Moment of confession – I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you that this recipe started off as a ‘pasta bake’ and not as something else. That happens to me a lot.
My initial plan for this post was to use up some yellow squash and zucchini in a rich, meatless lasagna with a hearty, rustic tomato sauce and gobs of cheeses, but a tiny little flaw in one of my baking dishes caused me to have to rethink the whole thing. Ok, it wasn’t exactly a tiny little flaw, it was a 4 inch long crack in the bottom of my only 13 x 9 x 3 inch baking dish that was caused by some unknown trauma since I last used it. As luck would have it, I noticed said flaw about 3 seconds before I was going to ladle in a big blob of my tomato sauce to begin the lasagna making process, so there wasn’t time to run out and buy a new one.
Enter the 13 x9 x 2 glass dish, and exit the plan for a full blown lasagna.
Without the extra inch of depth the 3 inch dish would have provided, getting in multiple layers of the different fillings would have been extremely difficult without skimping on things, so it was time for Plan B. Since a typical lasagna in my world is made up of a layer of sauce, followed by noodles, then ricotta, then filling/sauce, topped with some mozzarella, and then repeating with noodles and the rest in a second or third layer, I figured I could get by with the smaller dish by making the individual layers in a single-layer lasagna a little thicker. Sure, it wouldn’t be as ‘stable’ as a lasagna with several layers of noodles adding structural integrity, but it would probably be just as good, right?
Yeah, I wasn’t sure either. But it worked.
I was recently ‘challenged’ by one of the employees at the Animal House adoption center where I volunteer to prove to her that a vegetable lasagna was truly an edible creation, and this was going to be my way of answering that ‘challenge’. (Challenge is a relative term here, thus the quotes – it was more of a request to make one and bring it in, but the challenge part kinda made it personal and increased the odds of me actually doing it, I think. Pretty sure that was the plan, anyway.) Since I had promised to bring the thing in today, having to change the recipe in mid-prep kinda scared me, but based on the responses from my taste testers at the shelter, it was definitely a success.
The key ingredient in this little creation was the sauce used for the base and filling of the lasagna. I could have gone with a jarred sauce, but I wanted something unique and personalized, so I made it from scratch. Diced onion, diced garlic, diced red bell pepper, and finely chopped baby portabella mushrooms sweated down in a little olive oil and veggie stock made up the flavor base of the sauce, with some fresh basil, salt, pepper, sugar, and aleppo pepper for a little boost. A big can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes was the binder for the whole thing, and after a brief simmer, I was halfway tempted to just eat the sauce and call it a day.
For the ‘main’ ingredient in the bake itself, I went with thinly sliced yellow and zucchini squashes. I had one of those ‘a little too big to do much with but grill it’ kinds of zucchini out in the garden and quite a few nice, tender yellow squashes out there keeping it company, so into the mandolin slicer they went. I elected to slice them on the ‘thin’ setting of the slicer, thinking that I could layer them in alternating layers to create a thick center layer for the dish while still allowing the squash to cook completely instead of risking undercooked squash from a thicker slice. It worked.
One of the things that is most likely to elicit a foul word or twelve from me in the kitchen is using pre-boiled noodles to make a lasagna. I have NEVER made a lasagna in my life using those kinds of noodles that didn’t involve at least one of the noodles ripping, forcing me to utilize little ‘band aid’ noodle parts to fix it, creating a very Frankenstein-esque mess. With that thought in my head, I immediately grabbed a box of ‘no boil’ pasta sheets at Whole Foods and never looked back at the pasta aisle. Lazy FTW!
Lastly there was the gooey, delicious part of the dish to consider – the cheese. Ricotta and Parmesan for the base layer were a no brainer, but the mozzarella was definitely going to be an issue – well, deciding on which one to use one was, anyway. Sitting in the cheese case at the aforementioned Whole Foods were part-skim mozz, smoked mozz, fresh buffalo mozz… As it turns out, all three of those were sitting on my counter when it came time to layer the cheese…
While it was definitely not a true lasagna, this dish was, in many ways better than what I had originally set out to make. The lack of multiple layers of pasta meant it was a lighter dish, much easier to eat without the dreaded carb coma setting in, and the flavors were much more pronounced without the dulling taste of the noodles as well. Rich, cheesy, and delicious, this mistake is definitely a keeper.