Lasagna is one of our family favorites. Making lasagna from scratch just got much easier using some of the shredded cheeses and prepared pasta sauces now available in grocery stores. Today I added the zucchini and eggplant from my Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) basket to the lasagna. Not to brag, but this casserole turned out really well! It is a great way to use fresh vegetables which ripen in the summer and increase vegetables in meals.
Making Easy Homemade Lasagna
Over the years, I’ve cooked lasagna many different ways. It’s one of the few foods that my step-son really likes. He will call and ask what we’re eating for supper and then decide if he is coming for supper or afterwards. Hum…..I just go with the flow.
I’ve experimented with all types of cheeses and sauces, too. Making lasagna from scratch can be time consuming and labor intensive; using multiple mixing bowls, pots, skillets and many preparation steps. I can fill up an entire dishwasher with the all the bowls and pots used to mix up the dish. I’ve developed several time saving tips to make the process easier. My recipe is sort of a hybrid of homemade and convenience foods.
My recipe uses shredded cheese rather than block cheese — the time and effort of avoiding shredding blocks of cheese is worth it. Sometimes I use an Italian blend of shredded cheeses in the lasagna. Today I used a Mexican cheese, Queso Quesadilla, along with Mozzarella cheese. The Mexican cheese was mild; the package claimed that the cheese melts easily in Mexican dishes. The package was right. The cheese was mild, flavorful and blended nicely with the zucchini and eggplant.
I used a prepared pasta sauce today. The Di Napoli brand of sauce, “Classico Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce” version is especially chunky, full of tomato flavor. Often I’ll mix up my own tomato sauce with seasonings; either works. Homemade sauce has the advantage of reducing the sodium by purchasing salt-free canned tomato products. Convenience pasta sauce is quick and easy; just open and pour — no dishes to wash (just recycle the jar). I add ground beef in my lasagna. Not alot of meat; but it adds to the flavor. A person could easily omit the beef for a vegetarian version.
Using lots and lots of zucchini
My CSA basket which I pick up weekly is full of vegetables and fruits. They need to be used within few days to avoid spoiling. I can find ways to use the eggplant, but zucchini is more challenging. It means finding creative ways to use lots and lots of zucchini. I added the zucchini, eggplant and onion to the casserole; and it turned out well; the flavor was great.
Other tips for making lasagna
Here are several other tips for making lasagna “from scratch”:
- Use a lasagna pan for the casserole. It is slightly larger than an ordinary casserole dish (it is 10″ x 14″) and has a good depth of 2-1/2 Inches. Three lasagna noodles just perfectly in the pan. The depth allows for several layers without overflowing the pan.
- Don’t boil the entire package of lasagna noodles. You only need 6 noodles for two layers or 9 noodles for three layers; this is plenty of lasagna casserole. Count the noodles out, save the rest for another time..
- Pre-cook the vegetables — zucchini and eggplant. Vegetables take a long time to cook in an oven; pre-cooking these vegetables allows all the ingredients (vegetables, meat, cheese) to cook in the same length of time. Cheese can become tough and stringy if baked too long. I slice, then steam the zucchini in the microwave oven for about 10 minutes. Add water, cover with plastic wrap and steam.
To precook the eggplant, I heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Lightly coat both sides of the eggplant with oil or spray margarine. Bake about 15 minutes–remove when the eggplant is tender.
- Pre-cook the onion with the ground beef. This saves time and a skillet. The onion needs to be cooked to eliminate a raw favor.
Assemble the lasagna casserole
Next add on three lasagna noodles. Then repeat the layers and finish the lasagna off with a cup of cheese. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until bubbly. Don’t over bake or the cheese will become stringy.
Easy Homemade: Lasagna with Zucchini and Eggplant
- 6 lasagna noodles
- pinch salt
- 1 pound zucchini
- 1 medium eggplant
- Spray margarine
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1-24 oz jar of Di Napoli brand of pasta sauce, “Classico Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce” or similar brand
- 3 cups of shredded Queso Quesadilla Mexican cheese, divided
- 8 oz package of shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
Method and Steps
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add lasagna noodles, return to boil and boil gently for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
- Wash, trim zucchini ends and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Place in microwave proof dish with 1/2 cup water, cover with wax paper or plastic wrap (loosely). Microwave for 6 to 10 minutes until just tender. Drain and set aside.
- Line a baking sheet with foil. Wash, slice eggplant into about 3/8 inch slices. Peeling the eggplant is optional. Place in single layer on baking sheet, spray with a small amount of margarine, turn eggplant pieces over and spray second side. Bake, uncovered, in oven for about 15 minutes until just tender. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Heat a skillet to medium high, add ground beef and onion. Cook and stir until ground beef is browned and onion is translucent; about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat.
- Lightly oil bottom and sides of 10″ x 14″ x 1-1/2″ lasagna pan.
- Layer in half of the pasta sauce in bottom of lasagna pan. Arrange half the zucchini and eggplant onto the pasta sauce.
- Layer on half the ground beef and onions.
- Sprinkle on 1 cup of shredded Mexican cheese and 1/2 (4 oz) of the shredded Mozzarella cheese.
- Top with 3 lasagna noodles.
- Repeat layers (#7 – #10).
- Top with remaining cup of Mexican cheese.
- Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly.
- Remove from oven, slice into 12 slices (a serving is 2 slices) Serve.