Thursday, August 16, 2012

0 Recipe #321: "No-Brainer" Eggplant-Zucchini Lasagna

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You might not be able to see the eggplant and zucchini in this lasagna photo, but trust me, there's a LOT of it in there. :)

Since I'm currently writing recipes for 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle, (in case you haven't already noticed from the last several posts on this site - Lol!), one of the primary requirements of the book is that all of the recipes must be super-easy to make. They've also got to be "dude food," as Brett, creator of the 7 Weeks to Fitness series, puts it. :) And this lasagna definitely fits the bill on both counts. Admittedly, this means that for this particular recipe, I've had to take a few minor shortcuts, like using jarred tomato sauce. Another expeditious strategy is the use of oven-ready lasagna noodles. Notwithstanding, there are still fresh, whole foods (i.e., a ton of zucchini and eggplant, etc.) in this recipe. :)

Yes, I do realize that not everyone chooses to spend their days creating recipes in their kitchen and writing books, nor do the majority of people work for themselves and make their own schedule. ;) Also, there are people who just don't have the time or the patience to cook anything elaborate. So, for practicality's sake, this is why I've written a recipe which acknowledges this, and is geared towards busy people/athletes who still want to eat nutritiously, even though they might have limited time to cook.

However, even so, this lasagna doesn't skimp on flavor. So don't expect a wimpy little lasagna. ;) That's not what this site is all about. You see, I'm out to prove that healthy food can taste good, no matter what the skeptics might say. A lot of it is about reshaping one's expectations. When you stop eating lots of processed food and eat lots of fresh, colorful, whole food instead, your perspective really starts to change. What you once thought was tasty is no longer attractive, because your goals have changed. In other words, you stop wanting to eat that crap because you realize what it's been doing to your body all this time. And that can be a powerful motivator. Of course, it's never too late to change your eating behaviors. Just taking the first step in the right direction can make it easier to take the next, and the next, and the next.... It's the good kind of snowball effect. :)

I personally find that exercise really helps to reinforce healthy eating patterns. Exercise is about self-care, just like eating, grooming, or bathing. ;) And when you take the time to exercise, and put in all that hard work, chances are you'll be more motivated not to undo all of your efforts. Sure, it's perfectly fine to have a treat every now and then -- we couldn't be human if we didn't -- but when you exercise, the overall trend is to keep reinforcing the healthy habits you've already been doing. Of course, it can work the other way as well, but once you get the healthy habits in place and find the internal motivation to change the way you live, it's going to become a lot harder to stop you from reaching your goals. You won't let situations or people derail you from your goals as easily, because you're starting to take charge of your destiny. This newfound awareness, when coupled with steadfast determination to meet one's goals, tends to bolster the strength of one's inner resolve. YOU are the one who determines how you are going to eat today. And the next day is always an opportunity to get it right. :)

I really want to help people to eat better, get fit, and take better care of themselves while learning to enjoy the process, and just like my running blog, this site is all about giving them the tools to do so. My goal is to help those who are willing and ready to make a change, and to encourage them to embrace their inner cook and fitness maniac, so they can move towards a healthier mind and body. Anyhow, I'll take off my coach's hat for a moment and shift into chef mode again. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

"No-Brainer" Eggplant-Zucchini Lasagna

Lasagna Filling Ingredients:
4 c. cottage cheese (32 oz. container)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

Other Ingredients for Lasagna Assembly:
extra virgin olive oil, for spraying or brushing glass baking dish
1 box of 12 oven-ready, Barilla lasagna noodles (from an 8-oz package)

2 24 oz. jars of no-sugar tomato sauce
2 medium-sized (about 14 oz. total) zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/8" thick strips
1 large (about 16 oz.) eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/8" thick strips
1 8 oz. bag fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved or shredded
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions: With a spray bottle or pastry brush, lightly coat a 13" x 9" glass baking dish with extra virgin olive oil and set aside. Place on top of an aluminium foil-covered, 11" x 17" baking dish to prevent drips and keep your oven clean -- lasagna tends to get rather bubbly when it bakes. :) (The aluminium foil is for easy clean-up.) In a food processor, purée all filling ingredients until well-blended and smooth, and add to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate mixture for an hour to allow flavors to meld. (You can do this step in advance if you prefer.)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove bowl containing the cheese filling from the refrigerator. Assemble lasagna in the glass baking dish: ladle about a cup of the cheese filling into the glass baking dish and, using a spatula, evenly spread a thin layer of it the across the bottom, so that it's completely covered with filling. Next, add a layer of 3 (evenly-spaced) lasagna noodles (place them vertically across the longer side), followed by a layer of sauce, and then a layer of alternating zucchini and eggplant strips. Be sure to fill in any gaps with any smaller pieces of zucchini or eggplant; to fill in the holes, cut them into smaller pieces if need be. Also, make sure you leave enough filling for the final layer, or else you'll be scraping the heck out of the inside of your food processor bowl to eke out the last little bits. ;) Repeat process until you've reached the final layer of sauce. Then sprinkle a layer of mozzarella on top, completely covering the surface of the dish with cheese. Cover baking dish with aluminium foil and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil, top with 8 oz. shredded or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and continue baking, uncovered, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before cutting. Cut into 12 squares and serve.

Yield: Makes about 12 servings.

Chef's Notes: T
he kind of tomato sauce I used for this recipe was Classico's Tomato & Basil, mostly because it has far less chemicals than other brands (according to the label there are only two, citric acid and calcium chloride) and doesn't contain any sugar. Of course, there are probably organic kinds you could use as well, which would be even healthier.

Also, since tomato reacts unfavorably with metal, it's best to use a glass baking dish versus a metal one (including disposable aluminium pans). Also, lasagna seems to brown better in glass as well.

Due to what I wrote in this post, I'm going to leave it up to you as to which type of mozzarella and cottage cheese you'd like to use. As I've mentioned before, even though I'm not a vegan, I do keep my dairy and meat consumption to a minimum and try to eat organic whenever possible. However, I'm not going to tell you what to do. To each his own. :)

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