Food Bloggers visit other sites quite frequently to support, inspire, comment and learn. A couple months ago, I received a wonderful comment from Sanura of My Life Runs on Food complimenting the style and tone of my blog. I was thrilled to receive her comment, and clicked through to her blog to check it out. What I found was a beautifully written, healthy food blog that seemed really aligned with my philosophy on food. I decided to email her to request a guest post for my site – I thought she’d bring a wonderful and fresh perspective on food and health. After several emails were exchanged, we agreed to collaborate on writing about lasagna. Both of our versions are relatively healthy and they have plenty of vegetables and cheeses. My version is an “Old World” traditional recipe with the classic tomato sauce, and Sanura’s version is a “New World” traditional recipe sans the tomato sauce. To be historically accurate, both tomatoes and squash are ingredients from the “New World.” It’s the techniques and stories that separates our recipes, which makes them endearing and comforting to both of us.
Sanura’s “New World” Traditional Lasagna
The basic traditional lasagna dish we all know consists of pasta, plenty of cheese, and a rich Bolognese sauce. Occasionally, it’ll have a Basil Pesto sauce, too. The richness of the dish makes it the ultimate comfort food we all crave. The ingredients are basically the same, but every household’s technique for preparing the dish varies. The result is usually deliciously satisfying every time it’s served. Who would dare recreate another version with drastically different ingredients? One afternoon, I happened to catch a food show hosted by Tyler Florence. He’s a lucky guy, who travels around the world in search of the origin of classic dishes of popularity. Between Anjali Shah of The Picky Eater: A Healthy Food Blog’s recipe for lasagna, and watching Tyler Florence travel to Italy of which lasagna originates, both provided some inspiration. For a while, I was seriously thinking about breaking from the traditional holiday dishes to making a classic lasagna dish. When I mentioned the idea to the boyfriend, he begins telling me how to make the best lasagna, “It should have at least three types of cheeses…”
“Well, babe…” I thought. Tyler Florence had an Italian guest whose lasagna interpretation was not quite the same as our American classic. His version uses a freshly made basil pesto sauce, layered with freshly made sheets of pasta, blanched green beans and potatoes. Those ingredients on the show demonstrates the time of year the visit took place, in which everyone in the background were relaxing in short sleeves and shorts. My version uses a winter vegetable, acorn squash. I paired it with sauté mushrooms to add more texture. They’re plenty of differences between this freshly made Italian-Inspired and the American version. One, this recipe is not baked. Two, this dish is refreshingly light, but it’s still hearty. Lastly, it’s made sans tomato sauce. It’s a dish best serve at room temperature. With a nice Winter Salad, this Italian-inspired dish is also beautiful as an elegant meal to serve.
The Recipe: Roast Acorn Squash, Sauté Mushrooms, and Basil Pesto Lasagna
- 3 to 4 Lasagna sheets, cooked and al dente according to the manufacturer’s directions, gently tossed with olive oil
- Salt and fresh black pepper
- Fresh basil, roughly chopped
- Basil Pesto Sauce (see recipe below)
- Roast Acorn Squash (see recipe below)
- Sauté Mushrooms (see recipe below)
- Good quality olive oil
- Gently take one lasagna sheet and visualize it into three sections forming an “S” curve. That is the structure of this lasagna dish.
- Smear 4 tablespoons of Basil Pesto Sauce on a plate.
- Lay the first third of it on top of the Basil Pesto Sauce on the plate. The excess two-thirds lasagna pasta will hang over the plate’s edge. Gently smear a tablespoon of Basil Pesto Sauce on top of the first third section of the lasagna pasta. Spoon a couple tablespoons of Roast Acorn Squash on top of the Basil Pesto Sauce that was smeared on the first third section of the lasagna pasta. Sprinkle a little basil on top. Fold second third of the lasagna noodle over the Roast Acorn Squash.
- Spoon a tablespoon of the Basil Pesto Sauce on top of the second third section of the lasagna pasta. Lightly smear a couple tablespoons of the sauté mushrooms on top of the pesto sauce. Sprinkle a little basil on top. Fold the last third of the lasagna noodle over the mushrooms.
- Spoon more Basil Pesto on top of the lasagna. Garnish with basil leaves, fresh black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Repeat to serve more people or for seconds. Enjoy!
Roast Acorn Squash
- 1 Acorn Squash; slice in half horizontally, discard seeds (or toast as a snack), sliced a half inch wide thick
- Salt and fresh black pepper
- A dash of crushed red pepper
- Olive oil
- A drizzle of red balsamic vinegar
- 1 garlic clove; minced
- Preheat an oven at 400°F.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier clean up.
- Toss all ingredients together. Place on baking sheet.
- Roast squash for at least one hour, or until it is soft.
- Remove from the oven. Let cool before handling. Either use your hands or a paring knife to remove and discard the skin. Roughly chop roast acorn flesh.
- Place aside for the lasagna.
- 3 to 5 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small red onion; thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove; minced
- 1 lb. white button or baby bella mushrooms; cleaned and sliced 1/4 inch thick
- Salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup white wine
- A dash of red balsamic vinegar
- Over a medium-high temperature, heat olive oil in a large skillet.
- When the oil is hot, add the red onions. Sauté until the onions are almost translucent.
- Add the garlic, salt and fresh black pepper, and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add the mushrooms, wine and a dash of red balsamic vinegar.
- When the mushrooms are soft, remove from the pan.
- Set aside for the lasagna.
