We are continuing to work our way through our crop of monster zucchinis. One of the ideas we mentioned last week was to make a lasagna where zucchini took the place of the pasta. This week we got around to trying it. Now, I love pasta–a lot–so the idea of a lasagna without the pasta struck me at first like a crème brûlée without the crème. And while I think I’ll probably continue to make my lasagna in the future with a healthy amount of pasta, this was nonetheless a successful experiment yielding a delicious alternative to the traditional dish, especially if somebody at your table has wheat allergies.
Starting with a giant zucchini and using a mandoline will definitely make your life easier when slicing long thin sheets. You really want to get them thin so that you can get more of the moisture out when you salt them. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up with a soupy lasagna (and nobody likes a soupy lasagna). A good homemade marina and some fresh ricotta will really improve the final dish, so try not to cut corners there either.
We wanted to see if we could make a lasagna with zucchini alone, but because we weren’t sure, we hedged our bet; half the lasagna contained only zucchini and the other half contained layers of both pasta and squash. In the end both halves were really good. Beryl liked the zucchini-only side as much as the pasta side. But if you do want to include pasta, try making fresh pasta! It’s not hard, and lasagna is perhaps the most forgiving dish for making it yourself, with or without a pasta roller: it doesn’t have to be cut into a million strands, and any mishaps that may have occurred during the boiling of the sheets are hidden in the final product. If you don’t have a pasta roller, just roll out the dough into large thin sheets and cut it with a knife into the desired dimensions.
Keep in mind, the lasagna should be cooked in two rounds, giving it time to cool to room temperature in between. This prevents it from being runny. Therefore, it’s best to get started on this early in the day, or even the day before. That also makes it a great make-ahead dish. We made the lasagna on a Thursday and had some friends over to eat it the next night.
Zucchini Lasagna with optional Pasta
1 giant zucchini (ours was about 2 pounds)
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp chopped rosemary (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
pinch fresh ground nutmeg (about 3 grates)
about 2 cups Marinara sauce
1 cup grated carrot
small handful chopped basil
1 large ear of corn, kernels cut from cob
½ to 1 lb fresh mozzarella (depending on how much you love it)
fresh pasta sheets (optional . . . see below)
Using a mandoline (or a knife if you must), slice the zucchini lengthwise into long sheets. Use the thinnest setting you can while still getting a full-length cut, about 1/8-inch thick. Spread the zucchini out onto racks or baking sheets in a single layer and generously sprinkle with kosher salt on both sides, rubbing the salt in with your fingers. Let sit for about 30 minutes to draw out some moisture. Lay out one or two large kitchen towels. Rinse each piece off under running water and use your fingers to “squeegee” off excess water. Place the rinsed zucchini slices on the kitchen towels and cover with another towel and pat dry (we found running a rolling pin over the top to be effective). Reserve until ready to assemble the lasagna.
Prepare the filling by mixing the ricotta, egg, egg yolks, parmesan, salt, parsley, oregano, rosemary, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl. Refrigerate until needed. (The nutmeg can be a really wonderful “secret ingredient” addition to your lasagna, but you don’t want to add so much that you can actually discern the taste of nutmeg.)
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Note: if using pasta, prepare a large pot of salted boiling water and bowl of ice water. Before adding each sheet of pasta to the lasagna, do the following: Boil 1 or 2 sheets at a time in the water for no more than 2 minutes, remove with a spider or other strainer and plunge into the ice water to stop the cooking. Then sandwich it flat between two kitchen towels and pat dry before adding to the lasagna.
Assemble the lasagna: Lightly oil a 13 x 9 inch Pyrex baking dish and add one layer of zucchini slices. If including pasta, use pasta for the bottom layer instead, slightly overlapping each sheet in a single layer. Spread a thin layer of marinara over the bottom layer. Add another layer of zucchini/pasta (if using pasta, alternate between adding layers of zucchini and pasta). Spread half of the ricotta mixture evenly over the dish using a spatula. Add another layer of zucchini/pasta. Add marinara, and then add half of the mozzarella, broken into small pieces. Add zucchini/pasta. Add marinara, and then add the carrot, corn and chopped basil in a thin layer (divide this into two layers if it’s too bulky). Continue layering the lasagna with zucchini/pasta and alternating layers of marinara, filling, marinara with mozzarella, or veggies until you have used up all of the ingredients, or the pan is full. Finish with a thin layer of marinara and some mozzarella if you still have some left.
Bake for 1 hour at 350˚F. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. If you won’t be serving within a couple hours, put the lasagna in the fridge for 2 or 3 hours, or overnight, covered with plastic wrap.
When you are 1 hour away from serving, top the lasagna with another layer of marinara and cook at 350˚F for 1 hour. Cool slightly and serve with more fresh marinara and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Serves 5 to 7
1.5 cups flour
1 whole egg and 1 yolk
1/4 tsp salt
1 to 2 oz water
1 tsp olive oil
Add flour, beaten eggs, oil and salt to food processor. Pulse several times. Drizzle in about an ounce of water while pulsing processor just until ingredients come together into tiny balls of pasta.
Remove pasta from bowl and knead in the palm of your hand. The pasta should feel supple, not stiff, overly sticky, or wet. If the pasta is either too wet or too dry, place pasta back into food processor and adjust consistency with either more flour or more water. When you have the proper consistency, knead pasta for several minutes in the palm of your hand until it is soft and satiny. Wrap in a clean dish towel or plastic wrap until ready to roll out. It can sit for 30 to 60 minutes on the counter.
Use a pasta roller or a rolling pin to make the thinnest sheets possible. Cut to desired dimensions (to fit into sheets in your dish), and keep covered with a clean dish cloth until ready to use (no more than a few hours).