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How to Make The Best Vegetarian Lasagna
Quick note: with a few modifications (that are listed below), this can be a vegan lasagna recipe
Vegetarian lasagna recipes are a dime a dozen, I know, but this one is really, really, crazy good. And, it's really two recipes in one because it uses my tomato sauce recipe, which can be used over any kind of pasta, really. Plus, this recipe uses pesto. And everything is better with pesto.
For the Tomato Sauce
1 medium onion, chopped finely (I use yellow onions in 99.9% of my cooking. They're cheap and go with everything. But, feel free to use white or red if you prefer.)
5 cloves of garlic (I love garlic, and I understand that you might not care for it as much as I do. Use more or less as you see fit.)
1 medium zucchini, diced (This is optional, but it adds a myriad of great vitamins and minerals to your dish.)
1 bell pepper, diced (The green ones are always the least expensive at the store, so usually, that's what I use, but every now and then red, yellow or orange go on sale, and I use one of those instead. Fancy me, I know.)
2 28oz cans of tomato puree
1 14oz can of diced tomatoes
(Obviously, if you want to spend the time boiling, peeling, stewing and preparing your own tomatoes, go right ahead. You'll need about 5lbs of tomatoes.)
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
2 tbs dried basil (If you've got fresh basil at hand, use 4 tbs, as dried herbs are more potent than fresh.)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine (I generally use vinegar, but if I've got a bottle of red that's been open a few days, I'll use that. To be honest, that almost never happens.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp hot sauce, optional (I use whatever I have in the house at the time. Sometimes it's Tabasco, sometimes it's something fancier.)
For the Ricotta Filling
32 oz ricotta cheese (To make this vegan, use medium tofu, strained and mashed with a fork until it resembles ricotta.)
1/4 cup pesto (I get mine at the store, but if you've got that fresh basil handy from before, go ahead and mix up some of your own. You won't regret it. It's just basil, olive oil, garlic and, optionally, Parmesan cheese blended together in a food processor. Play with the amounts. I prefer less oil and more garlic.)
1 egg (Vegans know how to use egg replacer.)
4 oz grated Parmesan (There is a vegan version of this. It's more like the stuff you use on pizzas, but the flavor is more-or-less the same, and that's what we're going for.)
For the Rest of It
1 package of ready-to-bake lasagna noodles (Depending on how deep your lasagna pan is, you might use half the box, you might use the whole thing.)
4 oz grated mozzarella (Vegans - white rice "cheese" works as a great substitute here.)
Making the Tomato Sauce
In a larget pot, over medium heat, add enough olive oil for sauteing. Once the oil is heated, add the chopped onion, garlic, bell pepper and zucchini. Cook until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add in tomatoes and stir to incorporate the vegetables throughout. Mix in the mushrooms. Add brown sugar and balsamic vinegar/red wine and stir to incorporate. Mix in basil. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Let this simmer for about 10 minutes, until it is hot throughout. It's at this point that you're going to want to taste it to see if any adjustments need to be made. If the sauce tastes of the tomatoes' acidity, add a tablespoon more brown sugar. Once the sauce is to your liking, add the hot sauce, stir and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes, to allow the flavors to come together.
While your tomato sauce is simmering, it's time to make the Ricotta Filling
Making the Ricotta Filling
In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, pesto, Parmesan and egg. Whew. That part's done.
Assembling the Lasagna
Ladle out about 1/3 of the tomato sauce into a large casserole dish. I think they make deeper dishes for lasagna. If you have one of those, use that instead. On top of the tomato sauce, place a layer of the uncooked noodles. Spread on enough of the ricotta filling to completely cover the noodles. Repeat the entire layering process (sauce, noodles, ricotta) until you come to the top of your pan. Cover the top with the grated mozzarella.
Cover the dish with foil and place in an oven that was preheated to 375 degrees. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 10 minutes, until the mozzarella begins to brown. You might need to kick up the oven temp to 400 degrees if the cheese is just melting and not browning.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. If you want to cut down on the cooling time, go ahead and plate up some nice big slices, but let those sit for at least 5 minutes. Molten cheese leaves nasty mouth burns. Always better safe than sorry, amiright?
Enjoy your food!