Sunday, April 25, 2010

Three Cheese Vegetable Lasagna

It's no secret that I love lasagna and I was very happy to not be disappointed in this one. It's definitely a unique twist on an old favorite and tastes like something from an upscale restaurant. The sauce is homemade, which helps keep the cost down for this dish, and the sauteed vegetables impart some nice, healthy substance. Roughly estimating, it cost less than $8.50 to prepare this and lasted us three days for an average of less than $3 a meal.

This was my second time using an Aaron McCargo Jr. recipe (the first was Black Bean Burgers) and I found that once again, I had to tone down some of his seasonings (black pepper, red pepper, and smoked paprika). That man seriously loves wild flavor! I thought that my husband and I had pretty adventurous taste buds, but there's no way we could have handled using the full amount of spices that Aaron calls for. Even with my modifications, the lasagna still had quite the kick so anyone who does not like really spicy flavor may want to reduce at least the black pepper and red pepper even further (and remember, the measurements listed below already reflect my reduced amounts). My 2 1/2 year old asked for seconds on all three nights that we ate this, though I've come to the realization that he has a very abnormal palate for a child.

Three Cheese Vegetable Lasagna

12 to 15 lasagna noodles
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups broccoli florets
1-1/2 cups cauliflower
1 cup seeded and chopped zucchini
1 cup seeded and chopped squash
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium onion, diced
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1-1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups cottage cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

Fill a large bowl or baking dish with hot water and soak the lasagna noodles for about 15 minutes, or until slightly pliable. Drain the water and set the noodles aside.

Meanwhile, place the oil in a large skillet or pan over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli, cauliflower, squash, and zucchini. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Continue cooking, while stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

While the vegetables are still cooking, use another stove burner to begin the sauce. Place 2 tablespoons of butter and the onions in a large saucepan and saute over medium-high heat until translucent. Whisk in 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 teaspoon of paprika, the flour, and garlic. Stir in the milk and broth and season to taste with salt. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for a few minutes, while still whisking. Stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and remove from heat.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and then combine with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, and the red pepper flakes. Add the bread crumbs and mix well.

Ladle some sauce (about 3/4 cup) into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. (You may want to then pour the remaining sauce into a large measuring cup to help determine how to evenly divide the sauce for each layer.) Add a layer of noodles*, followed by half the cottage cheese mixture, half the vegetables, and one-third of the remaining sauce. Repeat this layer once and then finish with a final layer of noodles and the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and return to oven to bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the lasagna to rest at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Yields 9 servings.

*Keep in mind that the lasagna noodles will expand during cooking, so it is not necessary to completely cover the pan bottom (and subsequent layers) with the noodles. However, you can it you want would end up needing all 15 noodles. I used only 12 noodles and evenly spaced them to allow for expansion.

Recipe adapted from Aaron McCargo Jr.

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