Guaranteed to please meat lovers, Italians, and veggie-heads alike!
DREAMY ZUCCHINI NOODLE LASAGNA
Cook Time: 15- 20 minutes
Yields: 6-8 servings (fills a 9x13" pan)
Noodles: 3 mature zucchini (~ 10 - 12" long), salt
Sauce: 2 TBS olive oil, 3 cloves garlic (crushed) 1 red bell pepper (diced)
29 oz of diced, fire roasted tomatoes
Eggplant Patties: 1 large eggplant, chopped into ~1" chunks (skin in tact)
1 1/3 cup panko (divided; use Ian's if making GF), 1/4 cup parmesan (finely grated), 1 TBS parsley (minced), 1 clove garlic (microplaned)
1 egg (lightly beaten), 2-3 TBS vegetable oil
Crispy Mushrooms: 6-7 oz of oyster mushroom clusters (de-stemmed) ,olive oil (2 tsp), salt, Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400. If you are going to prepare your own fresh ricotta (highly recommended), start that just before or after you start the zucchini noodles so it is strained and ready in time to prepare the dish (follow link above). Using a mandolin, slice the zucchinis, length-wise, to 1/4" thickness. If you don't have a mandolin, you can cut the noodles by hand, but it will require a lot of precision, as consistency is key to the cooking/drying process. Lay out a of couple kitchen towels (or paper towels) and set the zucchini slices on them to drain the excess water (alternating top up, top down, will help conserve space if your zucchini are unusually shaped). Sprinkle salt fairly generously over the zucchini slices and let them sit for for 20-30 min.
Meanwhile, start your sauce. Get your olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes, then add the diced red bell pepper and saute 6-8 minutes more, until the peppers start to soften. Add the fire roasted tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes more, stirring occasionally. By now, your zucchini noodles are ready for the next step of preparation. Using another towel (or paper towel) apply firm but gentle pressure to each "noodle" as you run the cloth over it. This should leach out a substantial amount of water. Be careful when squeezing out seedy slices as they are more fragile and compressible. Line these noodles up on silpats or parchment-lined baking trays (I had a total of 18 noodles and used three baking trays) and pop them in the oven (racks in ~ the center) and bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until you see the very first signs of light browning (more than this and they will stick). When you remove them from the oven, crank the heat up to 450 for the lasagna.
While your noodles and sauce cook, start to prepare the eggplant. Boil the cubed eggplant for about 10 minutes. It helps if you can set the lid of a slightly smaller pot on top of the eggplant cubes to keep them submerged during the boiling process. If not, stir often. when they finish boiling, strain them, rinse them with cold water, and let them cool. By now it's time to get back your sauce. Take it off the heat, allowing it to cool for a few minutes before pureeing it until smooth. Return the sauce to the pot and cook down over medium heat for about 30 minutes more, or until the remaining components of the dish are ready.
While the eggplant continues to cool, get to work on your mushrooms. It you have very large caps, break them into two, but otherwise keep them in tact. Heat a bit of olive oil over medium high heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the mushroom caps and saute for 6-8 minutes, or until nicely browned, tossing occasionally. Salt generously and add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce. Saute 2-3 minutes more and set aside. By now, your eggplant should be cool enough to handle. Using a cheesecloth, wring as much moisture as you can out of the eggplant. In a medium-sized bowl, toss together one cup of panko breadcrumbs with the parmesan, minced garlic, parsley. Using you hands, incorporate the eggplant into the breadcrumb mixture. Get a heavy skillet over medium-high heat with generous vegetable oil. Add the lightly beaten egg to the eggplant mixture and place the remaining 1/3 cup panko into a shallow dish. Divide your eggplant mixture into four balls. When the oil is hot, compress two of the balls into ~ 1/2" thick patties. Coat the patties in panko and set them in the pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until deeply golden brown, then flip. Cook for just a minute or so on the other side before breaking up the patties into small chunks with a spatula (if you've ever cooked ground beef before, you're going for that kind of consistency). Brown for 2-3 minutes more and set on a paper towel, repeating with the remaining two patties.
Now it's time to layer the lasagna. You will probably only need about 14-16 "noodles" to complete the lasagna, so pick the best of your three batches. In a 9x13 pan, layer the zucchini as follows: (1) 1/2 sauce topped with 1/2 eggplant crumble (2) a layer of zucchini noodles (which should span the width of the pan in length), again alternating top up, top down (I used about 7 per layer ) (3) 1 cup of crumbled fresh ricotta topped with the remaining eggplant crumble (4) a second layer of zucchini noodles (5) The remaining sauce topped with the crispy mushrooms and parmesan. Bake at 450 for 15- 20 minutes to heat through and melt the cheese.