Last spring, I made many asparagus lasagnas. Now that late season zucchinis are still available, it is their turn.
When I was young, my mom would occasionally ask each of us children what we wanted for our birthday dinner. I would always choose lasagna. Hers was a meat-based Bolognese style lasagna, which was delicious and a labor of love. I would also get to choose my cake, and it was always German Chocolate with Coconut-Pecan frosting. Since my birthday is right around the corner, and I have lots of zucchini, lasagna came to mind, but a lighter, vegetable-based version.
“To ricotta or not to ricotta, that is the question.” Most American and southern Italy lasagnas use ricotta in their lasagnas. From central to northern Italy, they use a béchamel sauce, which is what I use. The hint of nutmeg in the béchamel is enticing and accents the flavor of the zucchini (or asparagus, if you make that version) well.
Arliano Update (Aggiornamento Arliano):
Electrical work is happening at the house, making all the connections with the dangling wires. The outside of the house team ran out of insulation so there has been a standstill while they await the shipment. Are they secretly at home watching all the Queen Elizabeth II funeral and news? Who knows, but they are not here… Windows and doors are still expected to arrive and be installed by the end of the month, so that’s some good news on the horizon.
Our sweet Italian peppers continue to surprise us. I made a ristra out of a bunch of them to dry and use over the winter. With the rest of the large harvest, I roasted and peeled them, then ground them up with a couple of handfuls of almonds for a delicious and “sort of” a romesco pasta sauce. In other garden news, many of our beets also pushed themselves out of the ground announcing that they were ready. I have never grown beets before and was expecting lots of beet greens to develop like I see them in markets. I actually thought they didn’t survive because I lost sight of them through the weeds but something caught my eye and it was a beet. So I boiled them for 45 minutes, peeled them and enjoyed them with pesto.
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6-Layer Zucchini or Asparagus Lasagna
For the Béchamel Sauce
* 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, heated
* 3 + 1/2 tablespoons (50 g) unsalted butter
* Just shy of 1/2 cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
* 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated, if possible
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
* 2 medium zucchinis (or 1 pound, 16 ounces asparagus)
* 12 sheets fresh lasagna pasta sheets (dried lasagna sheets can also be used, but fresh are better)
* 3 cups (300 g) grated mozzarella or provolone (not raw mozzarella, but rather the kind you can grate, like low moisture mozzarella. In Italy it is called “mozzarella for pizza”. In the US, it is just regular mozzarella.)
* 1/2 cup (45 g) grated Parmesan, for the top
* Salt and ground black pepper to taste
* Olive oil, enough to brush the bottom and side of an 8-inch X 8-inch (20 X 20 cm) baking dish
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and then add the flour and whisk to form a paste
- Slowly add the heated milk to the pan, and whisk it until any lumps are gone
- Switch to a wooden spoon and continue to stir until the sauce comes to a simmer
- Add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir the béchamel sauce until it thickens, and you can leave a path with your finger on the back of a wooden spoon (see photo)
- Set the sauce aside to cool. If a “skin” forms on top, just whisk it again right before using it
- Bring a large pot of water (about 4 quarts) to a boil and add a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 F (180 C)
- Boil the two WHOLE, UN-CUT zucchini for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. (If you are making the asparagus version, boil for only 3 minutes and then place them into an ice bath to stop them from cooking)
- Boil the fresh lasagna noodles for two minutes. Once boiled, place them on a clean dishtowel and cover with other dishtowels to keep them moist. Do this in a few batches so they are easier to manage. If you are using dry lasagna noodles, follow the package instructions, but boil for 2 minutes less. They will finish cooking in the oven
- Grate the cheeses and set them aside
- Brush the bottom and side of an 8-inch X 8-inch (20 X 20 cm) baking dish
- Slice the zucchini into thin medallions (if you have a mandolin, I suggest using it), about 1/8-inch (3 mm) (Alternatively, if you are using asparagus, instead, cut them into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces)
- Evenly spread a large spoon of béchamel sauce on the bottom of the baking dish
- Lay two pasta sheets side by side into the baking dish and then spread béchamel evenly over the pasta sheets. Lay down zucchini medallions on top of the béchamel (or evenly sprinkle the chopped asparagus), followed by a sprinkling of the grated mozzarella. Sprinkle a very small amount of salt and pepper on each layer. Repeat this layering, alternating directions of the pasta sheets, until you have used all the pasta, sauce, zucchini, and cheese. On top of the final layer, evenly sprinkle the Parmesan
- Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes, then slice into 6 – 9 portions to serve. If you have any leftovers, let the lasagna cool, then cover and refrigerate
- To reheat any leftovers, bring the lasagna to room temperature as you pre-heat the oven to 350 F/180C. Heat through for about 20 minutes