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Monday, August 30, 2010

A Healthier Lasagna

My family eats at least one vegetarian meal a week and generally that meal happens on Mondays so that we can participate in "Meatless Monday." There's actually a nonprofit initiative that's associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with this very name. They seek to reduce meat consumption by 15% for the better health of people and the planet. Good idea. The site is http://www.meatlessmonday.com/ and it has lots of great tips and recipes.

So I thought that we'd try a recipe in Rachel Ray's newest Every Day with Rachel Ray (September 2010). Their recipe is called Kinda-Classic Lasagna and it's made a bit healthier by swapping the ricotta for cottage cheese, full-fat mozzarella for the reduced-fat version, and switching meat with mushrooms. I'm a fan of Horizon products, and as far as I know, they don't sell a reduced-fat version of their mozzarella. So I didn't make that swap. Also, the recipe in the magazine called for one cup of cottage cheese and after I'd whipped it up, it seemed a bit of a meager portion for a large lasagna. Finally, the cremini mushrooms were loose and a bit more expensive than white button mushrooms. I was also daunted at slicing so many mushrooms. So I swapped out a full pound of the creminis for a pre-sliced container of white button mushrooms and about 6-8 ounces of creminis. The recipe below shows the switch I made.

Healthier Lasagna

1 tbsp olive oil
olive oil cooking spray
8 oz white button mushrooms
8 oz cremini mushrooms

salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped, jarred garlic
One 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Nine 8-inch lasagna noodles
1 cup reduced-fat cottage cheese
1 cup reduced-fat ricotta
2 egg whites
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
6 ounces shredded mozzarella

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray and add half the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and repeat with the rest of the mushrooms.

2. In the same skillet, heat the olive oil and the garlic over medium-low heat and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir 3/4 cup of the tomato sauce into the mushrooms; season with pepper.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta as directed. Drain and rinse with cold water.

4. In a blender, puree the cottage cheese, ricotta, egg whites, 1/4 cup of parmesan and season with pepper.

5. Grease a 9" x 11" baking dish and spread 3/4 of the remaining (non-mushroom) sauce in the bottom. Place 3 noodles on the sauce and spoon half the mushrooms on top; dot with half the cottage cheese/ricotta mixture. Top with a 1/3 of the mozzarella. Create a second layer. On the third layer of noodle, top with the remainder of the tomato sauce.

6. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and add the remaining mozzarella and parmesan and bake until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes.

It's not necessary to bake the lasagna right away. I made the lasagna and put it into the fridge, covered in foil, until dinner time.

The Verdict: Pretty Good. As the cook, I found the blended cottage cheese mix to be really nauseating to look at and even worse to pour over the layers. I'm happy to report that it puffs up nicely and gives the consistency of regular ricotta cheese. (And by the way, you could just use two cups of cottage cheese, I'm sure. I had half a container of ricotta left over and the cottage cheese looked good plain...so the remaining cottage cheese became my afternoon snack.) I think I would have added additional spices to the cooked tomatoes. Next time I'd try some basil, oregano and parsley. But the taste wasn't too plain. And speaking of taste, Amir wasn't having any of the mushrooms. He took two into his mouth, tentatively chewed, then promptly spit them out. But he loved the rest of the lasagna and had seconds...with a pile of cooked mushrooms on the corner of his Lightning McQueen plate.

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