Monday, January 9, 2012

Recipe Walk-Through: Complete Beginner's Easy 5 Ingredient Vegetarian Lasagna

This weekend I had some friends over, and I decided to cook something versus our usual pizza or potluck approach. When I asked my one girlfriend, "How about veggie lasagna?", her reaction was (pause) "You're going to make that?"

Yup, that's the reputation I have among my friends when it comes to the culinary arts.

But yes, I was going to make that, and guess what -- I did! And it turned out pretty darn good if I do say so myself.

I started with this recipe from Food.com. I knew I wanted to make a vegetarian lasagna (I'm not a vegetarian, but I wanted something light), and I also wanted something simple since I'm new at this, and I didn't want to have to shop for a bunch of ingredients.

The recipe calls for:
  • 1 28 ounce jar pasta sauce (we already had a big jar of Prego, so I used some of that)
  • 8 ounces no-boil lasagna noodles (I had no idea what 8 ounces of lasagna noodles looks like, but we had an almost-full box that said 16 oz. on it, so I figured that'd be fine)
  • 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups lightly steamed vegetables (I bought a little bag of green beans, 3 zucchini, and 2 yellow squash; we already had a bag of carrots at home--turned out to be about twice as much as I needed!)
  • 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese (I got a 16 oz. bag of shredded cheese)

My supplies
You'll also need a casserole dish (or whatever you like to use to bake lasagna in), a microwave-safe bowl for steaming the vegetables, a little mixing bowl, cling wrap, tinfoil, a knife, a spoon, and a spatula.

So here we go. I did NOT preheat the oven from the get-go, because I prepared the lasagna in the afternoon to put in the oven later that night. My mom said that was a good idea anyway with lasagna to let everything soak in. Anyone else do that?

My first step then was to cut the vegetables. I used a paring knife to slice them up in no particular fashion. I just tried to keep the pieces relatively small since I prefer my veggies inconspicuous.
I wanted lots of veggies, so I actually ended up using about 2 cups of yellow squash.
I did just one cup of green beans because they're not my favorite.
I did somewhere between 1-2 cups of zucchini, then 2 medium-sized carrots (not pictured)
Right in the ingredients it says "lightly steamed vegetables." I am not ashamed to say I had no idea how to steam veggies, lightly or otherwise. After a quick Google search, I put all of the veggies I cut up in a microwave-safe casserole dish and added a layer of water (just so it peeked above the veggies).
In some parts you can see how the water is just covering all but the top layers of veggies
Then I covered the dish with plastic wrap, and left one corner uncovered so that it wouldn't explode and burn the kitchen down in a fiery mess (that would certainly start this blog off with a bang, eh? pun nerdily intended).
Note the uncovered corner
Based on my extremely brief Google research, I determined that the mean steam time for my particular vegetables would be about 5 minutes. So I popped it in the microwave and continued with the next few steps while they were steaming.

Next, the recipe said to cover the bottom of a 9"x13" casserole dish with a thin layer of sauce. I used a slightly smaller dish because our 9x13 one looked too shallow to me. I didn't adjust the recipe, and it worked fine.
Thin layer of sauce at bottom of dish
I then added a layer of noodles. The noodles were longer than my dish, so I had to break them. It did not look pretty, but I was fine with that.
Notice the splash from dropping rather than setting in the noodles!
Somewhere around this point the microwave beeped, so I took out the steamed vegetables (I did have enough common sense to use mitts) and brought them over to the counter.

