I've been staring at my basil plants in their window box, watering them every day, watching them grow. My favorite Italian foods are denied in my low-carb diet... and I've been craving my summertime staple of pesto pasta. Sure, I put a few fresh basil leaves on a pita pizza or in a caprese salad. But the plants are itching to be preened and plucked and utilized to their potential.
I had an abundance of housework stamina on Saturday, and decided I'd cook a meal for a couple of friends. I ended up using fresh basil in all three dishes. I have to wonder if I'd had more time, if I might have come up with a dessert, as well!
For the main course, I made a big shallow lasagna. Mainly, I needed to use up a giant tub of ricotta cheese from last week, which I had accidentally ordered instead of a small one. And I had this big, fat, perfect zucchini from the farmer's market that I secretly wished I could make zucchini bread out of. I grilled the slices to pre-cook them, and figured a fire-roasted tomato sauce would further enhance the char-grilled flavors.
For a bulky side dish, I made roasted cauliflower. Cruciferous vegetables are very important in pregnancy, and I don't seem to eat enough. I find them boring. Roasting does make them more interesting. And then I realized that this bland white vegetable with lots of nooks and crannies would be a great canvas for my pesto fix. It turned out really well. See, getting your roughage can be fun. Go ahead and have seconds and thirds!
If you know my dinner habits, you'd know I am a stickler for the 3-item plate. Without variety I don't feel satiated. So without much energy left to concoct a third dish or an elaborate green salad, I tossed some heirloom tomatoes with basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Not terribly original, but it's easy. And heirlooms come in green, so that counts as a green vegetable, right? Just kidding.
Grilled Zucchini Lasagna with Fire Roasted Sauce
9 servings = 12g carbs each
6 larger servings = 16-17g carbs each
Begin 1-1/2 to 2 hours ahead of serving time
1 large zucchini (12" long x 2-1/2" wide) or 2 medium, cut lengthwise into 1/4" slices
olive oil, salt, pepper
6 "oven-ready" lasagna noodles
1-3/4 C lowfat ricotta cheese
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
1/4 C parmesan, grated
1 C + 1/2 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce (approx. 5C)
1 T olive oil
1/2 C onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 14.5oz cans of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes
2 8oz cans of no-salt added tomato sauce
salt & pepper
1. Heat oven to 350F. Spray a 13x9x2" baking pan (preferably glass/pyrex) with non-stick spray or olive oil.
2. Heat a grill pan over medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. Season zucchini slices with salt and pepper and grill about 4 minutes per side, until the slices become floppy and less opaque. Set aside as they become cooked.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté onion 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and sauce. Cover and simmer 30-45 minutes, until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Prepare cheese filling. In a medium mixing bowl, slightly beat eggs with a fork. Stir in ricotta to combine. Mix in parmesan, 1 cup of mozzarella, basil and season with salt and pepper.
5. To assemble the lasagna in the pan, first cover the bottom with a layer of sauce. Just enough to coat the bottom with no gaps. Place a layer of noodles (3 oven-ready noodles) spaced apart. Layer ricotta cheese to completely cover the noodles. Add a layer of zucchini slices and cover completely with sauce (make sure you have enough sauce left for a 3rd portion). Layer 3 more noodles directly on top of the others, then ricotta, then zucchini, and one more layer of sauce. Top with 1/2 cup mozzarella.
6. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Remove foil and raise heat to 450F. Bake another 15 minutes until cheese bubbles and browns.
7. Divide into 6 or 9 slices and serve.
Pesto Roasted Cauliflower
1 head of cauliflower, divided into florets
1 C pesto
2 C (packed) basil leaves
1 large clove of garlic, or 2 small
½ C – ¾ C good-quality extra virgin olive oil
¼ C toasted pine nuts
¼ C grated parmesan cheese
sea salt & black pepper to taste
1. Heat oven to 425F, or whatever you need it for other dishes you are cooking.
2. Drop florets into a large pot of boiling water for about 4 minutes to blanch. Remove or drain, and place in a large baking dish.
3. Use store-bought pesto, or make your own by blending the above listed pesto ingredients. Adjust the ingredient proportions to your liking. Pour about 2/3 of the pesto over the cauliflower - you want to just lightly coat it, not drown it. Toss together.
4. Bake at 425-450F for about 20 minutes. Higher temps cook quicker, lower take longer, obviously.
5. Remove from oven when tender and browned. Toss with a few more tablespoons of pesto and serve.
To cook the cauliflower alongside the lasagna, add it to the oven when you remove the lasagna foil. When you remove the lasagna after 15 minutes, leave the cauliflower in another 5 minutes and let the lasagna rest for that time.