After an unplanned, unannounced and unceremonious sabbatical from blogging, I am returning to my few but faithful readers with a recipe, in part to point out that I am a finalist in the Foodista 'Best of Food Blogs' cookbook contest. If I am selected, one (or two?) of my recipes will be included in a real world published cookbook (BTW, I finally added pictures to my gumbo recipe for anyone who is interested). I didn't start this blog to be about food entirely, but as cooking is one of my passions the blog became at least partially about food as it relates to sustainability, and I am glad that it did, because cooking (and eating) good food brings me great joy.
A few days back, Courtney and I made one of those throw together weeknight meals that usually succeed only at sustaining one's body for another day or two, but we were pleasantly surprised by the results. We made lasagna with some brown rice pasta noodles that had been sitting in our cupboard for some time, and by adding a few choice ingredients we took it form the realm of 'bland though filling' to 'can't wait to have that recipe again.' Basically, we prepared a straight forward lasagna but threw in to each layer a sporadic sprinkling of fresh red bell pepper (chopped finely) and fresh basil leaves (whole).
Italian cuisine is ideal for communal cooking. I am reminded of the scene in Good Fellas when the main character serves a short prison sentence and the mobsters all have their own private, minimum security wing. They spend all day, every day, preparing elaborate meals with the finest ingredients they can bribe the guards to bring them. One guy does the sauce, one guy does the pasta, etc. The work is easy to break up, most of it is fairly simple, and you can socialize in the kitchen while doing it. Lasagna is particularly good for a small group or a family to prepare together, as you assemble the layers each person can be responsible for one or two ingredients.
And of course, cooking vegetarian makes this a greener meal, since no methane producing grain eating animals were harvested to bring it to table. So, without further ado,
Vegetarian Lasagna (Gluten Free):
1 package Gluten Free Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles
3 or 4 cups of your favorite Canned Pasta Sauce, or homemade
2 cup Ricotta Cheese (or more as needed)
2 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated (or more as needed)
1 cup Chopped Spinach (frozen is fine)
1 Red Bell Pepper, julienne or diced
1 hand full Fresh Basil Leaves
1 tsp. Sea Salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. Cracked Black Pepper (or to taste)
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
Optional: Cayenne pepper and Paprika to taste
Cook the noodles in a large pot filled with boiling water for several minutes, until they are soft enough to work with but still quite al dente, as they will continue to cook in the oven and it is easy to over cook rice noodles. In a small sauce pan, bring the tomato sauce to a boil, then add the spinach. While the noodles and spinach are cooking, prepare the other ingredients: wash and chop the bell pepper, wash the basil leaves, grate the mozzarella, etc. When noodles are ready, empty pot into a strainer and rinse noodles with cold water to arrest cooking.
Preheat Oven to 400F. Grease a 9x12 (or sized to your noodles) pan with the olive oil, and lay one layer of noodles on the bottom. Cover the noodles with a portion of the sauce and spinach mixture. Over the sauce, sprinkle some of the mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, Some of the Red Bell Pepper and the Basil. Cover with another layer of noodles and repeat until out of ingredients. Make sure to reserve a portion of cheese large enough to cover the top layer, as it will melt and form a golden brown crust in the oven.
Bake the assembled lasagna in the oven for about 30 minutes. Check periodically, when the cheese on top forms a gratin-like crust, it is done. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Should make about 6 portions. Refrigerate for several days, or freeze for-almost-ever (use common sense). Reheats very well in the oven or microwave.
This recipe is extremely versatile. Add one or two of whatever vegetables you have around, as a replacement for or in addition to the bell pepper and spinach. Hard, root vegetables (like potatoes) should be par cooked.
For some protein, consider adding pine nuts, crushed walnuts, or cooked beans to the layers. Any ground meat or sausage will also go well, but then the meal would be less green. Similarly, canned tuna or other flaky fish will work well.
For more variety in your variety, try replacing the sauce with pesto (result will be dryer), Alfredo or other cream sauce. I recommend against Vodka sauce, or any other sauce with a lot of cheese added, as there is a ton of cheese in the recipe already.
Speaking of cheese, Parmesan also goes very well. Replace some or all of the Mozzarella with grated Parmesan if preferred.