I haven't tried making lasagna since I stopped eating meat. I
have a really killer meat sauce recipe that AnnMarie gave me
from her mom which is apparently pretty authentic Italian,
because that's what AnnMarie and her mom are. They actually
call it "gravy" which I guess is what you call meat sauce if
you're Italian. The recipe for the gravy calls for browning
pieces of Italian sausage, meat balls, pork, and braciole
(stuffed, rolled beef slices) and letting them sit in the sauce
all day long. Aside from not eating meat, I can only make that
about once a year because it has about an eleven month supply
of saturated fat.

But since lasagna is one of those things you can make without
meat, I thought I'd give it a try. Besides, I had two boxes of
lasagna noodles in my cupbord which I bought last month when it
was on sale and marinara works just as well and doesn't take
all day.

The first thing I thought of when I decided to make veggie
lasagna was spinach, but I wasn't sure what part of the lasagna
the spinach belongs in. I thought about layering in the leaves
with the other stuff, but I think a lot of water would cook out
and make the whole thing a runny mess. So I decided to puree
it up in the cheese. Then, I knew I would need more than just
spinach before I could call lasagna a vegetable, so I figured I
would put more chopped up vegetables in the sauce to simulate
the chunkiness you get when you use meat. For the noodles, I
didn't do anything special, except I don't precook them, which
I guess is fairly heretical in some circles.

So here is what I did.

Sauce

Saute 1/2 medium brown onion, chopped, and about 8 cloves of
fresh minced garlic in about 2 tablespoons olive oil until
golden brown or a little longer. Add 40 ounces tomato sauce
(*) and one 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes (**). Could I
have used diced tomatoes (bigger) or pureed tomatoes (smaller)?
Probably. Then add a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of
fresh ground pepper, a teaspoon of dried oregano leaves, and a
bay leaf.

There's not much to making marinara, but it's so much better
than the store bought stuff filled with corn syrup solids and
"spices". Heat up the whole thing then turn it down to low and
let it sit for a while. The longer the better, but at least a
half hour.

-----
* I used five 8 oz cans. I buy the small cans because (a) they
seem to be cheaper per ounce, (b) I never know how much I'll
use and I can add a little at a time without wasting, and (c)
whatever cans I don't use, I use during the week and it's
easier to cook for one person when I have little cans.

** It doesn't come in small cans.

See also a later marinara recipe
-----

For the vegetables for the sauce, I chopped up two red bell
peppers, two green bell peppers, two carrots, and three ribs of
celery into little pieces. I used a "V-slicer" with the small
chopper blade which gave me pieces about 1/4 inch wide. Saute
these in another few tablespoons olive oil (you'll need a big
pan or a dutch oven) until they're just getting limp, about
5-10 minutes. Don't add them to the sauce until the very end
because you don't want them to get all mushy. You can do all
the chopping and sauteeing during breaks in the action in the
next section.

Cheese

Buy quite a lot of fresh spinach. I'm pretty lazy and I buy
the stuff in the bag that's "triple washed" and already has the
stems taken off, but regular fresh spinach is fine, with or
without stems, as long as there's no gritty dirt left on it.
Wash it a lot. I bought two bags, which I think are 10 ounces
each. Out of the bags, it filled an 8 quart pot pretty
tightly. If you have a steamer rack, steam the spinach,
otherwise just add a half inch of water to the bottom of the
pot and boil until the spinach is cooked but still pretty
bright green. You might be surprised at how little is left
when it's cooked. It'll shrink down a lot. While it's
cooking, you can cut up the vegetables for the sauce. Let it
cool. While it's cooling, saute the vegetables for the sauce.
Squeeze as much of the water out of the cooked spinach as you
can. I used my hands to pick up blobs of spinach and squeezed
them like I was trying to compress snowballs.

Put the squeezed spinach and about a quarter cup of ricotta in
a food processor (or a blender, I guess) with about 10 fresh
basil leaves and puree the heck out of the whole thing. It
should be pretty pasty and not liquidy. Mix the spinach paste
in a bowl with a big tub of ricotta cheese (I don't know what
size, there are two sizes in my store and this was the big size
-- if I had to guess, I'd say a pound, or a pint.) Add about a
teaspoon of salt (to taste) and mix well.

Grate a big ball of mozzarella (again, I'd guess a pound, it's
the big size at my store.)

Assembly

Add the sauted vegetables to the marinara and mix well. Get a
big pan. I used a pan that is one lasagna length wide and
seven lasagna widths long. That is, seven lasagna noodles fit
side by side. Pour a couple ladles full of sauce on the bottom
of the pan. With a butter knife or spatula, spread a few
tablespoons of the ricotta/spinach mixture on an uncooked
lasagna noodle, covering it completely. Do the same thing to
enough noodles to cover the bottom of the pan and arrange them
side by side, cheese side up, in the pan without overlapping.
Put another couple ladles full of sauce on top of the noodles
and spread it around evenly. Sprinkle some mozzarella cheese
evenly on top of the sauce. Repeat with layers of noodles,
sauce, and cheese until you're all out of something. If you
plan well enough, you'll be out of everything all at the same
time. I had three layers. Feel free to break the noodles if
you need to to get them to fit in your pan. If you have a deep
pan, I think you could stack higher, but cook a little longer
to make up for it.

Baking

Cover well with foil and bake for an hour at 375 degrees.
Remove from the oven and let cool for twenty minutes to allow
the whole thing to "set". Serve with fresh parmesan. Eat.

Since a lot of my friends canceled at the last minute and I
already had the lasagna stuff going, I cut the salad and the
vegetable and the bread from the menu and just served lasagna
for four men. I think there was about 1/6 of the lasagna
leftover. I think with other stuff, this would have fed 10-12.

Bruce

See also Lasagna Proportions, added January, 2001.