Wintry weather means comfort food, of which lasagna is the melty, noodly king. Stifle your yawn. I weirded-up the above version, beginning with a recipe in Everyday Greens. Warning: this is a labor-intensive dish. I made the sauce from almost-scratch (used canned tomatoes), and spread the work over two days. The recipe follows, after a layer-by-layer explication of the veg-related details.
- Sauce: for once, I bit the bullet and purchased a $6 one-ounce bag of dried porcini mushrooms. I usually only pay exorbitant prices for fresh and local earth-borne products, but these I rehydrated in near-boiling water, diced, and added to a bubbling pot of tomato, onion, and zinfandel. I even reserved the aromatic soaking liquid, strained it to get rid of the grit, and stirred that in as well. A minor element of the finished product, the woodsy/earthy/meaty contribution of the porcini didn't go unnoticed, at least by me.
- Unidentifiable layer of green: to infuse my lasagna with xmas cheer, I pureed ricotta with steamed, salted broccoli and nutmeg-seasoned spinach, wilted into submission. Voilà! Brilliant green cheese.
- Roasted orange melange: parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas (below), plus a delicata squash, sprinkled with a blend of grated parmesan and gruyere.
Turnips: purple-white and the bitterest of the three. Can be thinly sliced and added to salads when young and crisp. Pleasantly radish-y.
Parsnips: resemble chubby white carrots (and evoke the droopy-mustached Miyazaki character riding the elevator in Spirited Away). Slightly sweeter than turnips, but still earthy.
Rutabagas: their purple and orange skin, thicker than that of the other two, hides only orange flesh. Sweetest of the trio.
Note: all of these roots get rubbery as they grow larger and older or, ironically, as they sit in the crisper. This can be counteracted by oven-roasting or steaming and mashing them.
Winter Vegetable Lasagna – adapted from Everyday Greens
Tomato-Zinfandel sauce (recipe follows)
1 large yellow onion, diced, about 2 cups
1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, about 1 1/2 cups
**I used parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, and delicata for a total of 5 1/2 cups veg. Please feel free to work with whatever your heart desires. The only important factor when choosing is that the ingredients roast at the same speed. You can chop the denser vegetables smaller, or roast on separate sheets if they're of vastly different texture - like zucchini and acorn squash.**
1 pound butternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, about 2 cups
1 pound celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes, about 2 cups
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs: flat-leaf parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme. (Use whichever herbs you have on hand. You can also use dried, but they should be added before the roasting of the veg rather than after.)
1 pound whole milk ricotta, about 2 cups
2 large eggs, beaten
5 oz parmesan, grated, about 1 1/2 cups
2 or 3 pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 lb gruyere, grated, about 1 cup
1 lb fresh pasta sheets (I used whole wheat lasagna in a box)
Make the Tomato Zinfandel sauce and set aside (see below)
Preheat oven to 400
Toss the vegetables into a large bowl with the olive oil, minced garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, and a pinch of pepper. Spread the vegetables on 2 baking sheets and roast for 10 minutes. Use a spatula to loosen and turn them, and cook until golden and tender, about 10 minutes more. Set aside to cool.
Lower the heat to 350, transfer the vegetables to a bowl and toss with herbs (if you use dried, toss them with the veg prior to roasting).
Blanch or wilt spinach or kale or any not-too peppery green and drain well, squeezing if necessary. If you wilt it in a pan, there will be less excess moisture and you'll (probably) retain more nutrients. Once they've cooked down, drain and combine with ricotta in a food processor. Blend until the cheese is bright green.
Whisk the ricotta mixture, eggs, 1/4 cup Parmigiano, nutmeg, 1/4 tsp salt and a pinch of pepper together in a medium-size bowl. Combine the remaining remaining parmesan with the gruyere, reserving a 1/4 of the mixture to sprinkle on top during baking.
Spread 1 1/2 cups of the sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Cover with a layer of pasta. Pour another cup of sauce over the pasta, followed by half of the roasted veg mixture. Sprinkle with half of the mixed cheeses and another layer of pasta. Spread the ricotta mixture over the pasta, and cover with another pasta sheet. Spread one cup of the sauce over, followed by the remaining vegetables and cheeses. Add the final layer of pasta. Top with 1 1/2 cups of sauce, cover and bake for 35 mins. Uncover, sprinkle with reserved cheese mix, bake uncovered until set 10 to 15 mins more.
Tomato Zinfandel Sauce - Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
1/2 oz dried porcini, soaked in 1/2 cup water for 10 minutes (these aren't vital, but add a woodsy element and deep flavor to the sauce)
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped, about 2 cups
salt and pepper
1 Tbs minced garlic
1/3 cup zinfandel or dry red wine
2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes with juice, pureed (I use Muir Glen)
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs chopped fresh herbs: flat leaf parsley, thyme, oregano or marjoram.
Drain the porcini through a fine sieve and save the soaking liquid. Finely chop the porcini and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan (or stock pot) over medium heat and add the onions, 1/4 tsp salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook until the onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute more. Pour in the wine and simmer until the pan is nearly dry, about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, the porcini and their soaking liquid, the bay leaf, 1/2 tsp salt, and a pinch of pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, add the herbs, and season with salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is acidic, add a pinch of sugar.