Healthy New Year: Lasagna

1

January 8, 2010 by skwishface

Yeah, that’s right. I said it. Lasagna. Healthy lasagna.

See how your monitor didn’t explode when you read that? Turns out these concepts are not cosmic polar opposites, like unto matter and anti-matter, the combination of which would cause a black hole that could swallow the earth or perhaps reverse the flow of time itself. Which is kinda what I thought might happen as I put this recipe together. Because I’m comfortable risking the existence of life as we know it if it means getting healthy food into my family that they’ll enjoy. That’s just how I roll.

I’m not saying this dish is perfectly calorie-free. Or fat-less. Or any other hyphenated buzzword to indicate utterly guiltless indulgence. It’s not. But! This recipe is an improvement on the usual casserole dish full of fats and yum and carbs and joy and not much else.

We have vegetables stealthily hidden in a rich tomato sauce. Lean delicious meats mixed with not-so-lean meats because flavor, man. Flavor. There’s low-fat cheeses, plenty-fat cheeses, and noodles. Oh my, the noodles. Don’t mess with the noodles. (I like noodles). The end result is a warm block of Italian comfort food that you don’t have to feel quite so guilty about.

Let’s do this thing! But note: this is NOT a quick recipe. Set aside some time, like an hour or two. No lie. This really taxes my patience, but the end result is soooooooo worth it.

(Healthy) Lasagna
1 whole box lasagna noodles
1.5 pounds(ish) turkey Italian sausage
1/2 pound(ish) pork Italian sausage
1 15-oz tub of low-fat ricotta cheese
1 24-oz tub of low-fat cottage cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella (not low-fat)

for the sauce:
2 large cans plain tomato sauce
2 whole zucchini, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
dried oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper to taste

(you can find a printable version of this recipe over at Tasty Kitchen)

Firstly, let us address the sauce. It involves these guys:

My garlic lives in an ugly little dish shaped like a bright orange leaf. Doesn't yours?

Don’t look at me like that. Yes, zucchini. I promise, you won’t even know it’s there.

Which is exactly what I told The Husband while I was cooking. The zucchini really will just sort of melt away into the sauce and become invisible. To help this along, we get rid of the bits that are most likely to remain visible in the finished sauce.

Namely: the skins.

It’s okay if your zucchini still have some of the dark green skin. If anyone complains about bits of green in the sauce, you can tell them its oregano. Right before you kick them in the teeth and refuse to cook for them ever again.

Once peeled, hack up your zucchini into chunks. Do the same for your onion and garlic. It doesn’t have to be perfect – this is all going into the blender later. The blender cares not a whit if you don’t have the knife skills of a five-star chef.

I barely have the knife skills to keep my fingers intact.

((A word about the lighting in these pictures: it was really cloudy the day I made this meal. Cloudy and rainy and dark and gloomy. Oh, so very gloomy. Most of these pictures are taken in the tiny patch of natural light that my kitchen window provides, but I did eventually have to concede defeat and use the lights in my kitchen. Which are either way trippy or distinctly unflattering. Happy medium, shmappy medium.))

Take your massacred veggies and drop them into a pot with a smidge of olive oil. To conserve dishes, I used the same pot in which I’d be simmering my sauce. Add salt and pepper, however much you like. I like quite a bit, personally. Sautee the veggies around over medium-high heat until they’re mostly cooked. You’re looking for translucent onions and tender zucchini.

Mmm, translucent and tender. I know people like that.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to physically restrain yourself from blowing off the whole lasagna idea and just taking a fork to this veggie mess right here. Don’t be like me.

Time to disguise the poor, innocent, healthy vegetables. To do so, we must first torture them in a glass chamber of whirling blades.

It helps if you twirl an imaginary evil mustache during this step.

Hold down the button until their tiny screams fade away, and you have a pale puree of goodness. Then crack open your cans of tomato sauce, pour them into the pot recently vacated by your veggies, and stir in the puree.

Accidentally perfect swirl: optional

Stir, stir, stir, and watch in childlike wonder as the pale green veggie puree is totally concealed in the all-powerful redness of the tomato sauce. Then add just a little seasoning.

And by "just a little" I mean "somewhat less than a metric ton".

How much oregano and red pepper you add is totally up to you. I went a bit overboard on the red pepper, and left my Boy literally panting at the dinner table while he shoveled forkfuls of lasagna into his face. Again: don’t be like me.

Ultimately, the zucchini mixture is (visually) gone, but not forgotten. It gives the sauce a thick and hearty texture that I have decided to adore instantly and forever. This will only get thicker and more luxurious the longer you let it simmer. Which you should do over medium-low heat for at least half an hour (roughly the time it’ll take to prep the rest of the ingredients).

Now let us consider the sausage.

Hmmm .... sausage ....

Turkey products have come along way, baby. There are alot more options than just vaguely troubling ground meat. Now, I am a fool for Italian sausage. Fully capable of eating it like candy. And I tell you this , with all the honesty in my food-loving heart: turkey Italian sausage is delicious. Particularly the hot variety. They season the hell out of it (because you have to, turkey being fairly bland on its own) and it’s damn tasty.