Basil Pesto Sauce
- 2 cups of Basil Pesto
- 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup thick Greek yogurt
- Salt and fresh black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Whisk all ingredients together until fully incorporated.
- Set aside for the lasagna.
About Sanura Weathers of MyLifeRunsOnFood.com
Since 2009, Sanura Weathers manages and creates sweet, savory, buttery, green and healthy food-related stories and recipes. With 15 years of combined experience in graphic design, social media, and project management, Sanura has a background of working with marketing, publishing, educational, non-profit, financial, and public relation organizations. Writing and managing MyLifeRunsOnFood.com is a project of passion inspiring people to prepare healthy, well-balanced meals using seasonal and fresh ingredients on a busy schedule. Read more about Sanura at MyLifeRunsOnFood.com/aboutme.
Anjali’s “Old World” Traditional Lasagna
One of my husband’s favorite meals is vegetarian lasagna, but we rarely ever ate it for two reasons:
1) It’s usually hard to find at most restaurants. Lasagna will often have a Bolognese sauce–which has meat in it!
2) Any veggie-friendly lasagna is often made with white pasta (no fiber), with egregious amounts of cheese (too much fat and calories), and barely any veggies (that’s just no fun).
So one day, soon after we had gotten married and before I had really learned how to cook, I decided to experiment and create a vegetarian lasagna that was both healthy and flavorful.
To try to recreate the lasagnas we’ve craved in the past, I decided to stick to more of the “traditional” route: using a tomato based sauce and traditional Italian cheeses, and baking it in the oven. I made healthy modifications without losing any of the flavor–e.g. using whole wheat lasagna noodles instead of white and adding more veggies to increase the nutritional value. I was really nervous as I served this meal, as I hadn’t really cooked before and I had no experience creating recipes from scratch. The good news is–it was a HUGE hit. And, I was able to stay true to my healthy mission–a double bonus! This meal has quickly become a favorite at dinner parties and potlucks, and is a great one-dish crowd-pleaser. After I created this dish, I started looking for alternative vegetarian lasagna dishes, and I came across My Life Runs On Food‘s approach to a creative and non-traditional lasagna. I love her take on modernizing and modifying the “old-world” lasagna, and I look forward to trying her dish!
The Recipe: The Healthy “Old-World” Traditional Lasagna
- Whole wheat lasagna noodles (uncooked)
- 4 fresh, organic zucchini
- 2 red bell peppers
- 1 bag of organic baby spinach
- 1 red onion, chopped
- Garlic; minced
- Dried oregano
- Dried basil
- 1-28oz. can of crushed tomatoes (with Italian spices added–like basil, oregano, etc. if you can find that)
- 1 jar ready-made spaghetti sauce (I like the tomato basil marinara from Trader Joe’s!)
- Olive oil & cooking spray
- Fat-free ricotta cheese
- Low-fat shredded mozzarella
- Shredded Parmesan or 4 cheese blend (I used this shredded 4 cheese blend from Trader Joe’s that has Parmesan, Asiagio, Mozzarella and Fontina)
Directions – Noodles
- Cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions (leave them al dente)–salt the water, if you like.
- Once they’re done, lay them flat on foil and set aside.
Directions – Vegetables
- Quarter all 4 zucchini and thinly slice.
- Thinly slice one of the red bell peppers (I cut the slices in half so they’re not so long).
- Mince 3 cloves of garlic.
- Heat about 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pan over medium heat (I might have used a little less–maybe 2-3 tsp), saute the garlic, zucchini, red pepper together.
- Add the whole bag of baby spinach at the end (when the zucchini/red pepper are almost done cooking).
- Sprinkle oregano and dried basil to taste on top, stir, and let it cook a couple more min.
- When the spinach is cooked, turn the heat down to low.
Directions – Sauce
- Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic.
- Dice half a red onion (If it’s a small onion, dice the whole thing).
- Dice the other red bell pepper.
- Heat 2-3 tsp olive oil in a pot over medium heat.
- Saute the red onion, garlic, and red pepper for a few min (until the onion starts turning a little translucent).
- Add the crushed tomatoes.
- Add dried oregano (I’m not sure how much I put–I basically sprinkled it over the top and stirred it in–maybe 2 tsp.).
- Once the sauce is heated through, turn the heat down on low.
Directions – Cheese
- Combine 1.5 cups of the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella, 1 cup of the Parmesan (or 4 cheese mixture if you can find that at Trader Joe’s) in a bowl.
- I used a casserole dish to assemble the lasagna in–and sprayed the bottom of the dish with cooking spray.
- Put a layer of sauce at the bottom of the dish (I did about half of the pre-made spaghetti sauce and half of the sauce I made myself–I did this for every layer except the top).
- Put a layer of the lasagna noodles.
- Put another layer of the sauce (1/2 pre-made, 1/2 self made).
- Put a layer of the veggies.
- Take the cheese mixture, and put little crumbles of the cheese mixture all over the veggie layer (don’t try to spread it out, the little crumbles seemed to work well).
- Put another layer of the lasagna noodles.
- Layer of sauce (if you have enough use the self made, otherwise add in the pre-made as needed).
- Layer of veggies.
- Cheese mixture crumbles.
- Layer of lasagna noodles.
- Layer of sauce (only self made).
- Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese all over the top.
- Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 min.
- Uncover and bake for 5 min. longer until the cheese has melted.
“The Picky Eater” sends a special thank you to Sanura Weathers of MyLifeRunsOnFood.com, for collaborating on this special feature post. Visit her food blog for additional flavorful recipes for healthy eating. Follow her on Twitter here, and check out her Facebook fan page here!