Lasagna is glorious, isn’t it? Well, at least a good one is. But I get a bit fed up with the run of the mill meat sauce versions and find a lot of them a bit, well, boring and stodgy to be fair.
This lighter version is far from boring and far from stodgy. It is perfect for spring or summer entertaining, but equally it is simple enough to feed the family midweek.
Gone is the standard meat sauce. Instead, we’re layering with veggies. Lots of them. Anything you like that’s in season.
Gone is the stodgy bechamel sauce. Enter a lighter blend of soft herb or cream cheese, ricotta and fresh pesto.
I’m using my own simple marinara sauce, which is quick and easy to make and fabulous in any recipe that calls for a tomato sauce.
To continue the light and easy-to-digest theme, I’ve used gluten-free lasagna sheets, but you can use your normal favourites. For ease of making, I suggest non-pre-cook though. Life is too short.
If you are feeling super angelic, you could simply use more lengthwise sliced courgette to layer up the dish to replace the pasta altogether. Delicious. I guess I’d probably call it a vegetable bake rather than a lasagna in that case though.
Lighter Lasagna Primavera (serves 6-8 GF V RSF)
You can vary the vegetables according to the season and your preference: carrots, fennel, artichokes, asparagus, peas and broad beans all work well. Some may need blanching or pre-cooking before using.
If you are making this for children who moan about every vegetable they see, finely chop the vegetables instead of finely slicing, so that it is more difficult for them to identify them and fish them out of the dish. Clever, right? Also, finely chopping the vegetables gives a more cohesive structure, which some people prefer to the layering approach.
Personally, I like the pretty layers and distinguishable vegetables, so I slice my vegetables on a mandoline or use the slicing tool of my food processor. I sometimes spiralize them, which helps the sauces to get right in between the veggies.
Don’t stint on the sauces if you’re using non-pre-cook lasagna, as the pasta needs plenty of liquid to absorb and cook. So ensure that the marinara sauce is on the liquid side.
Covering the lasagna also helps to keep moisture inside the dish. And the vegetables will release some juices too to help things along.
PS for some bizarre reason the top layer of my lasagna (Ogran GF mini lasagna sheets) self-rolled itself while baking. No idea why and I’ve never had this happen before. But it looked kinda cute!
300-350 gr (GF) lasagna sheets, non-pre-cook ones, else blanched and drained
250 gr mushrooms (I used large portobello), thinly sliced or roughly chopped
450 gr jar of roasted red peppers, drained and halved lengthwise to flatten
2-3 courgettes, thinly sliced
300 gr fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced
800 ml marinara tomato sauce, from a jar or homemade (see below), watered down with a little water if too thick if using non-pre-cook lasagna
250 gr grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella)
125 gr mozzarella, thinly sliced or torn into small-ish pieces
For the cheese and spinach sauce:
200 gr spinach, washed, dried and finely chopped
150 gr soft herb cheese (I used Boursin)
180 gr cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
180 gr ricotta
150 gr fresh pesto from a tub or home made
1 egg, beaten (optional – I forgot!)
Optional to serve: fresh basil and a side salad
If using non-pre-cook lasagna, the sheets still benefit from soaking in hot water for a few minutes before using.
Mix the ingredients for the cheese and spinach sauce together and season to taste. Set aside.
Ladle 2-3 large spoonfuls of the marinara sauce in a large oven dish and spread out a little with the back of a spoon. Top with a layer of lasagna sheets.
Top the lasagna with a layer of one of the vegetables, then a layer of the cheese sauce. Top with a layer of lasagna, a layer of vegetables, a layer of cheese sauce and repeat until your dish is full, finishing with a layer of lasagna and cheese sauce.
Add a layer of 1/2 the grated cheese somewhere in the middle.
Top the lasagna with the rest of the grated cheese and the mozzarella.
Cover with a piece of aluminium foil and chill in the fridge until ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Bake the lasagna (covered) for about an hour or so. Uncover and bake for a further 15-25 minutes until a knife inserted tells you the lasagna is cooked. The cheese topping should have melted and start to go golden brown.
Garnish with fresh basil and serve with a side salad.
Marinara sauce (makes approx 800 ml – GF V Vg LC RSF)
This is a lovely basic tomato sauce that is great for pizza and pasta or as a base for stews and other sauces. I often add 2-3 jarred anchovies to add a savoury touch, but of course I omit that for vegetarian uses.
It is ready to use within 15 mins, but feel free to cook it longer if you need a thicker and more concentrated sauce. Leave chunky or blend until smooth.
If using in a lasagna, I recommend not to reduce the sauce too much and to blend until smooth, so that the pasta sheets can soak up the sauce more readily.
Make a double or triple batch and freeze the extra batches for up to 6 months
A little sugar or honey brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes.
800 gr tinned chopped tomatoes
1-2 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely chopped
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp coconut palm sugar or honey (optional)
1/2 tbsp dried oregano or Italian herbs
2-3 bay leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme if you have it
Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy based pan. Add the onion and sauté for a couple of mins until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 secs or so. Add the rest of the ingredients, season and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 10 mins.
Fish out the bay leaves and thyme (if using) and blend until smooth. Else leave chunky and/or cook for up to an hour for a thicker more concentrated sauce.