Monday, December 28, 2015

Homegrown Zucchini Lasagna

I'm finally back!  I've been meaning to post something for a while now, but between work, school, a toddler, cooking, and life, I haven't had much spare time for anything.  The great news is that the semester is over, and I passed my classes (as if not passing was ever a possibility ;)).  Hopefully, I only have one semester to go before I get my English Language Arts endorsement.  Then, I can teach full time.  Yay!!

In the midst of all the crazy stuff happening, the harvest from the garden came in.  I was super excited for it this year because my daughter was recently diagnosed with an allergy to the arsenic found in pesticides.  Additionally, because we live in Murray next to what used to be an old smelter and refinery site back in the early 1900's, the ground also has a higher arsenic content than it normally would (Thank you previous generations).  Needless to say, my daughter's eczema has been out of control all summer long with arsenic being the main culprit in a long list of other environmental culprits.  An abundant supply of pesticide-free food was just what I needed.  We got tons of carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers.  My grandmother even gifted her entire vine of concord grapes to me, which I used to make grape juice.  My daughter loved the gardening experience, especially pulling the carrots right up out of the ground and eating them.  I already have a list of food to plant next year including artichokes and pomegranates in addition to more of what we planted this year.  Got to keep that no-spray produce coming!

We don't have much freezer space at our house, and although we loaded up my grandma's freezer with fresh produce, we still had a ridiculous amount of zucchini left over.  When my daughter got sick of it, I had to come up with more creative ways to use it.  I did try to hide it in a few things (muffins, bread, meatballs, etc.), but I still had a ton.  I had gotten a paleo book from the library that had a recipe for raw zucchini lasagna in it, and decided to try it.  After all, I had practically everything I needed growing in my back yard.  I had seen recipes for zucchini lasagna before, but had never even considered making it.  Pre-allergy era, I made a mean lasagna.  Several people had told me that it was the best lasagna they'd ever had.  It was one of the foods, that I actually mourned it's loss when I found out that pretty much everything in it was on the do not eat list.  I also mourned nachos and French toast, but not like I mourned lasagna.  Any descent Mexican restaurant in town serves amazing nachos, and French toast was never one of my favorite breakfast foods, so I only miss it occasionally.  It's next to impossible to find good lasagna though.  Even the best Italian restaurant falls short of making a good lasagna, and almost all of them are loaded with meat, which just doesn't appeal to me. I really wanted lasagna back, and even though I'm no longer breastfeeding and can eat anything I want, I still had all of this zucchini sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be eaten.  The paleo lasagna out of the cookbook was actually really good.  I made it a few times, and then decided to try making it using my old lasagna recipe as the baseline.  It isn't allergy friendly for my daughter, but 2/3 of the ingredients came right out of my garden.  I figure I can't be the only person with too much zucchini and not enough freezer space, so here it is, my homegrown zucchini lasagna that tastes every bit as good as my original recipe.  It's guaranteed to help you use up all of that extra zucchini.  As a bonus, I also get to show off the fine China that was gifted to me by a friend in Virginia.  It's been in a box ever since I moved back, and I was delighted for an opportunity to show it off.

Homegrown Zucchini Lasagna

For the sauce
3 garlic cloves minced
1 small onion diced
2 cups mushrooms
1-2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
4 cups of fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil packed sun dried tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried basil (1½ teaspoons fresh)
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram (¾ teaspoon fresh)
¼ teaspoon dried parsley (¾ teaspoon fresh)
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (optional)

For the cashew "cheese"
1 ½ cups cashews or macadamia nuts soaked, rinsed, and drained
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 clove garlic
splash non-dairy milk

To assemble the Lasagna
2 large zucchinis sliced lengthwise**

*I like roma tomatoes because they are less watery than other kinds. However, you can use whatever you have on hand.

**I used a mandolin slicer to slice the zucchini.  I like it slightly thicker so that it retains a bit of a crunch when it is done, but any thickness will work.  If you don't have a mandolin slicer, you can just slice it by hand or chunk it up and mix the whole thing together like a casserole.


To make the sauce:
  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender.  Add the mushrooms and sauté 1-2 minutes more. 
  2. Lightly blend the tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes in a food processor.  You want them to be smooth, but not liquefied.
  3. Add the tomato mixture, all of the herbs and spices, and the Worcestershire sauce (if using) to the onion, garlic, and mushrooms.  Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for about 25 minutes.
To make the cheese:
  1. Toss the garlic in the food processor and process until minced
  2. Add the nuts, lemon juice, salt, and a splash of milk.  Continue to process until a paste is formed.  Add more milk as needed until you get the desired consistency.  You want it to look a bit like ricotta cheese. 
  3. Add salt to taste and set aside

To assemble the lasagna:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Spoon a small amount of sauce onto the bottom of a 12x12 casserole dish so that the bottom is covered.
  3. Layer the zucchini on top of the sauce so that the zucchini slightly overlaps.
  4. Spread the cheese over the zucchini and cover with sauce.  Then, top with more zucchini, cheese, and sauce.
  5. Repeat this process until all of the sauce, zucchini and cheese is gone.  You should end with the sauce on top so that your lasagna won't dry out in the oven.
  6. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes or until bubbly and the zucchini can be easily pierced with a fork.
The lasagna will hold its shape better if you allow it to cool down a bit. 

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