Thursday, August 18, 2011

Zucchini Lasagna

I know the majority of my recent posts have been baking/dessert related, but as promised here is a savory recipe, utilizing zucchini, no less! Technically it's baked in the oven, but it's not really a "baking" recipe :) This lasagna was very different from lasagnas I've made in the past. The main difference is that most lasagnas usually start with a layer of sauce, layer the pasta and fillings, and then are topped with sauce and cheese and then baked. This one starts with a layer of homemade lasagna noodles that hang over the edges of the baking dish, creating a lasagna completely wrapped in noodles. The fillings are layered with more homemade noodles and the top is finished with sauce and cheese, but then the overhanging pasta is folded over to enclose the entire lasagna.

I was a bit uncertain as I was reading the instructions, because my noodles (cut approximately to the length specified) would never be long enough to COMPLETELY enclose the lasagna, and I ran out of noodles to help them out at the end. I had one noodle left, which I sliced into strips and turned my poor lasagna into a jailbird, trapped in its own deliciousness :) In the end, I think leaving the top open, with even just a slight bit of covering along the edges would be just fine. The edges crisped up beautifully, especially with the addition of some good old-fashioned butter right before baking.

Even though this is a white lasagna, meaning it doesn't feature a tomato-based sauce, but rather a bechamel sauce, it actually tasted very light! It was not heavy as expected, because it actually was pretty light on the cheese. It didn't contain ricotta, and its mozzarella component was a really restrained amount of fresh mozzarella. None of that processed stuff. Some Parmigiano-Reggiano (or in my case Pecorino-Romano) adds a bit more depth. Because the sauce is so neutral, the flavor of the vegetables really shines through! Between the zucchini and onions, this lasagna really tastes like a garden. The zucchini is truly the star, along with the lovely sweet onions. Although my lasagna was not the prettiest lasagna I've ever made (need to work on my overhang/assembling techniques for this unconventional lasagna method--also I had a friend over while I was making this and was having too much fun to really care how it looked, hehe), it was definitely one of my favorites, and more unique creations. Lasagna doesn't HAVE to use tomato sauce, or even ricotta cheese to be amazing.

Zucchini Lasagna
Makes 6 to 8 servings
(Adapted from On Top of Spaghetti)

1 tsp. unsalted butter
4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups halved and thinly sliced onions
Kosher salt
2 lbs zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 eggs

3 cups milk
3 T. unsalted butter
3 T. all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch nutmeg

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
2 to 3 T. unsalted butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
1 heaping cup 1/4-inch cubed fresh mozzarella (about 6 oz)

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and season with salt. Saute over medium-low heat until the onions are very soft without browning, about 20 minutes. Set aside.

Lightly coat one or two baking sheets with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Lay out the zucchini slices in a single later. Drizzle the tops with the remaining tablespoon olive oil, use your hands to rub it evenly over the tops, then season with salt and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender and cooked through. The zucchini slices should be translucent. Set aside.

Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

To make the pasta, in the bowl of an electric mixer (or food processor) add the flour and eggs and mix at low speed with the dough hook (or metal blade for food processor) to allow the flour to slowly absorb the eggs. Scrape down the sides as needed. When the dough begins to come together in a ball, turn the speed up another notch and allow the dough hook to knead the dough for a few minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead by hand for a few more minutes until it is nice and smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the gluten to rest.

Meanwhile, to make the bechamel, scald the milk in a small saucepan. Melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over moderate heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook for about 2 minutes until the flour is cooked but the mixture is still pale in color. Very slowly, pour in the hot milk and whisk continuously to prevent lumps. When all the milk is incorporated, bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until the bechamel has thickened to the consistency of heavy cream. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Remove from the heat and set aside. Stir every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming on top.

Cut the pasta dough into 4 equal pieces. Dust each piece with flour and flatten them with your hands. Run the dough pieces one at a time through a pasta roller, starting with the largest opening (run it several times through this one, folding it occasionally), and decreasing the opening size until the dough is thin (#4 or 5 on the Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment is perfect for lasagna noodles). Cut each pasta sheet into approximately 12 or 13-inch long pieces. They do not have to be perfect rectangles, and many will get trimmed during assembly. Lay the pasta sheets on floured half sheet pans as you work.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Set a baking sheet lightly oiled with olive oil next to the stove. Generously salt the boiling water and add a few noodles at a time. Cook at a rolling boil for 1 minute. The noodles will still be very firm, and will continue to cook in the oven. Transfer the noodles with a flat skimmer or plastic tongs (gently) to the oiled pan. The oil will keep them from sticking. Repeat the process until all the pasta is cooked (although if you are short on space it can be beneficial to start assembling the lasagna with the noodles you have cooked before you add more to the pot, since it cooks so fast anyway).

Generously butter a 13-by-9-inch rectangular baking dish. Line the bottom and sides of the dish with 3 of the noodles so that they overhang on all sides. Proceed as follows with layers as so:

First Layer: 1/2 cup bechamel, 1/2 the zucchini, 1/2 the onions, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Cover with a layer of pasta cut to fit inside the pan without an overhang (odds and ends of the cut pieces can be used as part of the layers).

Second Layer: 1/2 cup bechamel, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 the mozzarella.

Add another layer of pasta cut to fit inside the pan.

Third Layer: 1/2 cup bechamel, remaining zucchini, remaining onions, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, remaining mozzarella.

Cover with a final layer of pasta. Top with the remaining bechamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bring the overhanging pasta up and over the top of the lasagna to enclose the filling. Dot with the 2 tablespoons butter and cover loosely with foil.

Bake the lasagna for 25 minutes, uncover, and continue to bake until very lightly browned and bubbling hot, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.


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