Elizabeth’s Festive, Flexible Lasagna

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lasagnaPesto Adds Zip to Family Favorite
By Elizabeth Weinstein

Everyone needs a go-to dish, one you can throw together for last-minute guests or take to new neighbors, or to bleary-eyed parents during their first days at home with a new baby. For my family, that dish is what we call our “festive, flexible lasagna.”There’s nothing Italian about the title (or about my family, for that matter), but in the nearly two decades we’ve been whipping up this easy dish, we have lasagna ingredients and prep received countless requests for the recipe and its origin. There’s been some disagreement about where it came from, but we recently agreed that it originated with our lifelong family friend, a native of—England.

The two key ingredients that give this dish both zest and depth are pesto and red wine—don’t omit either, no matter what alterations you make to the recipe. The festive, flexible part comes in the layering. You can make the insides of this dish as healthy as you want, layering it with thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, or spinach; or you can make it meaty with sausage (any kind will do) or beef. The recipe below is my favorite version, but feel free to be adventurous and stuff it with any of the layering ingredients I’ve suggested, or your own combination.

The best feature of this lasagna is its simplicity. Unlike many lasagna recipes, this one doesn’t require you to precook noodles, sauté vegetables, or prepare a meat sauce. You simply make it, bake it, and eat it. A healthy hats off to you if you’d rather make the tomato sauce and pesto from scratch!

Festive, Flexible Lasagna
Recipe by Elizabeth Weinstein for The FruitGuys

INGREDIENTS
24 ounces tomato pasta sauce*
9 uncooked lasagna noodles
7 ounces, or about 3/4 cup, basil pesto (make your own or buy a reduced-fat version)
16 ounces reduced-fat cottage cheese
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, diced
2–3 large zucchini, cut in quarter-inch rounds
1 pound pork sausage (optional)
Italian herb seasoning**
8 ounces reduced-fat four-cheese Italian blend (mozzarella, provolone, Romano, Asiago)
1/4 cup dry red wine

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 375 °F.
  • Brown sausage on stovetop, breaking up into small chunks. Drain and set aside.
  • In a small mixing bowl, combine the cottage cheese, egg, diced garlic, and pesto. Stir well until blended.
  • Spread a shallow layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Place three lasagna noodles lengthwise on top of sauce. Top each noodle with a layer of the pesto mixture. As with all ingredients, the mixture should cover each noodle from end to end.
  • Place rounds of zucchini side by side on each noodle, then top with some sausage and a light sprinkle of Italian herb seasoning.
  • Cover the layer with the Italian cheese blend—don’t be shy about piling it on. Finally, drop small dollops of tomato sauce down each strip, just enough to give your next set of noodles a little moisture.
  • Repeat the layering process two more times, ending with a few dollops of tomato sauce. Pour the red wine around the lasagna's edges.
  • Seal with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15–20 minutes uncovered.

Serves about 6. Prep time, 20 minutes; cook time, 65–70 minutes.

Cook’s notes:

* Make your own pasta sauce (see The FruitGuys’ recipe for Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce) or buy your favorite premade blend. You’ll use at least one 24-ounce jar and may need a little extra.

** You can buy premixed Italian seasonings or make your own from any combination of dried thyme, oregano, basil, and marjoram.

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Elizabeth Weinstein is an Alexandria, VA-based freelance journalist.

 

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