan meal on a gloomy day, it was just about perfect.
Vegetable and Goat Cheese Lasagna (serves 6-8)
Adapted from Pioneer Woman
For the vegetable filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 lb white (button) or brown (cremini) mushrooms, diced
4 large or 6-8 small garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes, or to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
Florets from 1 bunch broccoli, cut or broken into very small pieces
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
For the cheese filling:
1 (16 oz) container whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature
8 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To finish the lasagna:
10-12 oz lasagna noodles (about 12-15 noodles)
Boiling water for soaking the noodles
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
In a large deep-sided skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and sweat for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and starting to color. Add mushrooms and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, or until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and started to brown around the edges. Add garlic, chile flakes, and oregano, and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until fragrant.
Add bell pepper, zucchini, carrot, and broccoli, and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes, or until the vegetables are just starting to soften. Add tomatoes, using your spoon or spatula to break them up into small chunks. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep it at a steady simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the mixture is saucy, the vegetables are tender, and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat, season with salt to taste, and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine ricotta, goat cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. Mix until smooth, and set aside.
Lay the lasagna noodles flat in a deep-sided dish. Pour over boiling water to cover, and let the noodles soak for 15-30 minutes, or until they’re pliable. (You may want to move the noodles around after a few minutes to make sure they’re not sticking to each other.) Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350º F, and place a rack in the top third of the oven. Spread a small amount of the vegetable mixture over the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Place a layer of noodles over the vegetables, tearing the noodles into pieces as needed to cover the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the cheese mixture over the noodles, then top with about 1/3 of the remaining vegetables. Add another layer of noodles, the rest of the cheese mixture, and another 1/3 of the vegetables. Lay down a final layer of noodles, and spoon over the rest of the vegetables. Sprinkle the top evenly with Parmesan.
Lightly butter or grease a sheet of aluminum foil. Cover the pan tightly with the foil, greased side down. Bake on the top rack for 20-25 minutes, or until the lasagna is warm all the way through. Remove the foil, increase the oven temperature to 400º F, and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese on top is starting to brown.
Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve warm. If there are leftovers, cut them into squares, wrap each square tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap, and freeze for up to 2 months.