Monday, September 28, 2015

Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Zucchini Lasagna Speaks: "Don't Judge Me. Just Eat Me."

No matter how hard I try, when it comes to capturing the deliciousness of lasagna on film...it's nearly impossible.  Some of it may be my photography skills, but I think the true reason it can't be done is this: photographed melted cheese is just GROSS.  Your lasagna can be straight-out-of-the-oven, lava-hot—and it looks God awful:

zucchini lasagna plated

Let it rest for just a few minutes to set, and it looks like the rubber from an old pair of tennis shoes:

zucchini lasagna

There just seems to be no way to visually appreciate the culinary wonder that is lasagna.  

You just have to eat it.

I did some experimenting the other night with making a pasta-free lasagna.  I think it was one of the best lasagnas I have ever made.  Instead of using lasagna noodles, Chef Reiton sliced zucchinis lengthwise on the mandoline, the blade set at the thinnest setting.  Out came "noodles" that we layered raw in the pan.  (He only sliced about halfway through each zucchini to avoid any accidents with the mandoline blade.  We saved the leftover halves to use for another "pasta" meal a few days later).

I made the mistake of forgetting to salt the zucchini noodles before using them, so the lasagna came out a bit wet.  Salting zucchini after you cut or slice it helps to draw out their water (sprinkle zucchini with some kosher salt and let them sit for a good 20 minutes, then rinse and pat dry).  Other than that goof, we were very happy with the flavors.  Robust, cheesy, and a bit spicy.

Here are the items that I layered into our small lasagna pan for 2-4 people:
  • 3 small-to-medium sized zucchinis, about 1 1/2 to 2-in. in diameter, ends trimmed, then sliced LENGTHWISE on a mandoline set at the thinnest setting (salt the slices while you are sautéing up your 'shrooms and onions, then rinse and pat them dry)
  • 1/2 lb. chopped and sauteed baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 small onion, very thinly sliced on the mandoline into rings, then lightly caramelized on medium-low heat
  • 2 links of hot Italian sausage, crumbled and browned
  • whole milk ricotta cheese (forget lowfat, people! Full fat is better for you and tastes 100% better!)
  • provolone slices (not smoked)
  • mozzarella slices (not fresh)
  • homemade tomato sauce (recipe below)
  • Parmesan to grate on top

Lasagna is an as-you-like-it meal, so change the ingredients, layering tactics, and quantities to suit your own tastes.  

As for the sauce, it is quick and easy.  I figured the Italians keep things simple, so I did, too.  You ready?

Dump in the bowl of a food processor:
  • a 28-oz. can of peeled whole tomatoes (yes, Marzanos if you can do them), juice included
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves, cut into quarters
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 heavy drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 heavy drizzle balsamic vinegar
  • the leaves of one large sprig of basil
Puree until everything looks smooth.  You can use the sauce straight from the bowl or simmer it to allow it to thicken and the flavors marry, if you have the time.

That's it.  Our lasagna got baked at 350° for a good half hour.  Just make sure the whole thing is bubbly, not just the edges.  

And if it looks U.G.L.Y. when you plate it? Don't judge.  Just eat.

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