March Madness… because my bracket is a dismal mess, let’s focus on the fact that it’s spring! Let me rephrase, it’s March, which would generally still be cold and rather wintry, but it feels like spring going on summer. In fact, it feels like the type of weather that I would usually associate with the end of May, which is a welcome change as I look to shed the little case of cabin fever that I acquired this winter! 70+ degree days? March Madness indeed.This lasagna is a bit time-consuming, but it’s worth it in the end. The result of all of the flavors- green vegetables, white sauce, a hint of lemon, and flavorful cheeses- is a bright vibrant lasagna that marries some of the best flavors of spring. I worked from a lovely recipe that I found at Sass and Veracity, adding asparagus (because to me it’s the vegetable that best represents spring) and some sausage for substance. If you want to add even more veggies I’d suggest spinach and mushrooms, because both would be a nice, earthy addition.
There’s a major lack of pictures for this post because I was trying to make this in a hurry, as I was late getting dinner on the table for a dinner party. Many apologies!
There’s a lot that goes into this lasagna, making it great for entertaining, but probably a bit more work than most people want to put into a weeknight dinner. No picture this time, because I was working in a hurry, but you’ll need: no boil lasagna noodles, zucchini, peas, asparagus, sausage (just leave this out for a vegetarian- not vegan- lasagna), a sweet onion, two leeks, garlic, a lemon, ricotta cheese, milk, butter, flour, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Plus cheese of course- some fresh mozzarella, and grated Asiago, Fontina and Parmesan. Or you could swap in pre-shredded Italian cheese blend or mozzarella. Keep salt, pepper and olive oil handy.
Start by making the bechamel (white sauce). Important note- I didn’t do this first, as suggested by the original recipe, because I was trying to hurry everything else along. As a result I didn’t pay it enough attention and it wasn’t perfectly smooth. Which really irritated me. Not so much that I didn’t enjoy the lasagna, because it was still delicious, but enough that I was a little mad every time I took a bite with too much lumpy bechamel. So, to save yourself that frustration (not to mention end up with a better lasagna), do this first and set it aside.
Slightly heat milk, nutmeg, and a small dash of cayenne pepper in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to ensure that the milk does not scorch. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pan. When melted, add flour and whisk to combine. Let cook briefly to help lighten up the flour flavor. Slowly add milk in two or three sections, whisking to combine then adding more when the previous batch is absorbed. Let cook until thick and smooth. Set aside off the heat until needed.
Heat oven to 450.
Now that the bechamel is ready, prepare the vegetables and cook the sausage. Slice the zucchini very thinly, then place it on cookie sheets, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake until they are dry (mine took roughly 8 minutes, if really thin will take less time).
Slice the onions and the leeks (white and light green parts only) thinly, then saute in olive oil until slightly browned. You could caramelize them if you want, but I decided to just go for a little color. Slice the asparagus into bite-size pieces, saute them for a couple of minutes until they are softened, and maybe slightly brown. If you have a 12 inch pan you can saute them with the onions and leeks during the last few minutes of cooking. Set all of the vegetables aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, lemon zest, chives, and salt and pepper. Also set this aside. If not using pre-shredded cheeses, pull out your grater and shred the Asiago, Fontina, and Parmesan. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices. Get out the frozen peas. Mince the cloves of garlic.
Spread the bottom of the baking pan with 1/3 of the bechamel. On top of the bechamel, place a layer of lasagna noodles. Top with 1/3 each of the ricotta mixture, the onions/leeks/asparagus, the sausage, the peas, and the zucchini strips. Finish the layer with 1/2 of the garlic (only 2 layers need garlic). Repeat 2 times.
Over the final layer of zucchini, finish the lasagna with the cheeses. mozzarella, Asiago, Fontina, and Parmesan. Be sure that all of the noodles are covered with the toppings, or they will become crunchy instead of soft… no-boil noodles can be difficult.
Bake the lasagna until the cheese is melted and browning, ours took 45 minutes. Let it set out of the oven for at least 10-15 minutes before serving so that it can finish setting up.
Serve with salad and crusty bread. Enjoy!
Spring Lasagna with Asparagus, Peas, Zucchini, and Sausage
Adapted from Sass and Veracity, Lasagna with Bechamel and Spring Vegetables
2 cups of milk
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of flour
1 box of no boil lasagna noodles (shouldn’t need all of them)
3 small zucchini or summer squash, slice thinly
1 pound mild Italian sausage links, remove meat from casings
1 bunch asparagus (thinner stalks are more tender), cut to bite-size
1 sweet onion, slice thinly
1 leeks, slice white and light green portions thinly
1 cup frozen peas
2 garlic cloves, mince
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chop
5 to 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, slice thinly
1/3 cup Asiago cheese
1/3 cup Fontina cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1. Bechamel: Gently heat milk in a small saucepan with spices, stirring to prevent it from scorching. Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan. When melted, add flour and whisk to completely combine, let cook for a moment. Slowly add milk in several batches, whisking constantly until it is smooth before adding next batch. Let cook until thick, then set aside.
2. Heat oven to 450. Place zucchini slices on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 5-8 minutes until dry. Set aside. Reduce oven heat to 350.
3. Meanwhile, on stove top, cook sausage (removed from casings) in a pan until brown, breaking up pieces as you go.
4. In a large pan (12 inches) heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add sliced sweet onions and leeks. Cook until translucent, then add the asparagus pieces. Add more oil if the pan is too dry or vegetables start to burn. (Can be done in 2 pans if necessary) Continue to cook until onions, leeks and asparagus are slightly browned.
5. Mix the ricotta, lemon zest, chives, and some salt and pepper in a small bowl. Grate the Fontina, Asiago and Parmesan cheese. Get frozen peas ready.
6. Grease 9 x 11 baking dish. Spread 1/3 of the bechamel in the bottom of the dish. Cover with one layer of no-boil lasagna noodles. Cover noodles with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. Then add 1/3 each of onion/leek/asparagus mixture, sausage, peas, and zucchini slices. For first two layers, add 1/2 of the minced garlic. Repeat 2 times, so there are 3 layers. (Bechamel, noodles, ricotta, veggies and sausage)
7. On top of the final layer of zucchini, spread all four of the cheeses: fresh mozzarella, Asiago, Fontina, and Parmesan. Be sure that all of the noodles are covered so they don’t become crispy.
8. Bake in 350 degree oven until the cheese is melted and browning, roughly 40 to 45 minutes. (May be longer or shorter depending on type of baking dish used and oven) Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving to set up. Enjoy!