I love pasta. I especially love pasta covered in cheese. But what I hate about pasta is how bad I feel after eating pasta because it has little nutritional value. It doesn’t bode well for my “trying to adult” lifestyle. But there are ways around that! Specifically, sneaking vegetables into the lasagna by hiding it in the Italian sausage. Genius.
I like using more “meaty” vegetables to compliment the meat. For that I use some eggplant zucchini along with the standard onion and garlic mix. The thing about eggplant is, it can have a really gross texture if you don’t treat it right. Before cooking eggplant, it has to be soaked in water for about 20-30 minutes just to make it less mushy and weird when you cook it.
In addition to the vegetables, we have to add in some meat as well. While completely optional I suppose, I can’t imagine a lasagna without any Italian sausage of any kind. What I like to do is make a mixture of Italian sausage, I little trick (and one of few) that I picked up from my father. Instead of one kind of Italian sausage, I go for two. Specifically, half mild Italian sausage and half hot Italian sausage to make that perfect right in the middle spiciness.
So I start out the meaty-sauce part of the lasagna by browning the sausage mix in the pot that I’ll cook everything else in. A little bit of oil is all you need and the rest of the oil I’ll cook the vegetables in will come straight from the sausage fat. After the sausage is nice and browned on all sides, which takes about 10 to 15 minutes on my medium-medium high heat (it’s hard to actually tell with my ancient stove), I remove it from the pot, leaving only the fat behind. Then I thrown in the vegetables.
I add in everything except the garlic and let it cook down for about 10 minutes or so until the onions are nice and translucent. The zucchini and the eggplant need much longer to soften but they’ll do that when I cook down the sauce. After the onions are nice and translucent I put in the garlic and cook it until it’s aromatic then I add in the liquid. I use some chicken stock and canned pasta sauce because in the end, I am still a little bit lazy. You can use homemade pasta sauce but honestly I don’t think it’ll make a world of difference. Just know that when using canned pasta sauce, you’ll also need to use less salt since most canned foods are very salty already.
After pouring in the liquid, I added the sausage back into the pot and cooked it down for 20-30 minutes until it reduces a little bit. And that’s all for the saucy-meat layer of the lasagna. Now onto the cheese.
Arguably the best layer is the layer of ricotta. Because cheese. For my ricotta layer, I use half ricotta and half mascarpone to make the ricotta texture a little smoother. Some people do not like pure ricotta texture. But that was only half the reason. Mascarpone is cheaper than ricotta so there is that too. I’m a grad student, not a part of the top 1%. To the ricotta and mascarpone I added just some salt, pepper, and fresh basil and parsley straight from my herb garden. That last part isn’t a necessity though. Mix that up and it’s good to go, or eat whichever you prefer.
Then everything’s ready for assembly. I start with a layer of cooked noodles than add a layer of meat sauce. Then another layer of noodles and a layer of cheese. Then another layer of noodles, meat, noodles, cheese, etc. Basically until I either run out of room in the baking dish or if I run out of materials. Once everything’s in the dish, I top with a generous helping of mozzarella.
As for baking, I bake the entire thing covered in foil for a hour so that the cheese layer on top doesn’t burn at a tepid 350˚F. After an hour of cooking, remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes to brown the mozzarella topping to get that nice “semi-burned” cheese flavor that everyone loves.
And batta-bing batta-boom, lasagna that is slightly healthier than it’s veggie-less counterpart. Not only that, but this bad boy freezes pretty well so you can eat it all week, freeze some of it, forget about it for a while, and pull it out again for an easy meal weeks later.
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cups eggplant, diced
- 3 cloves garlic
- One jar tomato sauce
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ lb hot Italian sausage
- ½ lb mild Italian sausage
- 1 cup basil
- 1 cup parsley
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 16 oz ricotta
- 8 oz mascarpone
- 1 lb mozzarella
- 1 box lasagna noodles
- Soak diced eggplant in water for 10-15 minutes before cooking
- Heat pot over medium heat, cook sausage until brown, ~10-12 minutes
- Remove sausage from pan and add zucchini, onion, eggplant, salt, and pepper to pot
- Saute until onions are translucent and zucchini begins to soften, ~8-10 minutes
- Add garlic and saute until garlic become aromatic, ~30 seconds
- Pour pasta sauce and chicken stock into the pot, add sausage back into pot
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes
- Turn off heat and set aside
- Bring a pot of water to a boil
- Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions, drain and set aside for assembly
- In a bowl, combine ricotta, mascarpone, parsley, and basil
- Mix, salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350˚F
- In a baking dish, lay down a layer of noodles
- Cover noodle layer in sauce
- Lay down another layer of noodles
- Cover noodle layer with the cheese mixture
- Repeat steps 13-16 until all of the sauce and cheese is used up (or baking dish can’t hold anymore layers). Cover the top layer in mozzarella
- Bake, covered in foil for 1 hour
- Remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes until top layer is browned