Lasagna, or vegetarian lasagna, is the most decadent savory dish I have ever eaten. Loaded with gooey, creamy cheese, it is true comfort food and of course only worthy of a special occasion. Frozen lasagnas maybe provide a quick fix, but sometimes you just need the real deal.
You need control!
Total freedom to create any number of layers, fill them with your fave things and slather them with as much cheese as you want.
A well made lasagna is not poor man’s food. Just buying a variety of cheeses can set you back a pretty penny. Add good quality tomatoes, fresh herbs and veggies, and that pan of hot melted cheesy goodness doesn’t come cheap. This is especially true in India where cheese is expensive and authentic tasting cheese very had to come by.
Most restaurants in the US only offered meat lasagna so I learned to make this dish at home pretty early. Somehow, I never blogged about it. Yes, there are some recipes that I cherish, that are so special that I hesitate to write about them. So what changed my mind?
The basis of a lasagna is good cheese, but I noticed long ago that cheese wasn’t used much in lasagnas in Indian restaurants.
Recently I tasted some very disappointing lasagnas at top restaurants – limp, soggy noodles, indifferent sauce, no cheese between the layers and just a light frugal sprinkling of some cheese on the top. It was just meh!!
How can they get away with charging an arm and a leg for this stuff, I wonder. The only constructive way I can respond is by showing you how a lasagna is made, what it should look or taste like. If you think that’s my ego speaking, so be it.
Vegetarian lasagna is the first recipe of 2016 and hopefully it will knock your socks off and give you something to think about.
I know that salads and New Year Resolutions are doing the rounds online and offline, but we are having some very rare cool weather here in Pune, and I am sure everyone secretly wants to enjoy a warm, comforting meal at this time.
If you have any concerns about calorie count or fat content, leave them at the door. This is lasagna as it should be so I won’t be cutting corners.
This recipe yielded a 9×9 pan with 6-7 layers. You can make 9 good slices, and one piece will be enough for a dainty eater. Two pieces will be a lot for a big eater. But this will be so good, it will feed your soul and your tummy both.
I used instant lasagna noodles for the first time and I was very apprehensive about them but they worked well. I got the perfect almost al dente texture that still retained a bite and this lasagna had to be chewed, not swallowed.
Ricotta cheese is hard to find but I luckily found a good brand made in north India. I mixed ricotta and a mozzarella blend to create the cheese mix. You can add American cottage cheese to make this creamier, and also some parmesan if you have it. An Italian cheese mix such as Kraft or Sargento or any brand of your choice works well. I used Go Italian Blend. You can also get bricks of mozzarella, cheddar and any other cheese you like and grate them. A salty and grainy parmesan, Romano or Grana Padano will also make a good addition.
I used sauteed spinach with the cheese mix and also some grilled zucchini slices, which can be left out. Just remember that there should be ample cheese to glue the layers together.
Now the sauce! For some reason, a veggie lasagna is often paired with a white or beschamel sauce, but I prefer a robust tomato. You can either use 2-3 bottles of your favorite pasta sauce like Ragu or Prego or Jamie’s or Rao’s or whatever. A bottle of Ragu now goes for 380 odd, so maybe that is not very cost effective. I decided to make the sauce at home from scratch just for illustration purposes.
San Marzano tomatoes are my choice for a red sauce but once again, they are not a commonly available ingredient. Luckily, I got two large cans of other Italian tomatoes and they worked well for the sauce. These stewed tomatoes were sweet and could easily be crumbled into the sauce. I used just a bit of garlic and onion and some dried basil and oregano for the basic sauce.
Without further ado, the detailed recipe for vegetarian lasagna follows. Make it at home and you will be in 7th heaven, I promise.
Vegetarian Lasagna Recipe
- 2 Large cans Italian Stewed tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp garlic chopped
- 1/2 cup onion chopped
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dry basil
- 1/4 tsp dry oregano
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup sauted spinach
- 250 g ricotta cheese
- 250 g mozzarella or Italian cheese
- 1-2 cups Mozzarella shredded or Italian Mix
- 1 zucchini
- 2-3 tsp olive oil
- 1Tbsp butter
- Lasagna Noodles (Instant)
- Thinly slice zucchini in 2 inch pieces. Grill in a nonstick pan until seared on both sides. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
- Saute frozen or fresh spinach in a little butter to get about one cup cooked spinach. season with salt and pepper.
- Mix together ricotta cheese, spinach and shredded cheese to form a mix.
- Add olive oil and butter to a thick bottomed sauce pan.
- Add chopped garlic and let it get really fragrant but not burned. Heat should be very low.
- Add the onion and saute until it becomes soft.
- Add the juice from the tomatoes and squish them in your hand as you add them to the sauce.
- Stir and bring to a boil.
- Add all herbs and spices and simmer on low flame until the sauce thickly coats the spoon.
- Taste and add more sugar if it is too sour. You may also add red chili flakes if you want a hot sauce.
- Switch off heat.
- Butter a 9x9 Pyrex dish or any baking dish that is oven proof.
- Add some sauce to the bottom.
- Place noodles on top. I placed raw noodles since they were instant cooking noodles. Otherwise, use al dente noodles. Noodles should definitely not be well cooked.
- Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture on top of the noodles and spread it lightly with a spoon.
- Add zucchini slices.
- Drizzle some tomato sauce on top.
- Now add some shredded cheese mix, enough to broadly cover the whole layer in cheese.
- Add noodles on top, then add spinach ricotta mixture, red sauce, cheese and more noodles. Continue layering until the pan is filled or you run out of stuff.
- Add a generous layer of shredded cheese at the top.
- Preheat oven to 350F or 180 C.
- Cover the lasagna pan with a foil and place it in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
- Remove the foil and let it cook uncovered until the lasagna bubbles, cheese on top melts
- Transfer to heat resistant surface and cool for 10-15 minutes.
- Score the lasagna into 3x3 squares when it is warm. If the sauce runs through when you try to cut, cool some more. Just like a cake, you won't get a clean cut until the lasagna has cooled.
- Serve with a salad and some garlic bread.
- This lasagna easily serves 4-5 adults as a meal.
I hope that my step by step photos have shown you how simple it is to make a lasagna. And that my photos have had you drooling :). So go on, start layering up that vegetarian lasagna and let me know how it worked for you. And if you love pasta, this pasta medley has three more delicious pastas for you to check out.