Every other year, Eric and I host Thanksgiving dinner for about 8 to 10 people, mostly local friends who have (intelligently) decided not to partake in the misery of holiday travel. Because the majority of my year is spent cooking for just the two of us (Who am I kidding? The two of us and the dogs), I do not take this event lightly. Thanksgiving dinner is my Martha moment, and there will be nothing subtle, understated, or store-bought about it.
As soon as my November issues of Saveur and Bon Appetit arrive in my mailbox in early October, and sometimes before, I quickly start filling up my yellow legal pad and Thanksgiving folder with lists, ideas, and magazine clippings. Timelines are mapped out, menus are printed, and place cards are designed. Yes, my type A personality and I go waaaaayyyyy overboard---but hey! I love every single minute of it, and people seem to enjoy the grub, so we all win in the end, right? After several straight days of cooking alternated with forgotten ingredient grocery store runs (I've been known to enter the grocery store still wearing my apron), I am usually exhausted, but I always manage to summon up the energy to eat. I'm a trooper that way.
The first few times that I took on this huge task, the last thing on my mind was what to serve for dinner the night before Thanksgiving. The refrigerator was full with unbaked stuffing, pies, and of course our turkey, so everything was pretty much off limits. As you can imagine, I didn't really feel like whipping up something new, so we ended up going out to one of the "locals" places, which in Las Vegas is always a unique experience. Two hours later, I was two hours behind schedule, and I ended up working well into the evening. This year, I'm on the ball. I'll have something prepared and in the freezer days in advance, something that can be easily defrosted and popped into the oven, like this Roasted Vegetable Lasagna.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna is ideal for serving as Thanksgiving-eve dinner. It is hearty, yet not as over-the-top as some of the ground beef-sausage-five cheese variations. Alternating layers of noodles and cheese with healthy and colorful roasted vegetables results in a lighter, healthier lasagna that will keep everyone satisfied, but not stuffed, until Thanksgiving morning. Puttanesca sauce is commonly served with pasta, but it also pairs nicely with grilled fish or chicken. The sauce is typically a mixture of tomatoes, onions, capers, anchovies (omitted below), garlic, and crushed red pepper. The name Puttanesca is derived from the Italian word puttana, which, loosely defined, means "a lady of the night" or "world's oldest profession." You get the idea. The story goes that the puttanas would make this sauce, and the smell would be so irresistible, that it would beckon men to "visit" them. You'll never look at an Italian menu the same way again--sorry. Here are my extra tips for preparing this lighter lasagna with spicy sauce:
- The lasagna can be completely assembled in advance and then either refrigerated or frozen. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for 1 day or freeze for up to 1 week. If frozen, thaw the lasagna overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking.
- The multiple layers of this lasagna can be altered to fit personal preferences. Roasted red and yellow peppers, grilled portobello mushrooms, and fresh spinach would all be good substitutes for the current vegetables. The goat cheese can be replaced by more traditional ricotta, and the Pecorino-Romano can be replaced with Parmesan.
- If you cannot find fresh mozzarella in water, then use an 8-ounce bag of the shredded variety (or you could use a shredded Italian blend.)
- Before mixing the goat cheese with the roasted onions, microwave it for a few seconds so that it is soft enough to mix easily.
- The process of salting the eggplant draws out the moisture and removes some of the bitter liquid contained in the seeds. This process is known as "degorging." The resulting texture of the eggplant is better for dishes like lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, etc.
- Most grocery stores carry "no boil" lasagna noodles, which can be layered in the lasagna without boiling them first. This is a time-saving option, but I tend to prefer the taste and texture of the "boil" noodles.
- If you don't like spicy foods, cut back on the amount of crushed red pepper in the sauce.
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna a la Puttanesca
2 pounds eggplant, cut lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper
2 medium red onions, cut into ½-inch thick rings
5 ounces soft goat cheese
1 pound uncooked dried lasagna noodles
1 batch Puttanesca Sauce (recipe follows)
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 500F degrees. Place the eggplant sliced in a colander in the sink and toss with 2 tablespoons salt; let drain for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the zucchini slices in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the zucchini until it is tender and very lightly browned, about 12 minutes; set aside to cool.
Place the onion rings in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the onion with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake until tender and golden, 8-10 minutes; set aside to cool.
When the eggplant has finished draining, gently press it between paper towels to remove excess moisture. Place the eggplant in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the eggplant with olive oil, season it with pepper, and bake until tender and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes.
Cook the lasagna noodles al dente according to the manufacturer's instructions; rinse and drain.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375F degrees. Roughly chop the red onion and mix it with the goat cheese in a medium bowl. Spread ½ cup of the Puttanesca sauce in a 9X13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of noodles over the sauce. Layer all of the eggplant on top of the noodles and evenly spread the goat cheese mixture over the eggplant. Spread 1 cup of the Puttanesca sauce over the goat cheese. Place another layer of noodles over the sauce, followed by all of the zucchini, the sliced mozzarella, and 1 cup of sauce. Place a final layer of noodles on top, followed by the remaining Puttanesca sauce. Sprinkle the Pecorino-Romano evenly on top of the sauce.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
6 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (28-oz.) can plum tomatoes, with juice
½ cup chopped Kalamata olives
½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons drained capers
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until lightly browned, stirring often, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel, and crushed red pepper, and saute for 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, plum tomatoes, olives, basil, tomato paste, and capers. Break the plum tomatoes into pieces using a potato masher or a wooden spoon. Simmer the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly, about 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 25-30 minutes longer, until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving.