It all started for me 6 years ago when I first stepped into the US for my studies. My dad's classmate from college and his wife went above and beyond to make me feel at home. For me, although my mother's food ranks at the top, whenever, whatever, this aunt of mine certainly scored with her Italian cooking! I had my first taste of home made Italian cooking at their place in Florida. My aunt, an American, has some great lip-smacking recipes up her sleeve. The first Italian food that she cooked for me was Lasagna. A pound of Ricotta, a pound of Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and some fresh, homemade marinara sauce later, I was a fan, then and forever! That was one unforgettable indulgence. She was only too happy to pass on the tricks of the trade to me along with the recipe. But when N and I decided to try it on a lazy Sunday afternoon back in Hotlanta (that's what Atlanta is called in summer!), the evil but sane "healthy eater" in us woke up and started to prod our minds with his sharp trident of guilt! So we decided to put a low(er!) fat spin on this traditional Italian preparation. Now, you can indulge :)
1 packet Lasagna noodles
2 lb marinara sauce (homemade or branded)
3/4 lb fresh mozzarella cheese
3/4 lb fresh mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 large yellow squash
1 large zucchini
2 medium sized bell peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
3 dried and crushed red chillies
salt to taste
'nuff making....lets do some bakin'
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Cook the noodles according to the directions given in the packet. 1 packet typically has ~15-18 noodles. Usually, we fill 3/4th of a large and tall utensil with water, add a few drops of olive oil and some salt and bring it to a rolling boil. Then gently immerse the noodles and let them cook for 8-10 minutes. If the noodles do not immerse completely in the beginning, do not worry! Just keep checking on them and try to push them all the way in as they cook. Sometimes, they themselves slip in once they start getting cooked. Drain the noodles and set them aside to cool down.
3. In a pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil, and when it is hot enough, throw in the chopped garlic. Saute until done. Next, stir fry all the veggies. Add half of the herbs (basil, parsley, crushed red chillies and oregano) and some salt to taste, and cook them until they are half done.
4. In another pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and cook the marinara sauce (if purchased from store). Add the remaining red chillies and salt to taste and let it simmer for 10-15 mins until it starts to bubble. Set aside to cool for sometime.
5. In a baking dish (ours is 14" X 9" and 1.5" deep), grease the bottom with marinara sauce. Make sure that this layer of marinara is thick since this will ensure that the noodles do not stick to the bottom of the pan. (Note you are not greasing the pan with cooking spray/butter).
Arrange a layer of noodles vertically, such that successive noodles overlap slightly. Then apply another layer of the marinara sauce. Next, apply a layer of seasoned vegetables.Then a layer of mozzarella. We bought a big cube of the cheese so we shredded it on top of the marinara layer.
6. Put another layer of the noodles, this time horizontally. However, it is not necessary to arrange these in this alternative manner. You can lay all the noodles in different layers, all vertically. Repeat with the marinara, vegetables and mozzarella layers.
7. Continue to create layers like this until all the noodles are exhausted. After the final layer of noodles, apply a layer of marinara and spread the remaining mozzarella. Top it off with some Parmesan and sprinkle the remaining herbs (parsley, oregano and basil) evenly. The top of the baking dish should look like a giant pearly slab encrusted with green emeralds!
8. Cover it tightly with aluminum foil and put it in the oven. Let it cook for ~30-35 mins or until the cheeses at the top have melted and the marinara is bubbling.
9. Allow it to cool down for 10 mins. Please be warned that the smell and the appearance of the Lasagna will produce a strong urge to skip this step but for the safety of your own tongues, try to do it ;) It was drooling time once again for us!
Ours came out well for something that had no ricotta cheese. We used part skim mozzarella to further cut down on the fats. Its all relative you see ;) This was fatty for sure, but certainly better than making a layer of the ricotta cheese :P Make sure that the baking tray is smack in the middle of the oven for proper cooking. You could add/reduce the red chillies to adjust the degree of 'hotness' of your Lasagna. You could always mix some Alfredo sauce along with your marinara to give it a different hue as well as flavor. The choice of vegetables is absolutely yours but we strongly recommend not to skip the bell peppers. they add a great zesty flavor we found simply irresistible! We've used dry herbs but you could very well use fresh basil and parsley leaves.
P.S. - If you're doing the ricotta cheese version, make sure to beat the mozzarella cheese with the ricotta and add some nutmeg to this mixture. Beat this mixture well and use this as one of the layers apart from the marinara and the veggies.