Lasagna: Layer on the Veggies

My father-in-law’s favorite meal strategy is to “use up.” He rummages in the fridge and pulls out anything that requires immediate eating. He evaluates the pile of bits and bobs on the counter, grabs a frying pan and starts cooking.

It’s never the same twice but it’s always (surprisingly) delicious.

People I’ve asked about the cons to their weekly produce box say it’s a challenge to use everything. From the advice they’ve given me, emptying the box seems to require a vigilant using-up mindset, like my father-in-law’s.

Since it’s  hard to find recipes that call for the strange assortment of produce that happens to arrive, I’ve followed my father-in-law’s lead with this little using-up strategy.

  • Choose meals that I already know how to cook without a recipe;
  • Riff on them by throwing in veggies from the box.

Today it’s an old simple standby, lasagna, made by layering noodles, sauce and cheese between some produce-box-veggies that require immediate using-up. My father-in-law would be very proud.

Lasagna with Layers of Organic Vegetables

Serves 6-8

You can use different kinds of vegetables and of cheeses and any kind of cooked meat. A layer with ricotta would certainly be a nice addition. No matter what your layers are made up of, be sure to use plenty of sauce if you’re not pre-boiling the noodles. As a guideline, use the amount of sauce stated below for each layer.

  • 5 cups tomato sauce (about 2 tall cans or jars), divided
  • 1  9-oz package of no-boil lasagna noodles (or regular lasagna noodles boiled according to package directions)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 of a sweet onion (like a vidalia) thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch broccolini, trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces (about 3 cups when chopped) (substitute with an equal amount of broccoli broken into very small florets)
  • salt
  • coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 8 ounces), divided
  • 1 large bunch curly kale (6-8 ounces or even more since it shrinks a lot), rinsed and chopped into 1 inch pieces (substitute with an equal amount of spinach)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups white sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 lb of smoked sausages (sliced) or cooked chicken (in 1/2 inch cubes) or of cooked ground beef or turkey. Instead of meat you can go with another layer of cooked vegetables here, whatever you’ve got on hand. My favorite is a simple sauté of bell peppers, mushrooms and onions, which I sometimes add to this layer even if I’m including some meat.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Spread 1 cup tomato sauce into a deep dish 9×13 inch lasagna pan. Top with a single layer of lasagna noodles.

In large skillet, combine 1 tbsp olive oil and the red pepper flakes. Get it good and hot before adding the broccolini, onion, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic. Cook another minute letting the garlic do its thing and then remove the skillet from the heat. Add the lemon zest. Stir before spreading it out onto the layer of patiently waiting lasagna noodles.

Top the broccolini with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese, 1 cup of the tomato sauce and then another layer of noodles.

Wipe the large skillet clean. Warm up 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the curly kale, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Cook until just softened and wilted. Spread the kale over the lasagna noodles. Top with the creamy white sauce and then another layer of noodles.

Bring on the smoked sausage topped with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella and 1 cup of the tomato sauce.

Finish with a final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce and remaining cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 50-60 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheese looks gooey in the middle and crunchy and brown on the sides. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Cut, remove a slice. Watch stringy cheese make line from pan to plate. Grab string by fingers and make line of gooey-ness head towards mouth. Slurp, chew, smile.

The White Sauce

Yields 1 and 1/2 cups

This is a basic white béchamel-style sauce. This is what I tend to do when I want a white sauce but feel free to use any white sauce you usually make (or even some from a jar).

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp coarse ground pepper (omit this if you don’t like the black specs in your white sauce, though note that the specs will not be noticeable in the lasagna).
  • a pinch of nutmeg

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour (I prefer to use a flat whisk but whatever you’re comfortable with will work).

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a few tablespoons of the milk. Whisk until smooth before adding a few more tablespoons. Whisk until smooth before adding a few more tablespoons. Whisk until smooth before adding a few more tablespoons. Then, you guessed it, whisk until smooth before adding a few more tablespoons. In a fine stream, slowly pour in the rest of the milk continuing to whisk it until, yup, smooth. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir.

