Ridiculously veggie lasagna

Somebody recently asked for the recipe for the veggie lasagna that we make.  The problem is that there isn’t really a recipe, and the formulation has changed significantly over time.  But, here’s a reasonable approximation.  The basic idea is to make a lasagna using homemade sauce with a ridiculous amount of veggies, both because it tastes better that way and to stretch out the cheese, which is not as good for you or for the planet, and the pasta, which by my way of thinking is mostly there for organizational purposes.

So start by making sauce in a big pot.     Our big lasagna pan is about 10×15 inches, and for this you want to end up with at least two quarts of sauce for a pan that size.  Ostensibly this is a tomato-based sauce, but by volume it is something else entirely – what it is changes depending on what’s in the fridge.  It reliably starts with a couple of chopped onions and a healthy gout of olive oil, followed by the better part of a head of garlic, minced.  Then we add whatever veggies are around – last week it was a big sack of frozen broccoli from the garden, an even bigger sack of similarly frozen zucchini, a cup or so of frozen peas,  and several carrots.  Obviously fresh is the thing in the summer, or when foraging at the grocer’s.  The structural integrity of the finished lasagna will be better if the vegetables are cut up relatively fine, especially if they start fresh. When all that is simmering along OK we add some form of tomato product – might be commercial red sauce from a jar, semi-processed tomatoes in a can, or tomato sauce we put up in jars last summer (sadly just used the last of that up).  By this time it’s usually pretty soupy, so we add somewhere in the neighborhood of a cup of TVP, which consolidates things considerably.  Then probably a couple tablespoons of one of those Italian herb mixes that someone gave us, and salt to taste, quantity depending on whether there was any in the sauce you used.  You let that simmer for a while till it’s good and thick.

So now you have a massive quantity of vaguely tomato-ish vegetable sauce.  One variation that I especially favor is to throw in between 1 and 2 cups of frozen pesto to the sauce at the end – I typically grow a patch of basil about the size of a coffee table, and by harvesting regularly end up with close to a gallon of frozen pesto  by the end of the summer, all frozen in serving-size bricks.  Round about late winter I realize we’re never going to eat that much pesto under ordinary circumstances, and it starts going into lasagnas and things.  Obviously to make or buy that much pesto would be an exorbitant expense – one of the great luxuries of the garden.  The pesto makes the sauce look kind of drab, but it tastes great.

The rest is more or less as usual.  We grate a pound of part skim mozzarella and a good sized brick of Parmesan, leaving a bit out for the top, mix in a pint tub of ricotta, and boil a pound of regular lasagna noodles.  Then start assembly, in the following order: sauce, then [pasta, sauce, cheese] n times, where n is 3 I think.  The most annoying part is breaking up the cheese finely enough, since the ricotta makes it gloppy.   There’s probably some more sensible way to do it, but I haven’t experimented in that direction.  Anyway, the key is, after the first layer of sauce, which is maybe 1/8″ thick, since it’s just there to keep the noodles from sticking to the pan, you want the layers of sauce to be at least a quarter of an inch thick, basically so they completely obscure the pasta below.  That’s the only way you’ll ever use up as much sauce as you’ve made, and it’s also how to pack the most flavor in.

When you’re dangerously close to the top of the pan, add a final layer of pasta.  Out of deference to lasagna tradition we often use plain red sauce over the last layer of noodles for brighter color, then grate on the last bit of cheese.  It bakes at 350 for a good long while, probably close to an hour, till the cheese starts to brown and the whole business starts to lift out of the pan around the edges.    That’s pretty much all there is to it.  I suspect that as time goes on we will continue to increase the ratio of vegetable to other ingredients, until it is more properly some kind of strange casserole.

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