Friday, September 30, 2011

Zucchini Lasagna


    I would not do well on a diet.  First off, I like food that tastes good, and the truth of the matter is fat = flavor.  But more so than that, I'm not good at depriving myself.

    "What?" you might ask.  "You're supposed to be a locavore.  Doesn't that mean depriving yourself of all sorts of food?"

    Okay, I guess that's true in a way.  But it doesn't feel like I'm depriving myself.  If I can't find something local, and it's good for me (like fish), I'm going to eat it.  I haven't cut olive oil, and sugar, and citrus fruit out of my diet.  I do make sure that these things come from the US, so they are as local as possible, and I did have to go without a lime in my margarita the other day because I couldn't find any that weren't from Mexico, but I guess that is a sacrifice that I'm just willing to make!

    What I mean, more so, is the fad diets.  The "only eat" or "eat whatever you want EXCEPT" diets.  It just doesn't make sense to me how those types of diets can be satisfying.  Or good for you.  Or tasty.  With all of the new health laws and suggestions going out (New York attempted to ban salt in restaurants in 2010; a local WI school - where one of my friends' daughter attends - has suggested banning students from bringing bagged lunches because parents don't make healthy choices for their children; apparently it's bad for you to eat a piece of bread spread with bacon fat!) I feel like there is far too much attention paid to telling people what they may and may not eat, and not enough attention being paid to telling people how to figure out what to eat.

    For example, there is a local sports figure who I like to make fun of for being fat (Hint: he plays on a team named for beer makers, and his name rhymes with "Thince Thielder"), and who also is a vegetarian.  I would like to remind him that, just because Twinkies are vegetarian, doesn't mean he should eat them by the case full! (I know, I know.  He's lost a lot of weight this year.  I'm mean.  Whatever.)

    I don't know if there's any low/no food diet that I could reasonably expect to stick to, but the one that makes me angriest is the low carb/no carb diet.  Perhaps it's because I'm part Italian, but the concept of no bread, no pasta, no potatoes, etc. is baffling to me.  Carbohydrates are the fuel on which your body runs.  Okay, so maybe you shouldn't sit around eating wonderbread - try to get some nutritional value with your carbs - but carbs are a good thing.  Also, carbs are what fills you up.  When you eat carbs, you can eat less and still feel satisfied... something I learned with this meal.

    Overall, this was delicious.  If you are on a no carb or low carb diet (let me resist smacking you upside your head for a moment), this might be just the fix you need.  The zucchini really did take on a consistency and texture of noodles, and the flavors were there.  My problem?  I ate about two times as much as I normally would have and still felt hungry.  In the end, I made up a small batch of pasta and mixed it in just to get those carbs.  I will absolutely make this again, but only on a day when we have bread in the house!

    I did not have any ricotta cheese in the house, so I substituted a combo of cottage cheese and marscapone cheese.  You could also just use a 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese.  I also used kale in this recipe because I have it, but you could just as easily use spinach.  Since you blanch the greens, you could use a bag of frozen spinach, if you're into that sort of thing.  If you did that, you would just want to thaw and drain the spinach.

    Zucchini Lasagna
    • 2 small zucchini (L*)
    • Salt
    • 1/2 pound ground beef (L)
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
    • 1/2 small green bell pepper, diced (L)
    • 1/2 onion, diced (L)
    • 3 garlic cloves, diced (L)
    • 1 6 oz jar tomato paste (I had this sitting in my pantry since before March, so I figured it was time to use it up!)
    • 1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce (see note above for tomato paste!)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (L*)
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (L*)
    • hot water as needed
    • 1 egg (L)
    • 1 (15 ounce) container small curd cottage cheese (L)
    • 2 tbsp marscapone cheese (L)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (L*)
    • 4 cups kale, center vein removed, leaves chopped, and blanched (L*)
    • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (L)
    • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (L)
    • 8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (L)

    If you use fresh kale or spinach, I like to blanch in as little water as possible - so I'm more steaming than anything else.  This method helps keep as much of the nutrients in the kale from coming out into the cooking water.  For four cups of  kale or spinach, I would put about 1/2 cup of water in the smallest pot I have that is big enough to hold all the greens comfortably.  Add 1 tbsp salt to the water, and bring to a boil.

    Meanwhile, get a large bowl with ice water ready.

    One the water is boiling, add the kale and cook, stirring regularly, until kale is cooked through and tender.  If it appears all the water has evaporated, add more.  Once the kale is done, transfer it to the pot of cold water to shock, saving any remaining cooking water in the pot.  This will help stop it from cooking and keep it green.  Take the kale out of the cold water and squeeze the water out OVER the original cooking pot, into any remaining cooking water.  I then use this water in my recipe, in order to get all of those nutrients and flavors back into the recipe.


    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease a deep 9x13 inch baking pan.
    2. Slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices. Sprinkle slices lightly with salt; set aside to drain in a colander.
    3. To prepare the meat sauce, cook and stir ground beef and black pepper in a large skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Add in green pepper and onion; cook and stir until meat is no longer pink. Stir in tomato paste, tomato sauce, wine, basil, and oregano, adding a small amount of hot water if sauce is too thick. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
    4. Meanwhile, stir egg, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and parsley together in a bowl until well combined.
    5. To assemble lasagna, spread 1/2 of the meat sauce into the bottom of prepared pan. Then layer 1/2 the zucchini slices, 1/2 the cottage cheese mixture, all of the spinach, followed by all of the mushrooms, then 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining meat sauce, zucchini slices, cottage cheese mixture, and mozzarella. Spread Parmesan cheese evenly over the top; cover with foil.
    6. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil; raise oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. 

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