Tag Archives: Lasagna

Vegetable and goat cheese lasagna

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.

veggie goat cheese lasagna

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Cheesy mushroom lasagna

I made this lasagna as dinner for our New Year’s party. And it made my boyfriend believe in lasagna again. His exact words? “I used to think that lasagna was gross. But this is, like…actually good.” Followed by, “I think this is the best lasagna I’ve eaten in maybe…ever.”

This, my friends, is a lasagna to be reckoned with: decadent, woodsy, gooey, salty, cheesy, meaty, dense. It’s also an elaborate project. There are noodles to prepare (more on that in a minute); a head of radicchio, sliced and roasted; a pile of mushrooms, sauteed to golden-edged limpness and doused with white wine; a pungent, garlicky white sauce; and four–count ’em, four–different cheeses. This is an all-afternoon Sunday kind of meal, for showing lots of love or making a great impression. And if you persevere, you will be rewarded with the richest, tangiest, most profoundly savory mushroom lasagna you’ve ever tasted.

Because this is a special-occasion dish, the mushrooms matter. You could use a jumble of fresh wild mushrooms, if they’re available and affordable. They weren’t when I went shopping, so I cheated. I used a mixture of fresh and dried mushrooms–in this case, a pound of creminis and an ounce each of dried shiitakes and dried oyster mushrooms, soaked in hot water until pliable. The dried mushrooms are damply intense, the fresh ones are meaty, and together they’re dark and murky and altogether perfect.

Oh, and about those lasagna noodles: I know you’re supposed to boil them first. But I don’t like the slippery wateriness that sneaks into many lasagnas that way, and besides, I don’t have a pot big enough to fit the noodles without cracking them. So this time, I took a cue from my dried mushrooms: I laid the lasagna noodles flat in a pan, covered them with boiling water, and let them soak while I prepped the other ingredients. The result? Supple, completely intact noodles that reached the perfect al dente texture in the oven. I’ll never boil a lasagna noodle again.

cheesy mushroom lasagna

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Mushroom lasagna

Riddle me this. When it’s a Monday, and you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open at work, and you can feel your exhaustion slowly sliding into something like a low-grade fever, what’s the normal-person response?

A. Tough it out at your desk until the end of the workday.

B. Hide in the supply closet with a mug of tea and a sweater.

C. Go home early and sleep.

D. Go home early and spend an hour and a half at the stove making mushroom lasagna with bechamel sauce, from scratch.

Yeah. Turns out I’m not so normal.

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