By Stephanie K.
The holidays are here – which means Christmas music is playing non-stop from Pandora, our 2 foot tabletop tree is decorated and aglow, batches of colorful French macarons are taking over my kitchen…and I crave lasagna. All. The. Time.
My earliest memories of the holidays include lasagna for Christmas Day Dinner. Not a roast beast carved with care, but a mile high lasagna filled with spicy sausage, creamy ricotta and mozzarella, and my Italian immigrant great-Grandmother’s marinara sauce. It was moist and saucy, but not runny or soupy. Paired with a large salad and crusty bread, my mom’s lasagna was a flavorful, filling, crowd pleasing meal. After a day of playing with the toys Santa brought or exhausting ourselves in the snow (if we were lucky that year), lasagna was the perfect way to conclude Christmas Day.
It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten lasagna, mostly because it’s challenging to feast on a pasta heavy dish when you can’t consume gluten. All of the changed during a routine trip to Whole Foods when DeBoles’ Gluten-Free Rice Lasagna Noodles caught my eye. Could such a thing really exist? Even though I’ve always been a bit skeptical of no-boil, oven ready lasagna noodles, I was downright curious. CJ (otherwise known as “my husband”) requested a hot dish for his office’s Pre-Thanksgiving Potluck, so the timing worked out perfectly to rekindle my love for lasagna (I had really high hopes and expectations for these gluten-free noodles.)
While my mom’s traditional lasagna recipe is nothing short of magical, I ended up making a different rendition (gasp, I know) that is more vegetable heavy given that CJ, myself, and a good number of folks in his office are sans meat. The Pioneer Woman’s Vegetable Lasagna had everything I was looking for – chock full of vegetables, mixed textures, herbs, and wine. No-boil lasagna noodles can be tricky, however. If you use a lasagna recipe that calls for boil noodles, but you have no-boil noodles, you can’t follow that recipe exactly. To ensure the no-boil noodles cook through, the lasagna needs to bake tightly covered for close to an hour in a more liquid-based sauce.
When I made this lasagna for the Pre-Thanksgiving Potluck, I was overly concerned that the gluten-free noodles wouldn’t cook properly. After it baked for an hour, I kept the dish tightly covered until I arrived at the office. While the lasagna pleased the office crowd, I – being the perfectionist that I am – wasn’t overly impressed. The lasagna was too dry for my taste, which I attribute to a combination of reducing the sauce too much before baking and carry over cooking from keeping the dish tightly covered for so long. The recipe and idea were great in theory, but needed some execution tweaking. So, Try #2.
The first change I made was not to cook down the vegetable sauce. After adding the whole tomatoes to the slightly softened vegetables, I brought the sauce to a boil then removed it from the heat. For an additional flavor boost, I added chopped basil to the ricotta cheese filling and used red wine instead of white wine. Finally, I removed the foil in the last 10 minutes of baking. These tweaks yielded a moister, more flavorful lasagna than the first round. The gluten-free, no-boil noodles passed the test.
To assemble the lasagna:
1. Spoon a thin layer of vegetable sauce on the bottom of a 3 quart dish.
2. Arrange about 5 gluten-free noodles on top of the vegetable sauce. Some of the noodles broke a bit, so I assembled a few parts together like a puzzle. This didn’t seem to impact the final result.
3. Spoon about 1/3 of the ricotta cheese mixture on top of the noodles. I used my fingers to spread the cheese evenly across the noodles and into the corners of the pan.
4. Repeat these layers two more times so the final lasagna is comprised of…
Layer 1. Sauce, noodles, cheese Layer 2. Sauce, noodles, cheese Layer 3. Sauce, noodles, cheese.
The fourth and final layer is the remaining vegetable sauce and Parmesan cheese.
I caught the Holiday Spirit very early this year, and making lasagna twice in two weeks likely has something to do with it. We’ll see if I still crave it 22 days from now…
What is your favorite lasagna recipe? Is there any special dish you make every holiday season? Please share in the comments!