Anytime you offer up a recipe with a superlative in its title, you better be prepared to bring it. So beware, I’ve brought it.
One of my favorite things about swapping dinner parties with friends is being introduced to new recipes, techniques, and flavor combinations. Every cook has his or her own personal repertoire, a set of standards, some show-stoppers, and a trick or two up the sleeve. Eating with friends allows me to share my favorite dishes while learning the standards or secrets of others. In the end, we all benefit; kind of like a community blog, right?
Back when I was living in the Bay Area, my friends Karl and Adam made this lasagna for me as a way to showcase the bounty of summer: zucchini, tomatoes and basil. According to Adam, the lasagna he made and perfected was based closely on a lasagna made for him by another close friend and skilled chef. After I tasted it and fell in love, I demanded to know its secrets.
Thus, on a recent evening when we were entertaining another Adam (the Amateur Gourmet) at dinner, I decided to bring out my favorite lasagna recipe; it is, in fact, the only lasagna recipe I’ll make. Since it was only April, and while zucchini, tomatoes and basil are perfectly fine (thanks to modern greenhouse agriculture) yet not amazing, I decided to spice the recipe up a little – with ramps!
I’m sure you all have just about had it up-to-here with ramps by now, but even with all the leaves out on the trees in Central Park, ramps are still the only fresh local vegetable around, so let’s not dismiss them too quickly. In the lasagna I layered ramp greens to great effect, yet they are entirely optional. In fact, as this “recipe” has been passed from friend to friend via loose guidelines, remember that it is entirely customizable. Why not add a layer of sausage? Or spinach? Or use different cheese?
Perhaps what makes a recipe “The Best” is simply that it can be whatever you want it to be.
“The Best” (Vegetarian) Lasagna
Via several friends, with breadcrumbs borrowed from Suzanne Goin
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
6 medium zucchini, sliced evenly into 1/3” rounds
3 plum tomatoes, sliced very thinly (less then 5 mm)
Lasagna noodles for 3 layers (no-bake or parboiled, up to you)
1/4 cup basil pesto (fresh or purchased)
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 c + 1 T chopped parsley
8 oz shredded mozzarella
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 T Dijon mustard
8 T olive oil
3 T butter
Optional: Greens from 1/4 pound ramps
1. Add 2 T olive oil and 1 T butter to a large skillet and heat on low until butter is melted. Add onions and leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme. Sauté over low heat about 1 hour until onions are caramelized. If not sweet to taste after 1 hour, increase the heat to medium till onions are browned.
2. Preheat oven to 300 °F. In a large bowl, toss zucchini slices with 4 T oil, and salt to taste. Arrange rounds on 2 baking sheets and bake 40 minutes until tender and slightly desiccated. Increase temperature to 400 and bake 10 minutes more until tops are browned.
3. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with shredded parmesan, lemon zest, 1/8 c. parsley, and salt and black pepper to taste.
4. In a small pan, melt 2 T butter over medium heat until foamed. Add in leaves from remaining 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 T Dijon mustard, and 1 T finely chopped parsley. Remove from heat and whisk vigorously. Add in breadcrumbs, toss to combine, and set aside.
5. With all materials prepared, assemble the lasagna layers in a 9 x 13” baking dish, in the following order, remembering to lightly season between layers:
a. 1/3 of onions
b. 1/3 of zucchini
c. 1/3 of tomato slices
d. 1 whole layer of prepared pasta
e. evenly brush pesto over pasta in a very thin layer (use 1/3rd or less)
f. 1/3rd of ricotta mixture, spread evenly to edges of pan
g. If using, evenly cover ricotta mixture with 1 layer of ramp greens
h. 1/3rd of shredded mozzarella
6. Repeat to create 3 full layers, using up most of your ingredients (you may have some leftover, just eat it all in a sandwich). Over the top, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture. Cover lasagna in aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
7. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Take lasagna out of refrigerator and place directly in the oven. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 40 minutes till bubbly.
More Amateur Gourmet:
Favorite Food Sites:
- 101 Cookbooks
- Chez Pim
- Chocolate and Zucchini
- David Lebovitz
- Serious Eats
- Simply Recipes
- Slice NY
- The Food Section