Iknow it seems offensive to say that zucchini is a decent substitute for noodles, but I am happy to report that it is true. I’ve never made lasagna in my life. It’s labor intensive and ingredient heavy, which for a typical dinner never seems worth the effort. But for those exact same reasons it seemed to be the perfect meal when cooking for someone special.
My special someone is about as creeped out by carbs as I am. This is based on the verified phobia that carbohydrates are the best-tasting element in the known universe and once you start eating them the only way to stop is to fall asleep. But even then somehow they continue to add calories to your diet well into the night. So I looked up ways to make lasagna without the noodles, and the preferred option seemed to be thinly sliced zucchinis.
I was not overly psyched to add vegetables to a comfort-food dish, but since I started the ball rolling I decided to go all in and added a spinach layer and a mushroom layer to the dish while incorporating green peppers, onions, tomato paste and fresh oregano into the meat sauce layer and fresh basil into the ricotta and egg layer.
I used the sharpest knife I had to try to cut thin lengthwise slices of medium-sized zucchinis. I struck out almost every try on the first zuc, slicing way too thin or not parallel enough for a full-length “noodle” to form. For the second ‘zuc I first cut the head and tail off so that I could stand it up on a steady base, and those attempts at noodle-fying the vegetable were more successful. The dish required all three of the zucchinis I bought, and I could have been a little more generous with the placement, as they are the brick and mortar of the lasagna house.
Let’s get to the most exciting part of this meal, which is the various cheeses involved. As per tradition, I mixed together a ricotta and egg paste to add to the layers within the dish. I then topped the build with shredded mozzarella, which became delightfully gooey during baking and deliciously crispy after a quick broil before removing from the oven.
My biggest regret of an otherwise perfect home run of a first-ever lasagna attempt was not including enough cheese. With the removal of the thick, calorie-laden, nutritionless pasta noodles, I think there becomes wiggle room in the excessive fat category, and I wish I had incorporated the mozzarella in between the lasagna layers, not just on top. And I think a sprinkle of parmesan would have added some good texture and sharp flavor before serving.
Different recipes I read added various cautions about making sure to add water, or being careful not to allow the sauce to get to sloppy. It seems lasagna has a very goldilocks propensity to be too soggy or too dry. But, since different warnings contradicted themselves – warning that the water-heavy zucchinis would create too much moisture, or that the meat-heavy sauce would dry up too much during the baking process – I decided to leave all ingredients exactly as they came, fresh from the garden, save a slight salting of the zucchini noodle slices to encourage perspiration before the stacking process began.
The noodle-free lasagna was such a hit that it earned an instant nickname – Zuczagna – and a recurring role in the dinner lineup. It also keeps wonderfully for mid-week lunches and can be constructed ahead of time and baked later, making this seemingly fancy dish a cinch for special and non-special occasions.