summer vegetable lasagna

This recipe I’m sharing today is a fresh and healthy twist on a classic, tried and true favorite – the lasagna.

Now, before all you pasta purists rise up against me, hear me out. Because, don’t think for one second that I don’t love lasagna…I do, I really do! In fact, this is probably one of the classic dishes that as I child I absolutely loathed {ricotta cheese? that was beyond my taste buds then…things have changed now!}. I don’t know what transformed it over the years, but now it’s a total comfort dish, perfect for chilly fall evenings and those blustery winter nights that practically scream “you know you want to make and devour some lasagna!”

But here I go, digressing from the above-mentioned recipe. Getting back on track, y’all; it’s the end of summer, it’s still HOT, and honestly, I’m okay with turning on my oven. But, here’s where it gets a bit tricky – a big, heavy, carb-y pasta dish does not sound that appealing. So I do what I always do….poke around in the kitchen until I find something to make it work. And here enters my plethora of vegetables.

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I know that vegetable lasagna is really nothing new; in fact, if you Google it, so many hits will come up that your head will start to spin. So as I mentioned, I nixed the recipe-searching and came up with my own. We’re basically taking some of the more well-known concepts for building a veggie lasagna, but incorporating a few of my staples into it.

And we’re making it healthy and light! Noodles are replaced with thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant. Canned tomatoes are replaced with hearty slices of garden-ripened fresh tomatoes. And the cheese sauce? We’re using my favorite: my tofu sauce, with some tweaks! Once all baked together, in its bubbly and satisfying glory, it’s divine. So much so that I wish I had doubled the recipe for some freezer meals, because…yeah…we ate the whole pan. In one night.

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Summer Vegetable Lasagna {original recipe, serves 4}

An updated healthy twist on an old favorite! By swapping out noodles for veggies and tofu for cheese {or the majority of it}, we’re basically baking up a vitamin and protein packed entree! Feel free to adjust the seasonings to your taste buds; I think some hot pepper flakes would be wonderful. 

Ingredients {for the “noodles”}:

1 large zucchini

1 large yellow squash

4 large, vine-ripened tomatoes

kosher salt

*special equipment: mandolin {if you don’t have one, simply make thin slices using a sharp chef’s knife}, baker’s sheet lined with paper towels, 9″ x 9″ glass baking dish, food processor 

Ingredients {for the sauce}:

1 block tofu, coarsely chopped

1 large white onion

1 egg, slightly beaten

2-3 cloves garlic

1 tsp. basil

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

3 to 4 tbsp. nutritional yeast

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Toppings:

nutritional yeast

fresh grated cheese {optional}

bread crumbs

extra virgin olive oil

Prepare the “Noodles”:

Using a mandolin set on the 1/4″ thickness of the flat blade, slice both the zucchini and the yellow squash, making sure to stop before reaching the center seed pods. Lay all the slices on the paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt.

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Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and slice into thin strips. Lay on the paper-towel-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt.

The goal of salting the vegetables while prepping the other ingredients is to draw out the moisture. After about 10 minutes, blot the first side very well with another towel, making sure to remove any additional salt. Flip the vegetables over, salt the other side, and leave to sit for another 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat the process of blotting and removing additional salt. Set aside. 

*because we are being more liberal with salt than usual {not all of it will be removed when blotting}, I opted to omit the salt from the sauce we’ll be making. Feel free to adjust to your taste buds as needed, though! 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and spray a 9″ x 9″ glass baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Prepare the Sauce:

Add a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil into a medium saucepan. Once the oil is hot, coarsely chop the onion and garlic, and add into the pan. Cook until the onions are translucent and they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add in the herbs and cook for another few minutes, allowing the flavors to marry. Remove from heat.

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In the bowl of your food processor, add in the block of tofu. Top with the cooked vegetables, and puree for 5 minutes, taking care to scrape down the sides to make sure all chunks are eliminated – you’re looking for a consistency similar to ricotta cheese. Add in the nutritional yeast, and blend for another minute. The longer it processes, the smoother it gets; this also helps it cool down quickly!