Return pan to medium heat. Whisk continuously until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook and stir for another minute before removing from the heat. If you’re not ready to use it immediately, scrape sauce into a bowl so that the heat from the pan doesn’t scorch the sauce.

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See the other post in the series What’s in the Box? Tips for Dealing with Your Weekly Organics Box Produce:

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Check out past Cook the Story series and find out what’s coming soon here.

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Get kale info and recipes at Foodista:

Kale

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  1. #1 by gabriela on March 14, 2011 - 10:29 am

    I make clean-out-the-fridge curries!! Same idea. If I have a bunch of stuff that needs using, it goes into a pot with coconut milk and earthy curry spices. Served with a bowl of steaming hot rice, it’s always delicious.

    • #2 by cookthestory on March 14, 2011 - 10:30 am

      That sounds wonderful! I love curries with coconut milk, so creamy and flavorful.

  2. #3 by Dani on March 14, 2011 - 10:55 am

    Everything but the kitchen sink cooking, that’s how I think of it in my mind but don’t refer to it out loud since it sounds kind of dorky. 🙂 I like that this lasagna doesn’t have ricotta; I strongly dislike ricotta and have tended to stay away from lasagna because of it.

    • #4 by cookthestory on March 14, 2011 - 2:33 pm

      Yes, it is Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cooking. And it usually turns out great, even when you’re doubtful about it. My mother-in-law and I once made the oddest dinner in a little apartment rental. It involves noodles, mushrooms, sausages, green onion and a container of grocery-store soup. We were ridiculously proud of the result (but by then we’d had a couple of glasses of wine so it’s unclear how good it really was). When my father-in-law got back from his night out, he couldn’t believe how much we’d used up.

      I only sometimes like ricotta in lasagna. I tend to avoid it if there are any sweet notes in the mix (even just a bit of lemon) since I then find that it tastes like cheesecake, which is not a good thing in a savory pasta dish. I also rarely have ricotta on hand whereas all the other typical lasagna ingredients are easy pantry staples (except the mozza, of course. But there’s always meltable cheese of some kind here, unless I’ve already eaten it all *sigh*).

  3. #5 by The Mrs on March 14, 2011 - 11:07 am

    I NEED to get with the “Use it up but make something good out of it instead of just eating it as leftovers” program.

    This may help.

    Thanks Chris!

    • #6 by cookthestory on March 14, 2011 - 2:36 pm

      You don’t NEED to get with the program. I think if you like leftovers, then eating leftovers (and not having to cook) is brilliant. I’m one of those people who has trouble facing leftovers. I look at them in the fridge and think, “Yuck, that’s what we had last night” even if last night I thought it was the best thing I’ve ever made. I have to change it to want to eat it. Last night we had roast chicken with roasted potatoes, pearl onions and green beans. For some reason, I am intent on making it into chicken pot pies today even though there is more than enough to just have as plain leftovers. But really, this way I will get to add some more veggies and thus win the war with my produce box. Hooray!

  4. #7 by phyllis pittman on March 14, 2011 - 6:04 pm

    The lasagna looks awesome. I guess I am lazy and tend to make a hearty soup from my leftovers. Trouble is that I always make way too much for the two of us, thus having more leftovers to deal with.

    • #8 by cookthestory on March 14, 2011 - 7:00 pm

      This isn’t exactly made from leftovers. It’s made from things in the fridge that need to get used immediately. In this case the veggies were screaming to get cooked or die. I have the same soup problem you do. Tonight I’ve decided to turn leftover chicken, burgers, potatoes and veggies into a few kinds of tarts by adding cheese and sauce on puffed pastry. But I know that there will be more tart left than there was chicken or burger to start with. Oh well. Still should be good!

  5. #9 by Mikaela Cowles on March 14, 2011 - 8:10 pm

    I love veggies in my lasagna, but I never thought to add broccoli. What a good idea. I’m going to have to try it.

    • #10 by cookthestory on March 14, 2011 - 10:27 pm

      It actually works really well, especially if you spruce it up with some lemon or parmesan cheese.

  1. Vegging It Up « Cook the Story
  2. Vegging It Up « Cook the Story

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