CHEF JEFF: Lasagna good for busy holiday seasonThe holidays can be a busy time. There’s shopping to do, cookies to bake and decorations to be put up. The key is planning and doing a lot of the cooking and food preparation ahead of time. One dish that people should take a look at for their holiday needs is lasagna.
The holidays can be a busy time. There’s shopping to do, cookies to bake and decorations to be put up.
And that doesn’t include getting together with friends and family to reconnect and catch up, especially if they might get home only once or twice a year.
With all of those things to do — plus more if you count church events, work parties and the like — it can be awfully hard to find time to prepare food if you are hosting a sit-down dinner for a full house.
The key is planning and doing a lot of the cooking and food preparation ahead of time.
One dish that people should take a look at for their holiday needs is lasagna. (Is there anyone on earth who doesn’t like lasagna?)
Not only is lasagna the perfect make-ahead dish, it’s a great comfort food, can feed a lot of people and is filling and satisfying.
Lasagna, like most pasta dishes, may be prepared up to 24 hours ahead of time, refrigerated (covered) and then baked. (It also may be prepared and frozen (unbaked) for up to two months.)
Unbeknownst to me, lasagna is pretty popular during the holidays. At least a half-dozen or so of my friends have a tradition of serving this Italian classic on Christmas Eve each year. (Some Brits may dispute the dish’s origins, based on a book published in 14th-century England during the reign of Richard II, in which researchers declared that it originated in England and was called loseyns — pronounced lasan — which consisted of layering pasta, cheese and meat.)
Lasagna that contains meat and lots of cheese is the kind most of us grew up with and is one of those meals that can eat up a day’s worth of calories.
A healthier option is vegetable lasagna, which can have all the robust flavor and texture of its traditional cousin as well as being a more well-balanced meal option, a good source of vitamins and minerals and a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat and calories.
The best ones feature ingredients such as eggplant — a good source of fiber along with some vitamin B6 — marinara and spinach, which add deep color and important nutrients such as folate, vitamins A and C and cancer- fighting carotenoids. (My veggie lasagna contains eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and parsley.)
Here are some tips to consider if you are thinking about making lasagna:
• Decrease the amount of meat in recipe by half.
• Use a lighter version, such as ground turkey, lean ground beef or chicken sausage.
• Replace half of the noodles with zucchini or eggplant sliced lengthwise. Broil the zucchini or eggplant for a few minutes for a light brownness on the surfaces. Alternate between whole-grain lasagna noodles and the zucchini or eggplant as you layer your lasagna.
• Use fat-free or low-fat ricotta cheese in the lasagna. Use low-fat mozzarella where the recipe calls for shredded cheese.
• Dried herbs are better when baking because fresher herbs will lose their flavor when baked.
• Cottage cheese is a good substitute for ricotta.
• Do not use powdered processed Parmesan cheese; grate it fresh for better flavor.
• Buy grated or shredded cheese to save time.
• If lasagna contains frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze-dry by hand.
• Add sauce to the bottom of the pan to keep pasta from sticking.
• Cover lasagna dish with foil before placing it in the oven. During the last 10 to 15 minutes, remove the foil, add a layer of cheeses and let it slightly brown on top.
• Let lasagna sit for 15 minutes before cutting it. During that time, you can bake garlic bread and make a simple salad.
And don’t forget, an afternoon of prep can save you a chunk of time during this busy holiday season.
Tiedeman is the food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
3 cups sliced zucchini
3 cups sliced mushrooms
3 cups eggplant, peeled and quartered
2 red peppers, seeded and sliced
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
8 cups plum or Roma tomatoes, quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced
½ teaspoon fennel seed
18 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 15-ounce container low-fat ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Nonstick cooking spray
9 no-boil lasagna noodles
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have ready 2 large sided baking sheets, such as a jelly roll pan.
On 1 baking sheet, place the zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant and red peppers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons oregano, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and toss to coat.
On the other baking sheet, toss the tomato wedges with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, remaining 1 teaspoon oregano, fennel seed, ¼ teaspoon black pepper and red pepper flakes.
Place both in the oven and roast uncovered for 15 minutes. Turn the vegetables over and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Remove roasted vegetables and roasted tomatoes from oven.
Carefully place the tomatoes and all pan juices in a bowl and add the sugar and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Mash the tomatoes to create a sauce.
In a medium-sized bowl combine the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, parsley and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper; set aside.
Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. To begin layering the lasagna, place about Zc cup of tomato sauce in the baking dish, spreading to cover the bottom of the dish. Top with 3 noodles, half the ricotta cheese mixture, half the roasted vegetable mixture and ¼ cup of the tomato sauce. Begin again with 3 noodles, remaining cheese mixture, remaining roasted vegetables and remaining 3 noodles. Top noodles with remaining tomato sauce and a ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake lasagna uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes or until edges are bubbly and the cheese topping is golden brown.
Yield: Serves 10.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 277 calories, 42 percent of calories from fat, 13 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 26 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 369 milligrams sodium, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 284 milligrams calcium, 4 grams fiber.