January means many things to me. The holidays are over and I can breathe a sigh of relief and recuperate from the insanity. It also means that, like a number of people I know, I avoid the gym for about a month and exercise at home.
Mind you, I think that working towards better health is a wonderful thing, and more power to those that stick with it. I just can’t be held accountable for my actions if I have to listen to the same person ask how to turn on the treadmill and make it “go up and down” four times in a span of ten minutes. Avoiding the gym until the temporary post-holiday crowd dissipates is safer both for me and everyone else involved.
People always joke that New Year’s resolutions to get healthy, lose weight, etc. generally fail, and sadly it’s true. One of the main reasons for that failure is because people take it to extremes (I will eat no carbs! no fats! no sugars!), then get sick of the drastic changes and give up on the overall goal.
It’s about having your pasta and eating it too.
It’s the fact that a person can eat healthier and achieve their post-holiday health goals without completely sacrificing favorite foods or flavor.
Yes, cutting out the excess is generally a good thing, cutting out the things you love entirely can be pretty discouraging and cause you to quit in frustration.
Modifying a recipe to incorporate fresh and healthier ingredients can cut the calories of a dish in half, if not sometimes more than half.
Obviously that doesn’t mean you should eat double the amount! Portion size remains super important, but it does mean you can enjoy what you’re eating instead of being restricted to “rabbit food”.
Modifying a dish like this is all about the choices when you’re at the store, things like 2% cheeses instead of regular, 1% or skim milk instead of 2% or whole, swapping to leaner proteins, adding more fresh vegetables, etc. Each one of those is a little thing, but you add them together and you have a big change overall.
In this case, swapping to 2% cheese, using a light bechamel sauce in place of ricotta (used in Italy much more than ricotta), adding lots of vegetables and swapping the pork for lean Italian turkey sausage considerably lightened the dish without sacrificing overall taste. Unless you tell them, most people won’t notice any difference. Spices and sauces conceal the possible “poultry” taste and the rest of the swaps are barely noticeable if at all.
(Don’t tell the rest of the family and they’ll never notice… been there, tried it, no one had a clue and they loved it.)
Oh, and remember, a full pan of lasagna is a lot – so unless you’re planning on cooking for a crowd, a half batch is a safe bet… or you can make two smaller, separate portions and freeze one for later use!
Or you could make the entire thing and end up with lasagna for lunch for a week straight (yeah, totally did that with this one, oops).
Either way, it’s lighter, still tasty and you shouldn’t feel guilty while you enjoy it!
- 1 package lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
- 1 jar (24 oz/3 cups) of your favorite red pasta sauce
- 2 cups light bechamel, see below for recipe
- 1 package (16-19 oz) sweet Italian turkey sausage
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 package (8 oz) mushrooms, sliced
- 1 medium onion, sliced thin
- 1 cup (4 oz) 2% shredded Mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
- Cooking spray
Step 2: Remove the casings from the turkey sausage (skip this if you managed to find a roll of it, I can’t find it here!). Place the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat, and once heated, add the turkey sausage, taking care to break it up into small pieces as it cooks. Turkey doesn’t crumble as well as ground beef does, so make sure you break it up as it cooks, you don’t want a turkey patty. Turkey is also very lean meat, if it starts to dry out, add a tablespoon of water to the pan at a time. This also loosens the browned bits on the bottom and makes it more flavorful. Once the meat is cooked all the way through (no pink), remove it from the pan and set it aside but don’t discard any drippings!
Step 3: In the same skillet, complete with drippings (that you didn’t toss, right?), add your vegetables and cook for 3-5 minutes until the onions are starting to turn translucent. You don’t want overcook them, but simply soften them up a bit. The point here is to get the veggies to release some of their moisture out so that your lasagna isn’t “runny.” Once done, remove from the pan and set it aside.
Step 4: Make an assembly line of all your ingredients so that they’re easy to work with as you layer the dish. Spray a 9×13″ baking/lasagna pan with cooking spray and then take about 1/4 a cup of red sauce and spread it evenly in the bottom of the pan.
Step 5: After the initial saucing, add your first layer of noodles. I prefer to go lengthwise in the pan first, then crosswise on the second-go-round, rinse & repeat. After layer one of noodles, add the following in this order:
- 2/3 cup of bechamel, spread across the noodles
- ~2/3 cup cooked Italian turkey sausage
- ~2/3 cup Vegetables
- 2/3 cup of red sauce.
- After red sauce, apply your next layer of noodles and start over.
- Repeat this process until you have three layers of meat+veg+sauces and have put the final noodles on top. You should have no meat, veggies or bechamel left at this point.
Step 5: Cover the top layer of pasta in the remaining tomato sauce and then sprinkle the cup of mozzarella cheese on top.
Step 6: Bake at 400° F for 35-45 minutes until the top of the lasagna starts to bubble and turn brown.
Step 7: Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10-15 minutes so it can solidify. Ignoring this step means runny lasagna!
Serve with fresh salad and, if so inclined, a good red wine.
Yield: 1 9×13″ baking pan; 12 servings
Light “Bechamel” Sauce (Gluten-Free)
- 2 cups 1% milk
- 1 oz (1/4) cup shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg, ground
- 1/2 tsp thyme, dried
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
Step 1: In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine milk, cheese, nutmeg, thyme, onion powder, olive oil and corn starch. Bring just to the boiling point, stirring the entire time with a whisk to incorporate the ingredients thoroughly, as soon as it shows signs nearing a boil, remove pan from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend and sauce to thicken. It will be thick. If it seems too thick or you want to thin it out a bit, add a little bit of milk at a time and stir it in well.
Yield: 2 cups
- Using the recipe above and a homemade red sauce (crushed tomatoes + spices), resulted in an approximate calorie count of 250 calories and 6g fat per serving.
- If making two smaller portions, either use 8×8″ pans or two smaller casserole dishes.
- If planning to freeze the lasagna, do NOT cook it, stop at step 5 then wrap it securely with a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil. Place the plastic wrap directly onto the top layer of cheese and get the air bubbles out to prevent ice crystals from forming on the surface. When you’re ready, remove from the freezer and place it directly in the oven, baking at 400° F for about 1 hour or until the top layer of cheese is bubbly and the center is heated all the way through.
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