The kids are on one of their low-starch diets—South Beach this time—so I have to adapt my Sunday meals to this. Personally, I believe that the secret losing weight is in not eliminating any particular “evil” food group, but in eating healthy and eating less—a bit of exercise wouldn’t hurt (the pot calling the kettle). There is no healthy way to eat massive amounts of food and still lose weight—still I try to accommodate.
Note: This recipe is gluten free, because I use Kikoman’s soy sauce.
When I search the Internet I do not look for recipes. I look for ideas, cuisines, and techniques I have not tried. I was checking out the blog of one of my new followers and I spotted a recipe for using zucchini as lasagna noodles. I thought for this Sunday I would make my lasagna using her technique.
While I make lasagna several times a year, I usually give it away as a mitzvah to sick friends. If my family gets any it is usually only a few small servings from around the edge. I try make my lasagnas as a complete meal—protein, starch and vegetables, but since I am pushing the starch out of this main dish I will make some rustic garlic bread for the starch eaters.
One of the drawbacks of zucchini is that it is a fairly wet vegetable. If you simply slice it and toss it into the lasagna you will end up with a soggy mess. Peachy salts her zucchini and then simply pats it dry. For the recipe she is using this will work, but that might leave my recipe a bit too salty. I will probably need to rinse off the excess salt before drying the “noodles” and reducing the salt in other parts of the recipe.
The South Beach diet is generally high in protein, so I am making this a meat lasagna. Most store bought Italian sausage include an over-powering amount of fennel seed and a abundance of salt—making my own sausage is one place I can reduce the salt content. Cook’s Illustrated had an article about making your own Italian sausage. While I did not stick to their recipe, they included several useful techniques to get crusty, flavorful, but still moist sausage.
While each step of building lasagna is not particularly difficult, there are a lot of steps to the process. I use the term building, rather than making, because unlike most dishes where you put all of the ingredients in a pot and stir, a good lasagna is build layer by flavorful layer.
This is not a simple, small or inexpensive recipe. There are a lot of steps, pots, and time used in making lasagna. As written, this recipe will feed 12 hungry people, or three people for 4-5 meals, so the cost per meal is not out of reason. Fortunately, even with the zucchini “noodles,” it should still freeze and reheat well.
After Dinner Note: This made a phenomenal lasagna. Everyone had a second helping and we ate half of the pan. Eilene comment, “You couldn’t even taste the zucchini.”
Karl’s Italian Sausage Lasagna with Vegetable “Noodles”
4 large zucchini
1½ tsp. fine grained salt
1 lb. pork shoulder, coarsely ground
1 Tbs. soy sauce (Kikoman’s preferred)
¼ cup flat leafed parsley, minced
8 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
1 ½ tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg, fresh grated
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes, seeds removed
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, diced finely
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. black pepper (separate uses)
2 jars tomato basil spaghetti sauce (like Barilla two times 24 oz.)
¾ lbs. baby spinach, fresh
16 oz. Mozzarella cheese, low fat, shredded
16 oz. Ricotta cheese
1¾ cup Parmesan cheese, separate uses
20 fresh basil leaves
1. Use a mandoline to slice ⅛ inch thick planks off of the zucchini.
Tip: I used strait, 2 inch thick zucchini. After taking four slices off of one side, I rotated the zucchini 120º. After taking four more slices, I made a final rotation and sliced again, leaving a triangular core. This I cut up for zucchini pickles.
2. Lay the zucchini slices flat on a lipped tray and sprinkle with salt.
Tip: It will probably take several trays—my 4 zucchini produced 48 1-2 inch wide planks, which was just enough for a 13×17 inch pan.
3. Let the zucchini sweat for one hour, turning the planks over every 15 minutes to distribute the salt.
4. Rinse off the excess salt and pat the planks dry with a clean dish towel. Lay the planks out to air dry.
Tip: You want the zucchini as dry as possible, but still flexible.
5. Coarsely grind the pork and place it in a medium bowl.
Tip: If you do not own a meat grinder buy pre-ground pork.
6. Add the soy sauce, parsley, garlic and seasonings to the pork and mix them in with a spatula and let the meat rest for 15 minutes.
Note: I my old recipe I used a Cook’s Illustrated technique of adding salt and baking soda to season and tenderize the meat. In Asian cooking soy sauce serves the same purpose, while adding to the umami flavor of the meat. By adding only one tablespoon of soy sauce I can get the effect of seasoning and tenderizing, without it tasting like Asian pork.
7. Knead the meat with a spatula for 15-20 minutes.
Tip: Stir the meat and then pull the spatula towards you in long strokes. Keep repeating this pattern until the meat starts to discolor and thicken.
