One of the more important things I learned about in college was lasagna. While most meals at the cafeteria were more a matter of subsistence than culinary revelation, there were a few menu items that made me sit up and pay attention (and go back for thirds), most notably grits and lasagna. Previously, my only encounters with lasagna had been a viscous, gluey, nauseating mass of noodles and alfredo sauce from the back of the freezer. Which, of course, misses the whole point of lasagna: ricotta cheese.
I still mourn the loss of a quart of ricotta I inherited from a fellow student, excited to make pan after steaming pan of lasagna as soon as I got home for Christmas. But alas, airport security felt it posed too much of a threat. Despite this setback, I did eventually have the pleasure of enjoying homemade veggie lasagna fresh out of the oven the following summer, chock full of basil and zucchini, and my life has been richer ever since.
I’ve been fantasizing about lasagna again as the weather grows colder, and finally procured all the ingredients. Perfect alongside a simple purslane salad, one of the perks of weeding the spinach bed!
UPDATE (6/8/2016): We’ve enjoyed lasagna a couple times already here at Ampersand. Who says you can’t enjoy casseroles year-round? So simple to stick it in the solar box oven in the morning and enjoy a few hours later without sweltering in the kitchen, even in the heat of summer. Simply layer it in a dark aluminum pot (breaking noodles as necessary to accommodate the round shape), cover with a lid, and place in box oven for 3-4 hours. Since my fellow intern is dairy and gluten-free, we usually make one pan of classic lasagna and another with homemade “cashew ricotta” and strips of zucchini (cut on a mandolin) in place of noodles.
1 onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch greens (or a couple cups of any seasonal veggies)
1 package lasagna noodles (or 2-3 zucchini, cut lengthwise into thin strips)
1 jar tomato sauce
Italian herbs, fresh or dried (optional)
15 oz. ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese, or “cashew ricotta,” below)
1 cup shredded mozarella (cheddar also works)
1/4 cup parmesan (optional)
Sauté onion in oil until soft, then add greens (or whatever vegetables you desire) and garlic and cook a few more minutes until wilted, adding a splash of water if necessary to soften. Simmer tomato sauce with herbs and seasonings if desired, and cook lasagna noodles if necessary. Line the bottom of the pan with a layer of lasagna noodles (I’ve had success with both 9×11 and 11×13, with a varying number of layers), breaking as necessary to fit the pan. Spread ricotta as evenly as possible, then top with a layer of vegetables and cover with sauce. Repeat the process for one or two more layers, then cover the final layer of noodles with remaining sauce and the shredded cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes, at 375°F for no-boil or 350°F for cooked noodles (or whatever the package advises), until soft, bubbly, and golden. Let cool a few minutes before devouring.
1 cup raw cashews (almonds or hazelnuts could also work)
1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (or to taste)
Soak cashews overnight, then reserve 1/2 cup of the water and drain the rest. Blend soaked nuts with reserved water and remaining ingredients for a tasty and protein-rich alternative to cheese.
As much purslane as you can gather!
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Several sprigs parsley, minced (optional)
1-2 cloves minced garlic (optional)
Pull leaves and thin stems from the tougher central stems and rinse thoroughly, ideally in a second change of water if muddy. (If it weren’t for this time consuming process, I’d cook purslane every chance I got!) Halve cherry tomatoes if desired and combine with purslane in a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice, along with parsley and garlic if desired, and dress and toss salad. Yum!