February is upon us already. Not only do we have Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl, but it’s also a Leap Year so we’ll have one extra day to play or work or be on the water…If you’ve been reading my columns over the years, you all know that I go into mourning for the end of football but start counting days until boating season begins. For me, that’s 103 days after the game. A long stretch.
And none of that leads to what I want to cook this month…
I love Italian food - if someone could promise me that I wouldn’t gain a zillion pounds, I would eat it almost every day. Oddly enough, my favorite dish is eggplant parmesan, but for some reason, I have never made it at home. My 2nd favorite is Pasta Bolognese (from Giada De Laurentis) and after that, it’s definitely Lasagna.
Nowadays there are many variations of this dish from the typical noodles, sauce, meat and cheese varieties to those made with vegetables substituted for the noodles. Most of the time that veggie is zucchini sliced thinly lengthwise. Fillings can be made with all types of squash and cheeses. It is also a dish that can be assembled a day ahead of time and easily frozen once cooked, making it an easy go-to dinner after a busy day at work. The following are 2 very different recipes that I have tried and liked. They take time, but hey, it’s February, your boat is in the yard…
Zucchini Noodle Lasagna
1 lb. of lean ground turkey
1-1/2 tsp. of kosher salt
1 tsp. of olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
(1) 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 Tb. of chopped fresh basil
black pepper to taste
3 med. (8 oz each) zucchini, sliced 1/8" thick
1-1/2 cups of part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano
1 large egg
4 cups (16 oz.) of shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
In a medium sauce pan, brown the ground turkey and season with salt. When cooked drain in a colander to remove any fat, and then set aside. Add olive oil to the pan and sauté garlic and onions for about 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pan, add tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer on low for at least 30-40minutes, covered. Do not add extra water, the sauce should be thick.
Meanwhile, slice zucchini into 1/8" thick slices. Lightly salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Zucchini has a lot of water when cooked so you don’t want soggy lasagna. Salting it takes out a lot of that moisture. After 10 minutes, blot the excess moisture with a paper towel.
Preheat a gas grill or grill pan to medium high, and grill zucchini slices, 2 to 3 minutes per side, until slightly browned. Place on paper towels to soak any excess moisture.
Preheat oven to 375°.
In a medium bowl mix ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and egg. Stir well. In a 9x12 casserole spread 1/2 cup of sauce on the bottom and layer the zucchini to cover. Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta cheese mixture, then top with 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and repeat the process until all your ingredients are used up. Top the last layer with the remaining zucchini and sauce, cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover the foil and bake 20 minutes, then place the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and bake until melted, 10 minutes. Let stand about 5 - 10 minutes before serving.
Butternut Squash Lasagna (from Delish.com)
8 oz. lasagna noodles
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 Tb. of butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 Tb. of all-purpose flour
3 cups of whole milk
3/4 tsp. of freshly chopped thyme
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup of finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
(2) 10-oz. bags of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
8 oz. of shredded mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent noodles from sticking together.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Slowly add milk, while whisking constantly and bring to a boil. Add thyme and nutmeg and reduce heat to medium, cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Whisk in the parmesan, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
In an 8"-x-8" dish, spread a thin layer (about ½ cup) of white sauce in the bottom of the dish. Add a single layer of lasagna noodles followed by a layer of squash. Season with salt and pepper and top with half the spinach, a third of the mozzarella, and about ¾ cup white sauce. Repeat layers one time. Top with remaining noodles and spread remaining bechamel and cheese over top.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then increase the temperature to 400º and bake uncovered until squash is tender and lasagna is golden on top, about 25 minutes. Garnish with parsley before serving.