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Very Veggie: Meat-free lasagna

Feb 23, 2011 08:50PM ● By Ashley West

There's no real rhyme or reason for it, other than I felt like a challenge—and cooking delicious, filling meat-free meals can be a challenge sometimes, especially if it's done every day and not just occasionally. So this week, I am taking the challenge of cooking meat-free meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I started on Monday night with a delicious, though time-consuming, vegetable lasagna.

To do so, I took the basis of my regular lasagna, which is essentially just noodles, ground beef, marinara sauce, cottage cheese, and mozzarella, and first, eliminated the beef. Then I figured out which veggies I was going to add — spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, onions — and thought about how I could intensify the flavor of the lasagna.

First, I got the idea to infuse the flavor of roasted garlic into the cottage cheese. So I roasted a head of garlic and mixed it into the cottage cheese, which gave it a nice mellow garlic flavor. Then I roasted slices of eggplant drizzle with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. The final step was caramelizing the onions.

Caramelizing onions isn't hard, but does take time. Slice up an onion and throw it in a pan over low heat with some butter and olive oil. (Uh, I didn't say it was necessarily healthy, did I?) Make sure the onions are coated, and then let them cook low and slow, as they develop a light brown color. I let the onions cook for about 45 minutes, but they could go even longer for a more intense flavor. After the onions were finished, I sauteed sliced mushrooms in the remnants of the olive oil and butter so I wouldn't dirty another pan.

Once the vegetables were all prepped, I started layering: The bottom of the pan (a 9x9 casserole dish in this case) gets a splash of tomato sauce, then the first layer of lasagna noodles (I used whole wheat. Here's a trick: Lasagna noodles DO NOT have to be boiled before layering, even whole wheat ones. Just make sure there's enough sauce surrounding them that they'll cook fully in the oven.) Next is a layer of the garlic cottage cheese, then a layer of spinach and mushrooms, then shredded mozzarella cheese. Repeat the process, but substitute eggplant and onions for the veggie layer. Add one more layer of noodles and top with sauce and shredded cheese.

The measurements for this lasagna is approximate. I used a small tub of cottage cheese, 2 cups shredded mozzarella, and nearly two jars of marinara sauce. Bake the whole thing with foil wrapped over it at 350 degrees for an hour or so. It's important to keep it in that long to let the uncooked noodles soften. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for another 20 minutes with the foil on so it sets. After that, it's fair game to dig in — enjoy!