The next step was to prepare the ricotta by dumping it out in a small mixing bowl and adding 1/4 cup of water. I stirred it up until the water was mixed in well.
Ricotta with water just added - appetizing, no?
All blended
Once the ricotta was blended, I plopped 1/3 of it over the noodles and used a small spatula to spread it around.
The recipe then said to spread "1/3 of the remaining pasta sauce" over the ricotta. However, I started with a bigger jar than what was called for in the recipe, so I just added what I thought was a good amount to cover the cheese. I didn't want it to be a really saucy lasagna (my friends and I are saucy enough ourselves, ooh la la!), but do whatever you think you'll like.
Sauce over the ricotta
After I spread the sauce around with the spatula, it looked like this.
Then it was time for veggies! I drained them because there was still quite a bit of water, then I just eyeballed it to add about 1/3 to the casserole.
First vegetable layer
The next step was to add 1/3 of the mozzarella. Again, I had a different starting amount than what was called for. The recipe said 8 ounces total, so I looked at my mom's cabinet cheat sheet and saw that one 8 oz.=1 cup, so I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup to see how much cheese I needed.
In what world is that enough mozzarella? 
After I put that on top of the veggies, it didn't look like enough to me, so I just used my non-professional judgment for cheese distribution from that point on.

Then I just repeated twice, starting with the noodles and ending with the mozzarella.
Layer two of noodles
At the end of the prep stage, here's what I ended up with.
Looks pretty yummy, right?
This whole process took between 20-30 minutes, way shorter than I thought it would. I was pretty proud of myself for preparing this solo and with no issues.

Later that night, I preheated the oven to 350°F and topped the dish with aluminum foil. I put it in the oven and set the timer for 60 minutes, and I removed the foil when 5 minutes were left (another tip from Mom).
Ta-da!
The final verdict? Everyone said it was delicious, but I wouldn't put it past them to be extra nice since it was my first attempt! I'm an honest self-critic though, and I was very happy with how it turned out. I wished the vegetables were a little more tender--would longer steaming time have done that? I also might add some oregano or something to add some more flavor. For a first try though, I was very pleased.

Do you have any easy lasagna recipes? Any tips to make mine better? Also, if you try my recipe out, let me know how it goes!

8 comments:

  1. Nice. Love the pictures, and I can vouch for her lasagna. It WAS delicious.

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  2. @Kate Thanks. I think YOU'RE delicious!

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  3. Nice, a vegetarian dish for your first trick! Glad you're finding it fun to experiment with food, and I'm looking forward to following your new blog :) I love to cook, and I love veggie lasagne, so is it OK if I give you a few tips for yours? 1. Although the veggies would cook a bit in the oven, I'm betting the carrots and maybe the green beans were a bit too crunchy, but the squash were all good? Carrots take longer to cook (and everybody has a different preference for green beans, but they usually take about 10-15 minutes in the steamer). Carrots, potatoes, and other root veg take slightly longer to steam or boil, 15 minutes + depending on how you slice them. Your options are to either cook the root veggies for a while first before adding in the softer veg (zucchini, squash, peppers, etc.), OR cut the root veg much smaller/thinner.
    2. You're right, herbs are always better :) I usually blend some Italian mixed herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary etc), salt, and pepper directly into my ricotta. But maybe your Prego had enough herbs in it anyway :)

    Can't wait for the next one!

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  4. Also, if you're looking for tried-and-true recipes, the people at Moosewood Restaurant are definitely the best in the vegetarian cookery business. Here's their blog, where they post their own recipes: http://www.moosewoodcooks.com/blog/ Some of it's fancy, but a lot of it is quite simple (and makes you wonder why you didn't think of putting this with that), and it's all restaurant quality and vegetarian (they do include fish sometimes). Good luck :)

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  5. Thanks for the suggestions, Whitney! They are certainly welcome. You're right that the zucchini and squash were just right, but the carrots and beans were too crunchy for my taste. I'll keep that in mind for next time that they need to be steamed longer. And thanks for Moosewood lead!

    Yay, I'm so honored to have you as a reader!

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  6. YUMMY! It really was very good and we were all impressed by your first lasagna!!! I will be over for your next attempt in the kitchen!

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  7. What a hoot! A friend shared your site for your knotted earbud article, and I've been enjoying your humor and "try and see" attitude in all you attempt. The lasagna recipe ROCKED! I can't wait to try it. You certainly take the fear out of First Attempt Cooking! Good luck to you on your simple living adventure.

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    1. Aw thanks so much, Rita! I'm glad you're enjoying my posts. I hope to get something new on here soon! Thanks again, dear.

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