Ah yes. It’s that wonderful time of year again. Zucchini everything. And everywhere. I actually love zukes, so I’m always up for the seasonal challenge to creatively use up bucketloads of them. This recipe is my new favorite thing to do with a glut of zukes: slice them up in long thin slices and use them in lieu of noodles to make a delicious, pasta-free vegetarian lasagna.
At first I was skeptical, but one bite and I was sold.
The biggest challenge in making this recipe is keeping the lasagna from getting too soupy. Without the pasta to absorb the extra moisture, and with the tendency of vegetables (especially zucchini!) to release their juices as they bake, it’s important to follow these simple tips. First, make sure you salt the zucchini slices generously and then let them “sweat” for about 30 minutes. Zucchinis are made up of a LOT of water! You’ll be surprised how much comes out. You can then run two fingers on either side of the slices, squeezing all the way down over a bowl or the sink, releasing even more water. But this is not enough. You’ll then need to pat the slices dry before using. I use a clean towel to do this. Make sure the zucchini slices are nice and dry. If they’re not, you may even want to salt them a second time and run through the process again. I didn’t salt my zucchini slices at all the first time around and ended up with a very liquidy lasagna, so don’t skip this step unless you like lasagna soup! I also include a couple tablespoonfuls of flour (can be gluten-free flour) in my recipe and this helps soak up a little of the juice while baking too.
I wondered at first whether you could make this lasagna with medium-sized zucchinis. I worried the seeds might get in the way. But I used zucchini that were as large as 4 inches wide and it worked perfectly fine. No need to de-seed the zucchini, just slice them up, salt, pat dry, and roast for about 10 minutes before using.
This recipe is a wonderful way to also use up extra tomatoes, though you can certainly buy a pre-made sauce.
My friend puts a little fennel seed in her lasagna sauce and it gives a wonderful depth of flavor to the dish. Upon tasting it, one dinner guest pointed out that it makes the lasagna taste like pepperoni or sausage. So I’ve adopted the fennel seed addition! And of course, an Italian secret I learned: add a few sprinkles of sugar to your pasta sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
You can add whatever you fancy to this lasagna: ground beef, roasted red pepper, spinach. I kept mine fairly straight-forward because I wanted to highlight the zucchini, so I used a mix of mushrooms, swiss chard, and onion for my veggie filling.
And of course, plenty of cheese (what would lasagna be without that!?).
I’m not sure whether my Italian friends will approve of this no-pasta lasagna, but as they say, don’t knock it til you try it. Buon appetito!
- For the Tomato Sauce:
- 1 - 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (or about 4 pounds of fresh tomatoes)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fennel seed, crushed slightly to release the flavor
- 1 tsp. ground oregano
- 1/4 cup finely chopped basil
- 1 tsp. cane sugar
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- For the Cheese Filling:
- 1 pound of ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese)
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- For the Vegetables:
- 2 to 3 medium-sized zucchinis, no bigger than 4 inches diameter (or 4 to 5 small zucchinis)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound of mushrooms, sliced
- 1 bunch of swiss chard or spinach (about 4 cups, chopped)
- 1 large onion, minced
- 2 Tbsp. flour (can be gluten-free flour)
- A dozen or so fresh basil leaves (optional)
- 4 cups shredded mozzarella (about 1 pound)
- Wash and remove the ends of the zucchinis. Slice the zucchinis lengthwise to between 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Use a mandolin if you have one, it will help you slice the zucchini faster and in perfect consistent slices. Otherwise, slicing with a knife is fine too. Sprinkle the 2 tsp of salt on the zucchini as you go and allow the zucchini slices to sit in a colander or for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, run two fingers on either side of the slices, squeezing all the way down over a bowl or the sink, releasing even more water. Place the slices on a clean towel and pat the zucchini very dry. Rub 1 Tbsp of olive oil onto an extra-large baking sheet (or 2 smaller ones) and place the zucchini slices in a single layer. Roast in a 375F oven for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
- If using fresh tomatoes, deseed the tomatoes (if you wish remove the skins). Bring the tomatoes to a boil and add the minced garlic, chopped basil, crushed fennel seeds, ground oregano, olive oil, sugar, and salt to taste. Simmer until thick and reduced (may take up to an hour). It's important to use a thick lasagna sauce in this recipe because the lasagna can otherwise be on the soupy side without the pasta to soak up the extra liquid as it bakes.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil and sauté the onions for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking. Once the mushrooms are soft, add the chopped swiss chard. When the chard is cooked, remove from heat and drain any juices (save these for great soup stock). Add 2 Tbsp flour to the mixture and mix well to incorporate.
- Oil a 9 x 13 inch lasagna dish and spread about one third of your sauce on the bottom. Add a layer of roasted zucchini to cover the tomato sauce. Add the ricotta and parmesan cheese mixture and spread evenly. Add another layer of zucchini slices. Add a second round of tomato sauce and spread evenly, followed by the vegetable mixture and half of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Add a last layer of zucchini slices followed by the third and last round of tomato sauce. Place the twelve basil leaves on top of the sauce and sprinkle the rest of the shredded mozzarella on top. Place a baking tray on the rack beneath the lasagna pan to catch any bubbling juices from falling to the bottom of your oven. Bake for about 40 minutes at 350F until the cheese is melted. If you wish, turn on the broiler on high for the last 2 minutes to brown the cheese slightly. Allow to sit and cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
Yield: 10-12 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.