This article is a holiday gift that keeps on giving! Not only do you get to learn about one of my fabulous students, but you also get 4 recipes! Since lasagna has multiple layers you can make each of the 3 “supporting” recipes on their own and use them is a variety of ways (e.g. the Spinach-Mushroom Filling stirred into pasta or as a topping for pizza, or a baked potato or roasted winter squash, with a drizzle of Cheezy Sauce)!
Veroniqè Dennis was a joy to have in my NUTRI 300 class at Cosumnes River College. She is a kind and generous person, committed to achieving her goal of becoming a registered dietitian and helping others become the best versions of themselves, one bite at a time! When she told me about her Courgette Lasagna, I was thrilled, but wanted to wait to publish it until the holidays. Lasagna-related memories have a special place in my heart. I grew up in an Italian family and the center of our traditional Christmas Eve meal, hosted by my parents and often included more than 20 relatives, was always lasagna, served with salad and garlic bread. Not only did the meal taste phenomenal, but the lasagna could be made ahead of time, so that we could all enjoy each other’s company without worrying about last minute food preparation. Veroniqè also has wonderful, food-related memories with her family… In her words:
“My family has a long history of cooking foods together and I always cherished the moments that were spent in the kitchen. As a child, I enjoyed smashing cornbread with my hands for the cornbread dressing that my father was preparing, and when he wasn’t watching, I would eat some. I can clearly remember when my siblings and I would rush to lick the cake batter from the beaters and the bowl that my mother used. We did such a good job licking the bowl and utensils, it would have been difficult to tell if they’d been washed in the sink!
If you asked me what I wanted for dinner as a child, it would consistently be something cheesy, refined and probably meaty, such as pizza, spaghetti or lasagna. From time to time, I still have flashbacks of eating all those delicious meals that were high in saturated fat, cholesterol and empty calories, but my mind goes right to the health impact. It makes me sad, that as a young child, I was exposed to foods that I now know are cancer and chronic disease promoting, and contribute to acne, headaches, asthma and many more health issues. I didn’t know that my arteries were being clogged by the same cheesy foods that were worsening my eczema, and neither did my parents.
Now, as an adult and majoring in nutrition and science, I know better. I’m living better. After becoming more educated, I decided that I no longer wanted to increase my risk of diseases and illnesses. Especially since diabetes, hypertension and cancer took over many of my family member’s lives. That’s why it’s important for our youth and elders to know the impact that our food choices have on our quality of life, now and into the future.
When I first chose to eat a plant-based diet, I was worried about how to overcome the fear of missing out (FOMO) on foods I ate growing up. What I soon realized was that it wasn’t the actual food that made me feel good, it was the memories we made when we ate or cooked together. I decided to start challenging myself with new versions of some of our favorite recipes, and this courgette lasagna was one of the biggest by far. As I taught my mother how to create this dish, she shared some memories about different ways my grandmother and great grandmother incorporated courgette (a.k.a. zucchini) into their meals when she was younger. Since I created a recipe of my own, which has earned my dearest mother’s approval, (which is huge, as she makes the most outstanding lasagna), I’m more than happy to share it with you, too!
You may be thinking that you should wait until after the holidays to begin a healthier lifestyle, but this is the perfect time to act by making hearty, nutritious and delicious meals with family and friends! There is no need to worry about missing out on comforting or traditional foods, because most of those recipes just need a nutritional upgrade.”
Veroniqè’s Courgette Lasagna
Serve it with a fresh salad and whole grain bread on the side, and devour every bite!
3-4 medium zucchini (a.k.a. courgettes), sliced into planks
~2½ cups pasta sauce of choice (Veroniqè used a spicy Arrabiata)
Mushroom-Spinach Filling (1 batch of recipe below)
Ricotta Cheeze* (1 batch of recipe below)
Cheezy Sauce (1 batch of recipe below) or store-bought nut-based cheeze of choice (e.g. Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz)
Note: The Mushroom-Spinach Filling, Ricotta Cheeze and Cheezy Sauce can all be prepared the day before you assemble and bake the lasagna.
Procedure for putting it all together!
- Pre-heat oven to 375F degrees.
- Make zucchini planks (for the lasagna noodles) by slicing along the length of the zucchini using a mandolin slicer, peeler or knife. Make sure it’s standing tall, so that you get long pieces.
- Spread a thin layer of pasta sauce in the bottom of baking dish (~9×13).
- Spread ¼ of the Ricotta Cheeze on enough zucchini planks to cover the bottom of the dish, and place a single layer of these planks on top of the pasta sauce.
- Top with 1/3 of the Spinach-Mushroom Filling.
- Drizzle ¼ of the Cheezy Sauce over Spinach-Mushroom layer.
- Repeat layers 2 more times and top off with the rest of the pasta sauce, Ricotta Cheeze and Cheezy Sauce.
- Bake, covered, for 30 minutes and then bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until top of lasagna is golden brown. Let it cool for 15 minutes.
Ingredients (for Mushroom-Spinach Filling)
24oz-32oz frozen spinach, thawed, excess water squeezed out
1 medium red onion, diced small
8-oz pkg Crimini mushrooms (or your favorite variety)
3 garlic cloves* (or more)
2 TBSP Italian seasoning
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional, or add more to taste!)
Dash of black pepper
Procedure (for Mushroom-Spinach Filling)
Chop garlic and let it sit (to boost health benefits) while onions sauté in a dry pan (about 6 minutes). Stir in garlic, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Then add mushrooms and cook for ~5 minutes. Mix in thawed and squeezed spinach, and either turn off heat or cook off extra moisture, if needed.
Ricotta Cheeze (published in The Foodie Bar Way)
Ingredients (for Ricotta Cheeze)
14-oz organic, extra-firm tofu (not silken), drained, extra water pressed out by wrapping in a clean dishcloth
1/4 cup cashews, raw,* soaked in water overnight (optional)
3-4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, pressed/minced (let sit for 5-10 mins)
2 tsp dried basil (or 2 TBSP fresh)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
¼ – ½ tsp salt (optional, based on taste preferences)
2 TBSP fresh parsley, minced (optional)
Procedure (for Ricotta Cheeze)
In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice and garlic until a thick, creamy paste forms. Add the crumbled tofu, basil, Italian seasoning, salt and parsley (if using) and process until well blended. Add a tablespoon of water if mixture is too thick.
No food processor? Just skip the cashews, crumble the tofu into a large mixing bowl and add the lemon juice, basil, Italian seasoning, garlic, finely minced parsley and salt, if using. Stir/mash with a long-tined fork or potato masher until well combined.
Ingredients (for Cheezy Sauce)
3 small red potatoes
1/2 medium red onion
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup cooking liquid from the vegetables
1 TBSP nutritional yeast
½ tsp turmeric (optional – for color and antioxidants!)
Procedure (for Cheezy Sauce)
Bring 1½ cups of water to boil in a saucepan. Add chopped potatoes, carrots and onions and boil until potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork (~10 min). Take pan off heat and let it cool for ~10 min. In a food processor or blender, combine the cooked vegetables, ½ cup of the cooking water, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, nutritional yeast and turmeric. Blend until creamy, adding more of the cooking water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until it is just thin enough to spread in the layers of lasagna.
Veroniqè and I wish you a very happy holiday season, filled with gratitude, laughter and amazing food that loves you back!
Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, loves working with her students, as a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. Timaree also conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook – The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. – which makes a wonderful holiday gift – available at www.FoodieBars.com – where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events (cooking demos, book signings and talks about the incredible power you yield with your fork!). Article published in the Lodi News Sentinel.