Wednesday, August 03, 2011


I don’t think I’ll make this recipe again, but I couldn’t resist sharing it because it’s so pretty, even with my sloppy construction and poorly lit photography. And maybe someone else will enjoy it more; after all, we didn’t hate it, just found it a bit bland. (It’s also hard to eat, even more slippery than normal lasagna—it deconstructs itself as soon as you put a fork into it.) But layering noodles with cheese and vegetables right on the plate for a refreshing no-bake lasagna (yes, my oven is still broken) is such a clever idea that I’m sure someone with more improvisational skills could adapt it into something amazing. I did make a few additions in an effort to punch up the flavor, and I’m glad I did, because otherwise it would have been totally boring.

The original recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I spotted a link to an adaptation of it in a roundup of summery lasagna recipes at The Kitchn. The adapted version made a few changes to Martha’s recipe, most notably increasing the quantity of the cheeses and basil, which I of course was on board with. Also included in the roundup was this recipe from Rachael Ray, which wasn’t as useful to me because it doesn’t involve noodles (I was looking to get rid of a half-boxful that had been haunting my cupboard for ages), but it did captivate me with its addition of lemon to the ricotta, making it similar to this tasty sandwich recipe in my archives. Further inspired by that sandwich, I decided to add my basil to the ricotta filling as well, rather than just sprinkling it around the finished lasagna. (I also did away with the 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the ricotta—it seemed unnecessary.) And while cooking, I decided to throw some red pepper flakes into the tomatoes to add a little spice.

I was a bit perplexed by how to build the actual lasagna. Martha calls for the noodles to be cut in half, which I did, but that makes them more like long rectangles than the squares shown in the photos, and I ended up trimming the ends off them so they would fit on my plates and not make gigantic servings (they still ended up being generous portions). I noticed that the adapted version has the noodles cut into thirds, which makes more sense, but it still calls for the same total number as Martha does, without explaining what to do with the extras. (If you cut your noodles into thirds, you’d really only need to cook six of them instead of eight, yielding 18 noodle pieces of which you’d use 16, four per serving.) And then since cherry tomatoes are involved, my layers didn’t lay flat, but got all lumpy. The photos at the other sites are a lot prettier than my finished product, but they look like they only contain a fraction of the total filling—a few zucchini slices and tomatoes scattered on each layer. I didn’t want to throw food away, so I ended up with askew, teeteringly high piles. I don’t like recipes that have you cook a bunch of food and not use all of it.

This is an elegant presentation for a summer pasta, but unfortunately it’s more interesting to look at than to eat. Once you bite in and the layers slide every which way (you may want to serve this in shallow bowls rather than on plates), it quickly becomes just tepid noodles, tomatoes, and zucchini in a creamy (but at least lemony, thanks to Rachael Ray) sauce—not unpleasant, but nothing too special. Next time I have noodles to use up, I’ll try stovetop lasagna or lasagna rollups instead.

The chaos!

1 cup ricotta
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 lasagna noodles, broken in half crosswise
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 minced garlic clove
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total), halved and thinly sliced into half-moons
½ cup torn basil leaves

1. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

2. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions and drain.

3. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomatoes. Cook until slightly broken down, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the same skillet and when it is heated, add zucchini. Season with salt and pepper and cook about 5 minutes or until tender.

4. Scatter a few tomatoes over four plates. Top with one noodle, a spoonful of ricotta mixture, zucchini, and more tomatoes. Repeat layering twice, then finish with one more noodle and the remaining tomatoes. Serve, garnishing with more basil if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

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