I’m willing to admit my failures and last night’s dinner was one of them. It was my first attempt at Lasagna, mistakes were made and lessons need to be learned. My goal was to make a spinach pasta vegetable lasagna without tomato sauce. I wanted to perfect the recipe and then re-make it to send a large portion to my neighbor, so she could make a couple of meals out of it. She is on a no/low sodium diet and tomatoes don’t agree with her.
Here is what I know I did wrong, I substituted cottage cheese for ricotta (in an attempt to cut calories – fail). My bechamel sauce was too thick and I think I should have added more shredded cheese.
(1) What kind of shredded cheese do you use?? And how much in a 9 X 13 Lasagna??
(2) Do you mix an egg in with the ricotta cheese?? I did with the cottage cheese and I think that was a mistake.
(3) What vegetables do you use?? I used one yellow squash, one green squash, onions, carrots and mushrooms.
(4) How many layers are in a traditional vegetable lasagna??
(5) Any helpful tips or tricks??
(Suggest asking @moderators to create a lasagne helo thread.)
What was a fail in your opinion? Flavor? Texture?
Cottage cheese is a pretty well-used swap in lasagne, but careful about the hidden sodium in it given your neighbor’s restriction.
Homemade lasagna sheets are much more delicate than the dry stuff, so sometimes they can fall apart — or result in a different texture than expected.
For lasagne you’re planning to give or freeze, a loaf pan is great — a sheet fits almost exactly along the length. I’m not a big fan of foil disposables but this is a good place for them — though given that it’s your neighbor, you could just as easily use non-disposable pan because you’ll get it back. You can also line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or foil, layer, freeze, and then remove and retrieve the pan itself - stick it back in to cook/reheat.
I agree with all of @Saregama comments/suggestions. I’ll add -
I always use a ricotta and egg mixture and put a dash of fresh nutmeg in.
I never use a béchamel mainly because I’m too lazy to bother. Between the ricotta mixture and the cheese (mozzarella and parmesan) it is usually rich enough for me.
Did you saute or roast the veggies before layering them in the lasagna? Doing so will had lots of flavor.
When making a veggie lasagna (I use whatever vegetables I have on hand - your list sounds about right) I often use a butternut squash puree in lieu of tomato sauce. I’ll also replace some of the mozz with Fontina.
I never counted the number of layers. I keep going until I run out of stuff.
For shredded cheese, I personally stick with mozzarella. However, other cheeses can and usually area added - I go lightly with the sprinkling of mozz, and there’s the ricotta, of course, and then a sprinkle of grated Parm-Reg on top.
Yes - egg, parsley, s/p, ricotta. In place of ricotta, mascarpone could be used, but it could be prohibitively expensive, as containers of mascarpone are much smaller than the tubs of ricotta.
Veggies - Since I’m usually making a red meat sauce, I use chopped onions, mushrooms and red bell peppers in the meat sauce. I think all three would work in a vegetable lasagna. For the spinach/veg lasagna, you could have sautéed arugula to go with the spinach for a lightly pepper bite. Diced and sautéed zucchini would work. Well cooked diced butternut squash would be great, within reason as to quantities. You could also puree some butternut squash or use canned pumpkin mixed in with the bechamel sauce!
As many layers as you’re comfortable with. As Saregama noted, loaf pans are often perfect because dried lasagna noodles often fit almost perfectly in a large loaf pan.
5a. Tips - Use LESS sauce than you think you need, especially if you’ve not made it before. I used to think “I’ve got to add more sauce - this isn’t near enough sauce - it’ll never work out!” and then the lasagna was goopy with sauce (and ricotta - SEE: 5b) and wouldn’t hold up. If a recipe says “Swirl 3/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of a square 9” baking dish just to cover bottom" do exactly that.
5b. Don’t go heavy with the dollops of ricotta/egg/parsley mix. I learned that the hard way - nothing “sets” if there’s too much of it, and everything just squishes out after cooking and when you’re trying to cut into nice squares for serving.
5c. Tips - You don’t have to cook the noodles. I used Barilla uncooked noodles last lasagna I made, and it worked out just fine.
5d. Tips - Let the lasagna sit on the stovetop for 15-20 minutes to rest, just like a roasting chicken before you carve it. You want the lasagna to settle and “firm up” a bit before cutting into it with a sharp knife and going at it with a spatula to plate.
Top of my head at work, that’s what I come up with. Hope that helps!
I am skeptical, but America’s Test Kitchen, or perhaps Milk Street Kitchen, claims cottage cheese is better than ricotta in lasagna/manicotti/stuffed shells. I’ve done both and have no preference.
The pictured lasagna looks like it was baked too long and/or on too high heat. Try baking in a covered pan. Use foil laid atop the pan, or cover it with a cookie sheet. Also adviseable: set the lasagna pan onto a sheet pan, to catch anything that bubbles over.
Think bigger about sauce. If I don’t want tomato, nor to cook a sauce from scratch, I use a good pureed (creamy or non) soup from Panera or the supermarket house-prepared ready to go section. Panera autumn harvest squash soup is vegetarian and every bit as good as my own curried butternut squash soup. Keep in mind that you can always puree any purchased soup you want to use as a sauce. If it’s canned, to thicken it make beurre manie. Equal measures of butter and flour, thoroughly mashed together. You can make a larger amount, shape it into a disc or log and keep frozen, cutting off a slice whenever you need to thicken a sauce, soup, or gravy.
That Panera soup makes a terrific strata, using good bread, sliced chicken, chutney, and swiss or cheddar.
Agreed - should have added that tip - start off with the entire lasagna covered tightly with foil (spray the inside of the foil with cooking spray, so the cheese doesn’t stick to it) and then remove it for the last 15-20 minutes or so.
Also a good tip for the sheet pan underneath. Ask me how I know.
Sauce… Carmelized onions, shrooms, and peppers in EVVO makes a very flavorful base for a sauce. Finish it off with garlic, Italian parsley, basil, and maybe a carrot or roasted red pepper puree, with a splash of wine or wine vinegar.
For veggies… I like spinach, zucchini, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, chickpea hummus… some or all cooked 'till tender with a medium chop or course duxelles type mixture… seasoned with pepper, bay leaf, dill, chives, unsalted butter, and maybe a bit of citrus juice and/or zest.
Cheese… grated whole milk low moisture Moz. I find ricotta incredible boring unless mixed with lots of parm (which adds a lot of salt).
Pasta… careful of your moisture levels, and let it rest a good half hour before rolling it out. Would also suggest a semolina base (or at least 50/50 mix with all purpose/00). Just blanch it for a minute or so, followed by cold water bath, and dry well between paper towels.
Assembly… sauce, pasta, veggies, cheese… and repeat (I usually do 4 layers or more).
Baking… bake covered 20+ minutes at 375°F, and then another 20 or so uncovered until moz on top is nicely browned.
That was something that crossed my mind. I did bake it a 350(F) for just over an hour. 45 minutes covered, 20 minutes uncovered. I was under the impression with homemade uncooked pasta that you have to bake it a little longer. It appears that is not the case, though.
I think I’m going to try to this with my next attempt.
You are correct, I’ve been taking meals down to my elderly neighbor, who can’t have salt. She was in the hospital, but was released about a month ago and has a long road to recovery.
She has some good days and some bad days and doesn’t always feel up to cooking. I’ve been (making extra) & taking hot meals down twice a week. She usually gets two dinners out of each “meal box” I prepare.