Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Go Green!: Spinach, Pesto & Zucchini "Lasagna"

It's been rainy. It's been foggy. It's been downright gloomy. Hello, Fall! So nice of you to come out and play. Finally. Some of you start dreaming of apples and pumpkin when the cooler weather hits, but I dream of comfort food. My ultimate comfort food, besides chocolate (duh), involves any incarnation of carbohydrate and cheese--lots of cheese. Give me a warm plate of carbs and cheese, and I'm in culinary heaven. So easily pleased, I know.

To demonstrate just how far this love affair goes, I will share with you some of the food I have eaten these past few weeks. First, there was a grilled sharp cheddar, blue cheese and bacon sandwich on rye. Then there was the leftover mojo chicken with a thick slice of havarti melted on sourdough. I know I had a quesadilla or two--at least once with goat cheese. One of my go-to snacks has been Ak-Mak crackers with cheese--all kinds. I also put freshly grated parmesan on my baked potato the other night. And if we want to get all technical here, even non-starchy vegetables are full of carbohydrates, and I rarely eat salad without some sort of cheese. Goat, sheep, cow, strange furry animal--as long as it's cheese, I'm down.

Clearly this is why I'm sharing this lazy lasagna with you today. Let's first talk about its origin. A 10-12 person household full of college students living abroad gives way to group dinners; that many people in the kitchen is just dangerous. At least three times a week in my Chilean household, someone different would cook dinner and we would all partake, sitting down for lots of food and wine. The French dude enjoyed using heavy cream; the Ecuadorian was a chef in training; the Germans made some weird stuff; and the Mexicans fed my cravings. I cooked at this point, but not well. Sure, I could feed myself relatively decent food, but it was always simple and kind of bland. Without a lot of my essential ingredients (and a dislike for most Chilean food), I had to learn to make a lot of things from scratch. One of these things was flavorful pasta sauce. Having just created an an awesome basil garlic tomato sauce (I found the pesto), I decided it needed to be featured in my house dinner. I chose to make lasagna, despite never having done so before. I was also without a recipe, as the internet was down that day. Crazy, indeed.

This lasagna, albeit with ricotta and spinach lasagna noodles, was the result of that attempt. I don't know why I decided that zucchini was necessary, or that spinach should show up in the cheese. But I did, and I ended up making this dish at least 5 more times at the request of my roommates. Since then, I've made two alterations to the original recipe. I find ricotta to be very dry and mealy, so in turn, I use cottage cheese in my lasagna these days. It's a much creamier outcome, and there always seems to be a container in the house (more cheese!). As for laziness, who likes playing with lasagna noodles? Just scoop a layer of noodles and add more cheese and sauce. I suppose the use of whole wheat rotini is also an alteration, but it's what I had and it's healthier. Whatever. At least I got to eat all that cheese.

Spinach, Pesto &
Zucchini "Lasagna"
Makes 1 9x13 Pan

12 oz pasta
2 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2/3 cup basil pesto
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups cubed zucchini
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
12 oz. spinach leaves
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Notes: I used 100% whole wheat noodles, but feel free to use whatever kind you want, including lasagna noodles. Farfalle, campanelle & rotini are the best if you want to do this the lazy way. And be sure to use freshly grated cheeses--it makes all the difference.

Preheat oven to 350F & boil a pot of water for pasta.

1. While oven is preheating and your water is boiling, toss lemon zest with cubed zucchini. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place on a baking sheet and put into oven, allowing it to cook while oven continues to heat up. Zucchini is done when roasted; it will be slightly brown and look as though it is dried out. 15-20 minutes.

2. Pour a teaspoon of olive oil into a pool in the middle of a large pan. Place your garlic in that pool and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Spread around pan, add spinach and stir around. Keep heat on medium, stirring now and again. Spinach needs to cook beyond wilted; you want to remove as much moisture from it as possible to prevent lasagna leakage.

3. While the spinach cooks, boil your noodles until al dente. Strain and set aside.

4. In a large bowl, mix cottage cheese, pesto and spinach, along with some pepper to taste. Add salt if needed.

I froze my pesto in an ice cube tray, so it looks funny.

5. To build: (1) a decent layer of tomato sauce on bottom of the dish; (2) half of the noodles; (3) half the spinach-pesto mixture; (4) all of the zucchini; (5) half of the mozzarella; (6) a layer of tomato sauce; (7) rest of noodles; (8) rest of pesto-spinach mixture; (10) half of remaining mozzarella; (11) rest of the tomato sauce; (12) rest of the mozzarella; (13) all of the parmesan.

6. Bake for 40-45 minutes until bubbling, brown and cooked through. Let cool slightly before serving.

You can also freeze this in an airtight container for up a month. Just place in fridge the night before to thaw.


Sippity Sup said...

You are right! The weather in So. Cal. calls for exactly this kind of meal... GREG

PS Will you marry me?

Tiffany said...

This looks so amazingly fantastic, seriously right up my alley with all the ingredients and the way it is put together! Thank you for sharing!

the actor's diet said...

love it - glad to see i'm not the only one who adds cottage cheese to pasta!

Chef Dave said...

I love Pasta. This looks great!

Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having said...

I've been craving melted cheese lately too. I don't really care what its on, as long as its gooey salty and delicious. This sounds like an awesome way to get my fix!

Lick My Spoon said...

Ah, carbs and cheese. They're a gift and a curse. I won't ask your hand in marriage, it's not proper to do it in comment form.

Lick My Spoon

gringarl said...

I love cheesy pasta and thought I'm the only freak that adds cottage cheese, glad there are more out there :P

Yours look so good

baking.serendipity said...

I love new twists on lasagna and yours definitely doesn't disappoint. What a great, healthy comfort food...so perfect for your rainy, foggy day :)

Monet said...

I agree. Carbs and cheese make my world go round. In fact, I'm eating a bowl of pasta and mozzarella cheese right now. It is tasty, but not nearly as flavorful or creative as what you have got going on here! And I loved hearing about its origins. This looks just perfect, and I'm glad you shared it with lazy, old me. (and this looks simple enough that I could manage it...I save all my creativity/work for baking).

michelle @ The Domestic Mama and The Village Cook said...

OH Yum, I am so with you carbs and cheese IS so comforting.

Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

This baked pasta dish looks lovely and so healthy! I definitely want to try out my own variation of this!

briarrose said...

Looks so tasty.


Mmmmm! Carbs are so comforting, especially slathered in cheese!

The Duo Dishes said...

Love the shot with all the layers. It looks beautiful. And colorful!

danasfoodforthought said...

This definitely sounds like the PERFECT comfort food to me!! Soo cheesey and gooey!

Isabelle said...

Wait... how did I miss this post for two entire days? I am heartbroken (and also a little hungry)

Also: <3

Baker Street said...

I love the idea of a lazy lasanga.. and i love pesto anything!! this just seems so perfect to indulge into right now.. :)

Serene said...

It's gorgeous. It's not lasagna, but it's gorgeous. :-)

Hot Polka Dot Mom said...

I am SO going to make this recipe!

Magic of Spice said...

Great recipe...I love the veggies and pesto here :)

Colette said...

Fusilli! Beautiful. Why not?

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