Once all blended, add the sauce into a mixing bowl. Fold in the egg, making sure it’s fully incorporated.

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Prepare the Lasagna:

In the baking dish, ladle in a small amount of sauce.

Add in the first layer of squash “noodles”, then top with slices of tomato. Ladle on sauce in an even layer. Repeat until you have done about 2-3 layers…you want to finish with the sauce on top.

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Sprinkle with bread crumbs and nutritional yeast {and cheese, if using}, then drizzle with olive oil.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, then increase the heat to 400 degrees for the last 15 minutes.  You’ll want the top to be a nice golden brown, and you’ll notice how bubbly the sides of the dish are.

Remove from heat and allow to cool about 5 to 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

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Let’s Discuss: Do you have any funky twists on lasagna, or other classic pasta dishes? If so, please share!

super simple guacamole & baked tortilla chips

Avocados and I go way back, y’all.

I can say with absolute certainty that I have been a total veggie lover since before I could walk. My mom always reinforced to me how much I love to snack on fresh veggies as soon as I was able to…whether it was beets, carrots, peas – you name it, I ate it. It’s fairly common in our family to find someone munching away on a bowl of greens, enjoying chopped veggies, or popping tomatoes off the vine {I do this often in the summer months!}.

If anything, my love affair for fresh produce has only further developed. I am a firm believer in the “try anything once” philosophy, because how are you really going to know if you don’t like something until you sink your teeth into it? I cannot recall the first time I ever tried avocados, but they are easily one of my favorite go-to’s, especially during the hot summer months. I have no qualms shelling out a few extra bucks for the good organic ones at my local grocery store. Packed full of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, the avocado is the ideal snack. Give me a spoon and half an avocado, and I am one happy gal.

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The hardest problem I have with this beloved treat? Waiting for them to ripen! An avocado is going to be perfectly succulent when the flesh still feels firm overall, but will give ever so slightly around its navel. You can also help speed up the process slightly by putting them in a small brown paper bag with an apple. The natural gases emitted from the apple help the avocado to turn quicker – I’ve found this trick helpful in years past when preparing large quantities {we’re talking 15-20 avocados, no joke} for summer get-togethers.

Speaking of said gatherings, I found this the perfect opportunity to introduce to you my recipe for super simple guacamole. It is by no means fancy, frilly, laced with special ingredients. Just pure and simple; fresh avocados, their creamy and rich flavor heightened only by fresh citrus juice, garlic, and a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked pepper. And because we need the perfect vessel to accommodate this bite of heaven, we’re going to make some oven-baked tortilla chips to go along with them.

To me, this is summer eating at its best. Simple, fresh ingredients that come together as a meal in minutes…how much better does it get?

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Super Simple Guacamole & Baked Tortilla Chips

Ingredients – Guacamole:

3-4 ripe avocados

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

fresh lemon juice, to taste

fresh lime juice, to taste

salt and pepper

To Prepare:

Begin by seeding the avocados. The best way I’ve found to do this is to carefully cut around the sides of the avocado from top to bottom. Give the sides a gentle twist, and the two halves should split neatly apart. To remove the pit, carefully hit the center of the pit with the blade of your knife, rotate it to loosen, and pull it out. Scoop the flesh of the avocado out with a spoon and place into a mixing bowl.

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Add in the minced garlic {make sure it’s fresh!}, lemon juice, lime juice, salt and pepper. I like to use a large spoon for combining the ingredients together – give it a few good mashes with the backside of the spoon, making sure to leave lots of good-sized chunks.

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Once all combined, place into the center of the bowl the avocado pits. Not only do they make it look fun and festive, but they will help the guacamole from turning brown. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving.

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Ingredients – Baked Tortilla Chips:

1 package of your favorite tortillas {I prefer a corn-based}

cooking spray

salt and pepper, to taste

optional extras: fresh lime juice, cumin, adobo seasoning

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the desired amount of tortillas into quarters, and set aside.

