When you think of lasagna, what comes to mind? Fresh tomatoes and herbs used to make a homemade tomato sauce from a treasured family recipe? Tender layers of lasagna noodles? A rich ragu of vegetables? Many people have a favorite recipe that is completely unique and special to them.
Lasagna is enjoyed all over the world and what better way to celebrate that fact than to devote an entire day to celebrating this layered delight. Fun fact: The word “lasagna” or “lasana” originated in reference to the actual pot in which the dish was cooked in, rather than the food itself.
It is important to note that lasagna’s origins have been disputed between Greek, Italian and English sources. Some of the earliest lasagna or “laganon” makers, were ancient Greeks. “Laganon” was a flat, wheat flour based, pasta-like product. Research states that it was closer to an unleavened bread compared to the cooked, flexible pasta noodles we know today. Preparations used to include: accompanying with oil or legumes (ex: chickpeas), frying or cooked in broth.
Today’s lasagna noodles are typically made from durum wheat flour, water and salt. Lasagna noodles can be either rippled or flat. In Italy, lasagna differs depending on the region you are from. Preparation of the pasta dish can be made with a thick ragu or creamy béchamel sauce (or both), various cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, parmigian0 reggiano), various vegetables as well as ground meats and sausages.
Oftentimes lasagna is not highlighted as a “healthy” meal option, but it’s all in how you make it. There are many variations of lasagna and we wanted to offer some tips to make your favorite lasagna dish a little more nutritious:
- Try using ground turkey or chicken instead of beef
- Try a whole wheat noodle instead of the traditional durum wheat
- Add more fresh or frozen vegetables to every layer
- Use part-skim cheeses (ricotta or mozzarella)
- Try low sodium tomato sauce (or homemade)
Vegan, vegetarian or just dairy free? No problem! There are plenty of lasagna recipes that are completely plant-based.
- Substitute mozzarella, ricotta or parmesan cheese for vegan (Daiya), cashew or tofu-based substitutes
- Try a vegetable or lentil-based ragu
Gluten free? There are options as well:
- Try a gluten-free pasta
- Instead of pasta, use sweet potatoes, zucchini or eggplant as your “pasta” to create the layered effect
Note: lots of these ingredients are in season right now – check out your local Farmer’s Market for the freshest ingredients!
Recipe by Wendy Lopez, MS, RD
- 5 medium-sized zucchinis
- 1½ cups tomato sauce
- ½ cup light ricotta cheese
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ medium red onion, sliced in rounds
- Optional: black pepper to taste
- Chop both ends off of each zucchini.
- Slice each zucchini length-wise into ⅕-inch slices, about 4 to 5 slices per zucchini.
- In a baking dish, assemble the first layer of zucchini slices. Place four to five zucchini slices, tightly aligned, as your base.
- Spread ½ cup tomato sauce over first layer of zucchini slices. Add ⅓ of total ricotta and mozzarella over sauce. Top with 4 to 6 slices of red onion.
- Repeat the layer — zucchini slices, sauce, cheese, onion — a second time.
- Repeat the layer a third time.
- Top with the remaining zucchini slices. Lightly spread what’s left of the tomato sauce and cheese, and finish off with grounded black pepper, if using.
- Bake at 400°F for 60 to 70 minutes. Serves 4.