Rainbow Lasagna: The Queen of Vegetable Lasagnas

The farmers’ market today bore out the perfidy of the seasons. Tomatoes! Corn! Basil! Eggplant! In Massachusetts! At the end of October!

I like it.

Now there was plenty of squash, too—golden, speckled, and deep saffron-colored beauties of all different shapes and sizes. And kale and other greens and lots of fall inspiration. But I know there is plenty of time for them. I did buy some greens, and am snacking on crispy kale even as I write this. I wish I had bought those little pears so I could be eating a poire belle helene (that’s French for something a whole lot better than kale.)  However.

I’ve been fiddling around with ingredients to play along with the blurring lines of summer into fall. The result is this delicate, light, fresh, colorful lasagna. I know. Those are not words you normally would use to describe the ubiquitous dish that graces the table of every soccer team in the USA relentlessly throughout the fall.

My family, or at least College Boy, could never really get enthusiastic about lasagna—the Italian-American version, that is. It is usually so heavy with cheese and ground beef and sausage and tomato sauce and cheese and then, more cheese.  Sinks like a stone, it does.

So here is the light, veggie version that fits well with your girls’ soccer team. The young ladies these days seem to prefer the vegetarian version and that is what you will get here. Lots and lots of vegetables.  As for those who turn up their noses, I think you will find this dish pretty (and tasty) enough to entice even the most vegetable-averse   family member to the table.

The key to success with this lasagna is to slice the vegetables thinly and to salt them for 20 to 30 minutes before assembling them. The salt both softens the vegetables and extracts excess moisture, which eliminates pre-cooking. It also draws off the potential bitterness of the eggplant. The lasagna comes together with a white sauce instead of the familiar tomato sauce and has enough cheese to give it plenty flavor without hitting you over the head with an excessive dose. Also, if you can find Barilla no-boil lasagna, use it. More than a few people who tried this have asked me if the pasta was homemade. As if.

Rainbow Lasagna (Serves 6 to 8)

1 small eggplant, cut in 1/4-inch thick, lengthwise slices

2 medium yellow (summer) squash, halved crosswise and then cut in 1/4-inch thick, lengthwise slices

2 medium zucchini, halved crosswise and then cut in 1/4-inch thick, lengthwise slices

Salt

3 cups milk (low-fat is okay)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Freshly ground pepper

Olive oil for the baking dish

1 large orange, yellow or red pepper, thinly sliced

1 cup ricotta (8 ounces)

1 cup grated Parmesan

2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), sliced

1/2 package no-boil lasagna noodles (about 8 noodles)

1. Sprinkle the eggplant, yellow squash and zucchini slices lightly with salt. Lay them in a colander set over a bowl and let drain for about 30 minutes while you make the béchamel sauce.

2. Heat the milk in the microwave or in a saucepan on top of the stove until it bubbles at the edges but does not boil. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until the mixture is uniformly bubbly, about 2 minutes. You want to cook out the raw taste of the flour without allowing it to brown.

3.Take the pan off the heat and gradually whisk in about 1 cup of the hot milk, whisking until smooth. Slowly whisk in the remaining milk until smooth and return the pan to medium heat. Bring the sauce to a low boil, stirring constantly. Cook for about 3 more minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Lightly oil a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

5. Pat the eggplant, squash and zucchini dry with paper towels and wipe off excess salt.

6. Spread the pepper slices on the bottom of the baking dish and top with the eggplant slices. Dollop the ricotta in heaping teaspoon-size mounds over the eggplant and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Cover with 4 lasagna noodles. Spread half the bechamel over the top of the pasta.

4. Place a layer of yellow squash over the bechamel, followed by the tomato slices. Top with 4 more lasagna noodles. Add the zucchini in one layer and spread the remaining bechamel over the top of the lasagna, making sure to cover the edges with the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until golden brown. Let the lasagna rest and settle for about 10 minutes before slicing into serving pieces.

Posted on October 24, 2010 and filed under Fall recipes, Main dish, Pasta, Vegetarian.