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BackstoryMy family was staying in a rented cabin tucked into the woods somewhere near Lake Superior--a winter vacation tradition in my family. The cabin came equipped with hand sewn quilts, a gorgeous view of one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, and a little kitchen of its own. After we were settled into our various cozy nooks, my mother started making "I'm-cooking-who-wants-to-help?" noises in the kitchen and organizing the various ingredients for lasagna. Lasagna was a regular meal in our house--in fact I think it was my all-time-favorite food for a good chunk of elementary school, much to my mother's delight and disbelief. But this was the first time I consciously helped my mother make lasagna and recognized it as a meal that I could replicate for myself. It was a light bulb kind of moment, and I've been making little modifications and alterations to my mom's basic recipe ever since.
This last reincarnation is pretty near perfect. Looking at the ingredients, it doesn't necessarily look like your typical lasagna. I've made some changes to make it a little more friendly for the waist-line, but I honestly like this version better than some of the full-on Italian lasagnas I've had. I kept my mom's technique of using dry lasagna noodles in the layers--this renders noodles that are al dente and richly flavored with absorbed tomato juice. Don't let the "healthy" label deter you! Every bite is full of perfectly cooked vegetables, a bit of meat, a bit of noodle, and a bit of cheese--chewy and moist and perfect.
(Weight Watcher's point breakdown at bottom of recipe.)
- 10 dry lasagna noodles (not 'no boil')
- 1/2 - 3/4 lb of ground lean turkey, lean beef, or meat substitute (optional)--cooked
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 onion--diced
- 1 small eggplant, zucchini, or summer squash--diced
- 1 red bell pepper--diced
- 1 pkg baby bella mushrooms or portabella mushrooms--diced
- 1 c. non-fat ricotta cheese
- 1/2 c. low-fat cottage cheese
- 2 c. low-fat shredded cheese
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/8 cup of water or chicken broth
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix all the chopped vegetables together in a large bowl and combine with all the spices. Taste a piece of eggplant or mushroom and adjust the spices if necessary--the mix should actually taste a bit too salty at this point.
- Combine ricotta and cottage cheese together in a small bowl
- In a 9x13 casserole dish or baking pan, spread a light layer of crushed tomatoes and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of the sugar over the top. Arrange a layer of 5 noodles--in my pan, I can fit 4 noodles length-wise and then have to break off about one inch on the fifth to fit it in along the side.
- Spread half of the ricotta-cottage cheese mixture over the noodles. Then spread half of the veggies and half of the meat. Finally layer on about 1 cup of cheese and half the can of crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar over the tomatoes.
- Add another layer of noodles and repeat step 4. Reserve a bit of cheese for the topping.
- Swish the water or chicken broth (I prefer stock) in the empty can of tomatoes and dribble evenly over the top of the lasagna.
- Cover the lasagna with a double layer of tinfoil and bake for 1 hour. After an hour, check the to see how done the noodles are and the onions are. I usually need to bake it covered for another 15 minutes. When the onions taste just a bit under done, uncover the lasagna and top with the reserved cheese. Bake uncovered for another 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and a bit brown.
- Let the lasagna cool for about 10 minutes and then cut into 12 portions.
- WeightWatchers: If you made any substitutions or adjustments, I recommend tallying everything up for yourself to be on the safe side. Made with the above ingredients,12 portions is about 4.5 points per portion. If you're being really strict, you can cut it into 16 portions for about 3.25 points each, but, honestly, those portions are a bit measly--ok for lunch, but probably not enough for dinner unless you were also eating a side dish.