Vegetable Lasagna

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Well, my friends, we made it to 2014.  Last month was full of a lot of holiday cheer, gift giving, butter, and sugar.  But we made it to the other side.  So now it’s time for lots of gym memberships, work outs, and healthy living.  I definitely indulged a lot this holiday season, but everything in moderation right?  I balanced out my bowl of frosting with an apple, so it all evens out.

While New Year’s isn’t particularly my favorite holiday (I spent New Year’s Eve night contently at home after picking up subs, watched my dad light a few bottle rockets at midnight, and went to be shortly after), I do like the idea of a fresh start.  I don’t make formal new year’s resolutions, but here are some of my goals for this year:

1. Read 60 books for pleasure

2. Present my second year project and get my masters

3. Be more flexible

While my eating is pretty much good most of the time, I do sometimes make the choice to indulge.  And now I am happy to make the choice to bring back some more veggies.  This vegetable lasagna hit the spot- a little decadence of pasta and cheese mixed with some delicious veggies.  Perfect for a meatless meal and a good way to start this new year off.

VEGETABLE LASAGNA
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

INGREDIENTS

For the Tomato Sauce:
28 ounces tomato sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 bay leaf

For the Cream Sauce:
2 cups cottage cheese
3/4 cup half and half
3 ounces grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

For the Lasagna:
Salt and pepper
3 globe eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Olive oil, for sauteing
3 summer squashes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
6 portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
12 lasagna noodles

DIRECTIONS

For the Tomato Sauce:

Combine tomato sauce, sugar, oregano, parsley, basil, and bay leaf in a saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until thickened, about 20-30 minutes. Cool slightly.

For the Cream Sauce:

In a bowl combine cream cheese, half and half, Parmesan, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

For the Lasagna:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish.

Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon of salt. Line a plate with paper towel. Place eggplant on top. Microwave for 10 minutes, until soft and shriveled, rotating halfway through. In a large bowl mix eggplant, summer squash, and mushrooms together.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, about half of the garlic, and half of the vegetable mixture. Cook until vegetables are browned, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to bowl and repeat with the remaining vegetable mixture. Set aside. Mix olives in with vegetable mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles 2 minutes less than al dente. Drain and set aside.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the prepared 9×13 pan. Place 4 noodles in an even layer on top. Spread half of the vegetable mixture on top. Then spread half of the cream sauce on top. Repeat the process (4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce). Complete the final layer by placing 4 lasagna noodles on top, the remaining tomato sauce, and the mozzarella cheese. Bake until warm and bubbly, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire wrack for 20-30 minutes. Cut and serve

Serves 4-9.

Giardinara Pasta: Improv Challenge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today let’s talk about cheese.  What is there to say about cheese besides the fact that it is great?

When I was younger, I tried to give myself the nickname Chedder.  It never really stuck, so instead I used it into a code name for myself when I wrote stories (a whole ‘nother childhood thing there).  When I started typing my stories up, I realized I saw a lot of those red squiggly spell check lines, and I came to a sad realization that I was (am) not a good speller.  Apparently Chedder is spelled Cheddar.

But that revelation did not shake my fundamental believe that any cheese is great, no matter how you spell it.

Now let’s talk about pasta.  Another wonderful food, right?  This month’s Improv Challenge had us combine these two wonderful ingredients: pasta and cheese.  Given my (un)official nickname, I knew I had to create a cheese dish to impress.  It’s really hard to mess up any dish with pasta and cheese, but this Giardinara pasta was especially good for a quick dinner.

First pasta.  It’s chewy, tender, and wonderful. Here I used macaroni noodles because I’ve loved macaroni noodles since I ate the old-school blue box mac and cheese as a kid.  Second some veggies sauteed in buttah (yes, wonderful).  Salt them up good.  Then mix in some cheese and stir it up until it gets melty and delicious.  And voila: a wonderful dinner.

Pasta and cheese.  It makes the world go round.  It makes young babies smile.  It make people want to love and hug each other. Basically, pasta and cheese are magical.  Fact.

Another idea: put your pasta dish in a bakeable pan.  Top with lots of cheese and broil until melted with golden brown spots.  Genius.

GIARDINARA PASTA
Adapted from Cooking Light

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces elbow noodles
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 1/2 cups chopped asparagus
4 carrots, chopped
2 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 small onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup capers
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Cubed mozzarella or grated Parmesan

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, asparagus and carrots.  Cook until browned, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in mushrooms and onions.  Cook until tender, 4-6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, fennel seeds, dried thyme, crushed red pepper, capers, red wine vinegar, and cooked pasta.  Bring liquid to a boil and cook until mostly absorbed, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from pan and stir in mozzarella or Parmesan if desired.

Serves 3-4 as a main dished, 4-6 as a side dish.

Thanks to Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker for hosting this challenge!  Make sure to check out what everyone else made.

Chickpea and Eggplant Salad

After my foodie adventure in Austin, I came home inspired but in desperate need of a detox.  After a few days of splurging, including many donut holes, a few pounds of smoked meat, and several cones of ice cream, I needed vegetables ASAP and wanted to eat something light and refresing.  I was also feeling inspired by Austin’s vegetarian culture.  Every restaurant we ate at had gluten free and/or vegetarian options.  I am not giving up meat any time soon (I love it too dearly), but I love a good vegetarian dish.  It can leave you full and satiated but not overly stuffed.

This dish is simplicity at its best.  There is no sauce or dressing, but the dish packs great flavor.  Each vegetable shines through and compliments the others.  It’s lemony, cheesey, vegetarian goodness in a bowl.  A perfect side dish or even a main dish.  Austin would be proud.

CHICKPEA AND EGGPLANT SALAD
From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS

1 eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 leek, rinsed and chopped
1 cup chickpeas
15-18 Brussels sprouts, chopped
Salt, to taste
Lemon pepper, to taste*
1/2 ounce Romano cheese, grated

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large colander, spread eggplant in a single layer.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and let stand at least 20 minutes to draw the bitterness out.  Wipe clean with paper towel.  Coarsely chop the eggplant and mix with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread eggplant on baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, until tender and golden brown.  Set aside and let cool.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter.  Add leeks and cook for 5-7 minutes, until slightly cooked.  Add eggplant, chickpeas and Brussels sprouts.  Cook for 5-6 additional minutes, until Brussels sprouts are cooked and brown on the outside.  Season with salt and lemon pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and stir in Romano cheese.  Top with additional olive oil and cheese, if desired.
Serves 2-3.

*I use Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper and love it.  You can also substitute lemon zest and freshly ground coarse black pepper to taste.