Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In The Kitchen: Spring Vegetable Lasagna

A couple years ago, on a work trip to Birmingham, Mr. Fonty picked up a copy of Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita for me. A cookbook is one of my most favorite gifts, and in this book, I have found one of my most favorite meals, the Spring Vegetable Lasagna. Whether it's for a family with a new baby or having friends over for dinner, this meal is beautiful and special. This lasagna is made with a bechamel sauce which sets it apart from the Stoffers Lasagna we all grew up eating. 

This Spring Vegetable Lasagna is definitely a labor of love, and you will use every pot and pan in your kitchen, but it is worth it - and the lasagna can be made in advance, so your kitchen is spic and span before company arrive. (One of my #1 tips for entertaining is to have you counters and sink cleared. No one wants to know you slaved in the kitchen on their behalf.)

Spring Vegetable Lasagna
1/2 lb. no-boil lasagna noodles 
3 T olive oil 
4 zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise 
2 c. frozen peas, thawed 
Salt & Pepper to taste 
1 large onion, diced 
2 leeks, split, rinsed and sliced thinly, white and light green parts only 
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1-1/2 c. ricotta 
2 tsp. fresh lemon zest 
1 T fresh chopped chives pinch of cayenne 
2 c. Bechamel (recipe below) 
1/2 lb. fresh mozarella, sliced 
1/3 c. Fontina, grated 
1/3 c. asagio, freshly grated 
1/3 c. pecorino romano, freshly grated 
For the Béchamel 
2 c. milk 
1/4 c. chopped onion 
1 bay leaf pinch of salt ground pepper 
4 T butter 
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg 
1/4 t cayenne 

To make the Béchamel: To a medium saucepan, add the milk, onion, bay leaf, and seasonings. Over medium heat, bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally until reduced by a quarter. Return to pot and keep warm. In a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring in the flour and over low heat stirring, allow to cook 2-3 minutes until it begins to bubble.  Once bubbling, pour in warm milk whisking quickly. It will begin to thicken. Keep whisking until the milk is incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue whisking for 20 minutes over med-low heat. Set aside. 
For the Lasagna: Preheat oven to 425. Slice zucchini in think strips on the mandolin (I like the 1/8 setting). Toss the zucchini with olive oil, salt & pepper. Lay out flat (not overlapping) on a cookie sheet and Bake for 5-10 minutes or until slices are browned. Set aside. Turn oven down to 350.
Saute the leeks and onions in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes, set aside.  
In a food processor, pulse the defrosted peas to a chunky mixture. 
Mix the ricotta with the lemon zest, chives, pinch of cayenne and salt in a bowl and set aside.  
Spray a 9×13″ pan lightly with oil and spoon a liberal amount of the Béchamel into the pan.  Spread over the bottom surface area.  Layer the no-boil pasta over the top of the Béchamel — about 1/3 of the noodles.  Spread a third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then a 1/3 of the onion-leek mixture, then 1/3 of the frozen peas, then zucchini, sprinkle with slat & pepper.  Repeat twice for 2 more layers. Top with sliced mozzarella, grated cheeses and the remaining Bechamel sauce. 
Bake about 40-45 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling and beginning to brown.  Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cooking with Color
I told you it was a mess to make, but it is worth every minute in the kitchen. Bon Appetite!

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