Monday, June 11, 2007

It’s Raining Lasagna (Vegetarian Edition)

[Per request from MetaChat, posted here for space considerations. I promise it's much simpler than it looks at first glance. I've over-explained, just because I can.]

The secret to making perfect lasagna is a complex sauce, a good cheese blend, and correct layering. I used to make the sauce entirely from scratch, and cut, chop and shred all of my herbs, vegetables, and cheeses by hand. I rarely have time to do so anymore, and have found ways to incorporate prepared foods without losing any of the personality. I don't actually measure spices as I add them, anymore, since I've made this many, many times, but the measurements here should get you close enough to modify according to your own tastes. This makes a HUGE batch, by-the-way, completely filling a 12 x 16 x 2 inch lasagna pan. The two of us usually get several meals out of half, and freeze the other half for later.

I'm including the brand names of the products I actually use most often (all trademarks & registered brands belong to blah, blah, blah, not me, you know the drill), but feel free to substitute. I would suggest that you adjust the recipe if you go with a cheaper prepared product, though. A cheaper sauce may need more seasoning and simmer time to really balance the flavors, for example, and a shredded cheese blend with fewer varieties of cheese should be supplemented. Don't leave out the fontina, for example. I'm telling you...

[Note for carnivores: For anyone interested, the only difference between this vegetarian recipe and my regular recipe is that I usually crumble and pan fry a half pound to a pound of Italian chicken sausage in a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil and add it to the sauce along with the vegetables. I like it that way, but there's so much going on with this dish that I never actually miss it if I leave it out.]



  • 1 @ 26 oz. Bottle of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce (or equivalent volume of favorite pasta sauce or plain tomato sauce)
  • 2 @ 14.5 oz. Cans Ready-cut Tomatoes (I use S&W Italian Recipe w/ Diced Garlic, Oregano & Basil, and/or Diced w/ Roasted Garlic)
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 @ Green Bell Peppers
  • 1 @ Small Sweet Yellow Onion
  • 3 to 4 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 @ 13.75 oz. Can Quartered Artichoke Hearts in Water (I use Napoleon brand)
  • 1 @ 2.25 oz. Can Sliced Ripe Black Olives (whatever is available)
  • 1 @ 16 oz. Package Pre-sliced Ostrom’s Crimini Mushrooms (or slice equivalent)
  • ¼ to ½ Cup Red Wine (I prefer cabernet, myself, but the idea is it should be something good enough to drink with dinner if you’re in the mood to do so, but cheap enough to cook with if you’d rather not imbibe. Last night, I used about a 1/3 cup of Yellowtail Shiraz/Cabernet)
  • 1 Portabella Mushroom Cap (pre-sliced package, scrape the gills – or cut the cap from the stem of a full portabella, above the gills, and slice) cut into one inch pieces

Herbs & Spices (Measurements Approximate):

  • 1 teaspoon Taragon
  • ¾ teaspoon Basil
  • ¾ teaspoon Fennel Seed
  • 1/8 teaspoon Caraway Seed
  • 1/8 teaspoon Anise Seed
  • ¼ teaspoon Garlic Salt
  • ½ teaspoon Dried Parsley
  • ½ teaspoon Crushed Rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon Thyme
  • ½ teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 Bay Leaf (tear in half)
  • Sea Salt (a few shakes to taste)
  • Cracked Pepper (a few turns to taste)
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • A Dash of Cinnamon (less than 1/8 teaspoon)


  • 8 Cups Shredded Cheese, Including Mozzarella, Provolone, Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina, Romano, and Cheddar

    I usually buy it as follows:
    3 @ 2 cup packages of Food Club Italian blend. I believe that Sargentos has a similar blend. The important point is that this is the exact same blend that I used to grate by hand, so I was very happy when they started selling it pre-shredded. It includes Mozzarella, Provolone, Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina, and Romano

