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Weekend Recipe: Vegetable Lasagna

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Vegetable Lasagna
Photo: Courtesy of Cook's Illustrated

This Cook's Illustrated recipe has many steps, as befits their style, but it is well, well worth it in the end. Just don't skimp on the cheese!

Many problems plague vegetable lasagna — soggy vegetables, grainy ricotta, and dull tomato sauce — to name a few. We began by fixing the vegetables. Precooking eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and spinach not only reduced their juices but also concentrated their flavor. To add richness to the lasagna, we made a no-cook sauce consisting of tangy cottage cheese (not grainy like ricotta), heavy cream, Parmesan, and garlic. And to add brightness, we made a quick, no-cook tomato sauce with crushed tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. These two sauces, along with our improved vegetables, sandwiched between no-boil lasagna noodles and topped with melt-y mozzarella cheese, created an unbeatable lasagna.

Vegetable Lasagna
Serves 8 to 10

INGREDIENTS

No-Cook Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

No-Cook Cream Sauce:
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1 cup whole milk cottage cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Vegetable Filling:
1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 pound yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup minced pitted kalamata olives
12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

INSTRUCTIONS

We prefer the lasagna made with our favorite wholemilk, block-style mozzarella from Sorrento, but Kraft part-skim preshredded mozzarella is also fine. Our preferred brands of crushed tomato are Tuttorosso and Muir Glen.

1. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.

5. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel-lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.

6. TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, followed by half of olives, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining olives, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until -bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

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