Note: The salt in the soy sauce will have dissolves the protean fibers. This stirring causes the proteins to start linking and forming a network, in the same way that gluten does when you knead bread. It is this mesh of protein that gives sausage its distinctive texture.
8. Form the meat into a large patty and fry until well browned on both sides, about five minutes to the side.
Tip: You may divide the meat in half and fry as two patties, to get more browning. You are trying to just get a good dark crust, but it is not necessary to cook them completely. Chop the patties into small bits and set them in a bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
9. Finely dice a large onion (you want about 1½ cups).
10. Without cleaning the pan you used for the pork, add the onions and ¼ tsp. of salt.
Tip: Use the moisture released by the onions to deglaze the pork fond in the pan.
11. Sauté until the onions are well caramelized (about 15 to 20 minutes).
Tip: Be careful to keep stirring the onions, so that they do not burn.
12. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil.
13. Add the garlic and ½ tsp. black pepper and sauté one minute more.
14. Stir in the two 24 oz. jars of spaghetti sauce. Bring the pan to a boil, stir to combine and remove from the heat to cool completely.
Tip: When I am using no boil noodles I dilute one jar of sauce, because the noodles will absorb the excess water. with vegetable “noodles,” you have the opposite problem. Even with sweating, the zucchini will still release liquid to dilute the sauce. To get the coverage you need over the layers, you need at least 36 oz. of pasta sauce.
15. While the sauce is cooling, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place a bowl of ice water in the sink. Blanch the spinach for three minutes and then place it in the ice water to stop it from over cooking.
Tip: If using frozen spinach blanch it only one minute.
16. Drain the water and, taking a fist full of spinach at a time, squeeze as much water out as you can. Repeat until all of the spinach is dry and you have several ‘sausages’ of spinach.
17. Finely slice the spinach ‘sausages,’ fluff the spinach slightly and return it to the bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
18. Shredded the Mozzarella cheese and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
19. Chiffonade the basil leaves.
Tip: Wash, dry and stack several large basil leaves. Roll the leaves into a “cigar” and then take very thin slices to make very fine shreds of basil.
20. Place the basil, Ricotta cheese, ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, the egg, and black pepper into a bowl and mix into a smooth paste. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.
Note: I left the salt in the original recipe out, because of the extra salt in the “noodles.”
22. When you are ready to assemble the lasagna, preheat oven to 375°.
23. To assemble the lasagna:
a. Spread ½ cup of sauce in the bottom of a Pam-ed 9×13 inch baking pan.
b. Arrange “noodles” crosswise over the sauce.
c. Gently spread half of the Ricotta mixture over the “noodles.” The mixture does not need to cover every inch.
d. Scatter the spinach over the Ricotta mixture.
e. Set aside ¾ cup of the Mozzarella. Scatter ½ of the remaining cheese over the spinach.
f. Sprinkle ¼ cup Parmesan cheese over the Mozzarella cheese.
g. Pour 1+ cup of the sauce evenly over the cheeses.
h. Repeat steps b and c.
Tip: Laying the second set of “noodles” at a right angle to the first set (the long direction of the pan) will give the finished servings more stability after you cut them.
Note: Press down on the “noodles” to remove any air pockets in the lower layers. A second 9×13 inch pan works very well for this task.
i. Arrange the sausage bits evenly over the Ricotta mixture.
j. Scatter remaining ½ of the Mozzarella cheese over the sausage.
k. Sprinkle ¼ cup Parmesan cheese over the Mozzarella cheese.
l. Set aside ¾ cup of the sauce and pour the rest evenly over the cheeses.
m. Repeat step b (laying down the “noodles” along the short axis of the pan).
Tip: After laying down the “noodles,” again gently press down on them to even out the wet layers underneath
n. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the top layer of noodles.
Tip: If there does not look like there will be enough sauce to cover all of the noodles add a little water to the sauce before you start.
Note: you should have ¾ cup of Mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup of Parmesan cheese remaining.
24. Cover the baking pan with foil and place on the middle rack of a 375° oven for 25 minutes.
Tip: It is a good idea to have a large lipped baking pan on the rack under the lasagna, because it tends to bubbles over and drip.
Note: If the pan is just a little over full, seal the foil tightly around the edges and poke a few vent holes in the top. As the lasagna cooks, it will shrink slightly as it looses moisture. If the pan is still overfull when it comes time to remove the foil, leave it in place and cut it open along the top. This will raise the pan lip about an eighth to a quarter of an inch and keep the sauce from dripping out along the edges.
25. Remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining cheeses evenly over the lasagna. Continue baking for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is spotty and brown and the sauce is bubbling.
26. Cool uncovered for 15 minutes before serving with a salad and garlic bread on the side.