It does, however, lack that certain mysterious flavor that regular ol’ pork Italian sausage has. And by “mysterious” I mean “fat”. Greasy, lovely fat. Turkey is mega super lean, and has very little fat of its own, so for flavor it’s relying almost entirely on seasonings. If you’re just eating the sausage on its own, likesay in a sammich, that’s fine. But this sausage will need to compete with layers of sauce and cheese and noodles, so it’s going to need some help.

Which is my justification for mixing in a couple of regular pork sausage links along with the turkey. You could cook the sausages whole, then slice them and layer the slices into the lasagna. It would still be tasty, but would take longer because you’d have to make sure each link is cooked through (undercooked pork and poultry = bad). But this whole process has already exceeded my attention span, so I split the casings, dumped out the sausage into a skillet with no extra oil or butter or anything because the pork sausage had plenty of fat to lube the pan, and sizzled it around over medium-high heat until all the pink bits turned brown, breaking up the chunks as I went along.

I promise this tastes better than it looks.

While the sausage is cooking up, you can get the cheese filling ready. For that, you’ll need these guys:

Why hello, weird lighting!

What you can’t see, because I didn’t photograph it, is that the other side of that cottage cheese container has a label in Spanish. A label that says “Queso Cottage: BAJO EN GRASA”. I cannot get this phrase out of my head. Please take it from me.

For my cheese filling, I used the entire tub of ricotta and about 3/4 of the cottage cheese. You can change up the proportions however you like to get the consistency you want. Whatever you do, be sure to add seasoning. I went with salt, pepper, and some dried oregano.

Pre-stirring

Post-stirring

Done! Gosh that was complicated.

Okay, so. Sauce is done and simmering. Sausage is cooked. Noodles are boiled in very salty water and not photographed. Cheese filling is mixed.

Time to assemble this beast!

Pre-heat the oven to 375. Grab your favorite 9×13 lasagna pan. The one that’s stood by you through thick and thin and cooked some really bizarre things it was never meant to hold. The one that really deserves to be used for its intended purpose.

(and now for a breathtakingly long series of step-by-step photos of lasagna assembly)

Thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan.

Layer of noodles! Be sure to overlap for full coverage.

Layer of cheese filling! Also, thrilling new photo angle!

Layer of sausage! Then a bit of the sauce. Not too much sauce, lest your lasagna be soupy.

Then do it all again. Noodles (overlapped), cheese, sausage, sauce.

Continue repeating these layers till you get close to the top of your pan. With each layer, I could hear my 10th-grade Spanish teacher hollering in her nasal gringo accent “Clase! RRRRepitan, PORRR FABORRR!”. I was getting a bit delirious by now.

Also, I noticed that my lasagna was getting a lump in the middle. Apparently I was piling up ingredients rather centrally. If you find this happening to you, just wait till you have a layer of noodles, then spread your hands over the noodles and gently press down to level things out.

Anyway, once you get to the top of your pan, apply a final layer of noodles. Then cover them entirely in sauce. Leave no noodle bits uncovered, or they’ll dry out and get all nasty and crunchy in the oven.

Then cover the whole mess in an entire bag of mozzarella cheese.

Pictured above: potential for greatness.

Do not use low-fat mozzarella. If you do, don’t tell me about it. Low-fat cheese doesn’t melt worth a darn, and it’ll only give you a sad, chewy blanket all over your lovely lasagna. And nobody likes a sad chewy blanket. Nobody.

Carefully lift the pan, because the thing is way heavier than it looks, and place it in your oven for at least 30 minutes. This will get the cheese all melty and bubbly, and re-heat all the ingredients that cooled during assembly.

When it’s done, you can pull it out of the oven. And then try your damnedest to let this ….

.... Oh ....

Rest.

Untouched.

Uneaten.

Unloved.

.... oh my ....

For fifteen minutes.

Fifteen. One-five. 15. Whole. Minutes.

This is to allow everything to set up, so you can actually cut the lasagna into serve-able squares.

It’s also torture. I mean, you’ve been up to your elbows in this meal for the past couple of hours. You’ve painstakingly crafted every piece of it, handled every glob of cheese, every nugget of sausage, every slippery noodle. You want to dig right the hell in and you’ve EARNED THE RIGHT, dammit!

Earned the right to burn your tongue, that is. For real, let it rest a bit.

In the end, you have about a dozen servings of hot, cheesy, flavorful Italian-style comfort food that’s actually pretty darn good for you. The leftovers fridge or freeze perfectly and reheat magnificently. If you’ve got nine years to set aside for the cooking, it’ll do you proud.

Enjoy!

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One thought on “Healthy New Year: Lasagna

  1. […] Green Bean Bundles In Food/Recipes on February 6, 2010 at 6:44 am A while back, I made a recipe that took a rich, decadent dish and lightened it up into something […]

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