    1 @ 2 cup package of Tillamook Tuscan Blend. It includes more Mozzarella and Parmesan, but also adds enough Cheddar to improve the crust
  • 32 oz. Low Fat Ricotta (I normally use Frigo)


  • 16 Full Length Ronzoni Lasagna Noodles (or equivalent – lay dry noodles out in your lasagna pan ahead of time and calculate how many it will take to completely cover the surface with some overlap, then double the number – this is a two layer recipe)
  • You Should Always Have More Than One Bullet Point in a List


  1. Fill an 8 qt. stockpot approximately half full with water, dribble a few drops of olive oil in the water, and set on high to boil
  2. While water is heating, chop green peppers, onions, and portabellas, and mince garlic
  3. When stockpot of water reaches a hard boil, add lasagna noodles and cook at a rolling boil according to package directions for al dente doneness, approximately 10 minutes. As noodles soften, be sure to push all the way down into the water
  4. Add 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to a large skillet
  5. Sauté green peppers, onions, and garlic over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently
  6. Sprinkle a dash of Tarragon and Basil over the vegetables, add portabellas, and cook for 2 additional minutes, or until vegetables and mushrooms are soft; set aside
  7. When lasagna noodles are done, carefully drain noodles into pasta strainer in sink
  8. To save on dishes, use the same 8 qt. stockpot to cook your sauce – you don’t even need to rinse it
  9. Add pasta sauce and ready-cut tomatoes to the empty 8 qt. stockpot, setting jar and cans aside without rinsing
  10. Bring sauce to a low boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally; cover and reduce to low heat
  11. Add the red wine to one empty tomato can, swirl to mix with the leftover juice, then pour into the other empty can. Pour back into original can and repeat until the sides of the two cans are mostly clean. Pour the resulting liquid into the empty pasta jar. Seal the lid and shake until the remains are well mixed. Set aside
  12. Open and drain quartered artichoke hearts and black olive slices
  13. Add sautéed vegetables, artichoke hearts and black olives, and all of the spices and herbs to the sauce. Stir well. Add crimini mushrooms, then pour the wine/sauce liquid reserve from the pasta jar over the top of the mushrooms. When the wine has been absorbed by the mushrooms, stir the mushrooms in with the rest of the sauce and cover
  14. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes
  15. Open your bags of cheese (or begin grating… now) and your container of ricotta. Set up your station for filling the lasagna pan
  16. If lasagna noodles are too hot too handle, rinse with cold water
  17. Carefully taste the piping-hot sauce. Adjust seasonings to your liking


  1. If you are planning to cook the lasagna right away, preheat the oven now to 350 degrees
  2. Ladle half of your sauce into the bottom of the lasagna pan. The sauce should be very thick by now, but still have enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan and keep the lasagna from sticking to the bottom of the pan
  3. Cover the sauce with half of the noodles laid out flat with the edges overlapping. Try to completely cover the sauce
  4. Plop spoonfuls of ricotta randomly over the noodles until half of the ricotta has been used. The heat from the sauce below the noodles should quickly soften the ricotta, allowing you to smooth the ricotta over the noodles somewhat evenly
  5. Cover the ricotta with half of the cheese blend
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until ingredients gone
  7. Caution – assembled dish is fairly heavy
  8. Assembled lasagna can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to a day in advance


  • To cook immediately, set on middle rack in oven and cook in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, checking after 30 minutes (ovens vary)
  • If the lasagna has been pre-assembled and refrigerated, you’ll probably need to cook it for an entire hour


interrobang said...

Bookmarked, thanks!

Robin said...

Where are you hiding yourself these days?

IRFH said...

Well, between health issues, work, and summer stuff, I haven't had nearly as much Internet time as I used to. So mostly just keeping busy - which is probably a good thing. But I have been feeling guilty about neglecting this place, and creative endeavors in general. Hopefully, I'll be posting again regularly soon. Thanks for asking!

Robin said...

I hope you're feeling well these days.

It can rain lasagna forever if that's the case.