For some reason over the years I’ve harbored a bit of a pasta bias towards lasagna. Even when I could eat gluten, I hardly ever ordered lasagna off a menu. Like, possibly never. Cutting off a chunk of noodles, masked by layers of other rich things, just kind of seemed to defeat the fun of eating pasta in the first place.
I’m a noodle slurper. I like spinning a nest of spaghetti around my fork that’s so large, I clearly have no intention of eating the whole thing in one bite. Those I’ve shared pasta dishes with over the years, have begun to require share plates. Best if they can split the dish into two portions entirely. You rarely get sauce on your face when eating lasagna. And that makes it a waste of perfectly good daily calories, in my book.
Needless to say, in my 4 and a half years of food blogging, I’ve never once posted a recipe for lasagna. Well, friends. Today is the big day.
So many of you requested a healthier version of lasagna in your comments last month, that I felt it was wrong to ignore such a clear winner in the comfort food department. And having just hated on it for so many sentences, I also want to share one experience with lasagna when for the course of one meal, I understood what all the fuss was about.
I studied abroad in Rome my junior year of college. Anyone who’s read my book cover-to-cover (so potentially just my blood relatives) knows that my time spent in Italy had an important effect on my cooking habits. The best part of my program was that we got to travel every weekend. Most of the students were architects. Three were artists, and the rest of us uncategorized liberal arts folks got lumped in with them. This was a positive thing, since our faculty chaperone was a hedonistic painter, and because there were only 8 of us total, this meant that we got to make rogue little pit stops and have 4 hour wine lunches instead of sketching buildings.
One of these little adventures was en route to Florence. We stopped at a sculptor’s house in the middle of the Tuscan countryside and let his nonna treat us to one of the more spectacularly indulgent al fresco meals I’ll ever had. Of course, I’m sure this was just another day in the life for any Italian man who’s grandmother still lives with him. But I was impressed.
My favorite course was the primi, which was not particularly impressive since the pasta course was usually my favorite. What made it so impressive was that it was lasagna – lasagna in a rich meat ragu – and what made me extra impressed is that it might have been the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Now granted, by the second course, we probably had already consumed a bottle of red wine each, including the bus driver. (This was a little scary the second half of the day. Luckily, most of us were passed out or too drunk to care.) But I think I this lasagna would have been the best meal of my life even if I was stone sober at Jury duty.
I’ve never tried to recreate the lasagna I tasted that day. It simply can’t be done. And not because I was drunk. It just can’t. So when I set out to create a healthier version for you guys, I knew I had to steer clear of my lasagna ideal entirely. This recipe is packed with veggies. Unlike most lasagna recipes you’ll find that use leafy greens, this one has a red sauce instead of the béchamel plus heavy ricotta combo that you usually see. (I also am doggedly partial to red sauce, but we’ll leave that rant to another week.)
I made the lasagna a few weeks ago for my Game of Thrones Sunday night dinner. It disappeared crazy quick, which reaffirmed what you all have said time and time again: people love lasagna (so much so that they don’t even mind when it’s made with gluten-free noodles). Most surprising, was that I found myself having seconds as well. Perhaps this is a testament to the recipe. Or perhaps I’ve just unlocked the hidden lasagna lover inside myself. I’ll have to buy a ticket to Italy to find out for sure.
Skillet Lasagna with Zucchini, Arugula, and Fontina
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof non-stick skillet over a high flame. Sauté the zucchini and shallot until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the arugula and basil and continue to sauté until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season well with salt and papper. Set aside.
Ladle ½ cup of the sauce into the bottom of the skillet and smooth to form an even layer. Arrange 4 noodles on top of the sauce – you might have to break the side noodles to fit, depending on the size of your skillet. Spoon half the filling on top of the noodles and spread to form an even layer. Sprinkle half the fontina on top of the veggies, followed by half the ricotta. Repeat with another ½ cup sauce, noodles, the rest of the filling, fontina, and ricotta. Top with the remaining noodles and cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the top with the mozzarella.
Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour, until the noodles are cooked through and the cheese is very melted.
Serve immediately alongside a simple salad.