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Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and give a good coating with cooking spray. Begin placing the quartered tortillas onto the sheet, making sure to not overlap any corners {if the sheet is too crowded, the chips will not get as crispy}. Spray the top sides with cooking spray, and sprinkle generously with cracked pepper and sea salt. You can also add any of the optional spices here, should you choose to!

Turn the tortillas over {so the seasoned side is facing down} and repeat the seasoning process – a gentle spritz, then sprinkle with the desired seasonings.

Place into the oven and cook for 8 minutes, then remove the pans and turn over each of the chips. Place back in the oven and cook for another 5-7…I find that the second side cooks much quicker.

Remove from the oven and place onto a cooling sheet. I find that the chips are best prepared several hours in advance; this allows them to firm up nicely and really develop the flavors. They will be golden brown and crispy right out of the oven, but I think letting them sit helps them dry out slightly more. 

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Serve with heaping bowls of guacamole and a cold, refreshing Mexican beer!

 

tomato sauce with onion & butter

Let’s talk tomato sauce, shall we?

Tomatoes and I go way back. In elementary school, when all my friends were chomping down on apples in their lunch, I was “that girl” diving into a fresh tomato sprinkled with salt and pepper. My mom would cut the ends off, tupperware it, and send me on my way. To this day, a vine-ripened tomato is still one of my favorite snacks. Take a look at the nutritional information:

-low in sodium and carbohydrates

-chock full of Vitamins E, B6, A,C, and K

-a good source of Folate, Magnesium, and Potassiun

You can’t complain about chowing down on that, now can you?

To me, you can put tomatoes on anything and I will be as happy as can be. One thing in particular, one thing that I’ve always loved, is a good tomato sauce. And no, I’m not talking about any of the canned sauces you can pick up at the grocery store (I always thought that, no matter what the “flavor” was, that all canned sauces tasted the same!). I’m talking slow cooked, homemade, thesecretingredientislove kind of tomato sauce. When you know what is going into your sauce, and you know that it simmered away for hours, you’re getting the real deal. My mom had an arsenal of great sauces she would rotate through when we were growing up, and today, I’m going to introduce to my favorite one. Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter.

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It’s as simple as it sounds. San Marzano tomatoes are simmered low and slow with sweet white onions and unsalted butter, until the flavors marry and all you’re left with is a velvety smooth, rich, and luscious sauce. The combination of flavors is unmatched by any other sauce, in my opinion, and pairs well with any type of pasta. It is also amazing as the basis for any tomato-sauce-based casserole (think lasagna, baked ziti, etc.).

Be sure, when shopping for ingredients, that you use San Marzano tomatoes. These beauties have a stronger taste than regular Roma tomatoes, and are slightly sweeter and less acidic than their relatives. Many chefs consider these the best tomatoes to use in pastes, sauces, and the like – and in my humble opinion, I couldn’t agree more.

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Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter

This particular amount will make at least 4 servings; feel free to scale back on the amount if you’re only cooking for one or two. However, this sauce freezes so well, you’ll definitely want to make at least the size listed below. 

{“original” mom recipe, adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen}

Two 28 ounce cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes

2-3 tbsp. unsalted butter*

2 large white onions, halved

salt, to taste (I typically don’t use any)

In a medium saucepan, add the San Marzano tomatoes and their liquid, the halved onions, and the butter. Stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a vigorous simmer, but not to a boil. Scale back the heat, and simmer over low heat for about an hour. You’ll start to see the top shimmer with the melted butter, and the onions will turn soft and become translucent. Serve with your favorite pasta, fresh or packaged.

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*the link above uses slightly more butter than I call for in my recipe. I don’t feel that you need that much butter in the sauce; you want to taste it, certainly, but you also don’t want the flavor of the butter to overpower the lovely tomato and onion combination. Feel free to use as much, or as little, as you like!