Summer's harvest is starting to show up in our CSA box around now in Northern California and we just received our first summer squash as well as a huge bunch of basil this past week, along with some rainbow chard. One of my favorite things to do with the first vegetables of each season is make a new variation of my lasagna recipe. This time, since I had such a large amount of basil and I know that the flavors of pesto go so well with summer squash (try simply grilling it and topping it with some pesto for a side dish in the future), I thought I'd create a combination tomato-pesto sauce to work into the lasagna and really complement the vegetables. Lasagna is a dish that has a lot of individual components, but none of them are difficult. It's a great thing to make on a weekend night when you want to cook in - we always make a whole pan for the two of us and eat the leftovers for dinner the next night (this reheats really well).
Summer Vegetable Lasagna with Tomato-Pesto Sauce
Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
~1lb. summer squash (such as yellow crookneck), diced
1 bunch rainbow or swiss chard, leaves ripped from stems and chopped
~1 lb. white mushrooms, diced
Whole wheat, brown rice, or regular dried lasagna noodles
1 15 oz container whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
4 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 c. packed basil leaves
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
1 clove garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Figure out how many lasagna noodles you will need to create three layers of noodles in your baking dish (approximately 13x9) and set the baking dish aside. In a similar size Pyrex or other dish, lay the noodles inside, then fill with the hottest tap water that you can get (or near-boiling water from a tea kettle) and add a dash of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking. This is my shortcut to boiling noodles for lasagna - they soften while you prepare the other ingredients.
Chop up the summer squash and mushrooms and heat a large skillet over medium heat with a drizzle (1-2t) of olive oil. When the skillet is ready (you'll know once the oil moves easily across the pan when you tip it), add the summer squash and a pinch of salt. Saute for about 5 minutes or until softened, then set aside in a bowl. Add some more olive oil to the pan, then add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Saute for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, and meanwhile prepare the chard. When the mushrooms are done, set aside in another bowl, then add a little more olive oil to the pan and cook the chard with a pinch of salt, stirring rather frequently, for about 3 minutes until wilted slightly, then set aside in another bowl. Notice that I season each component separately so that the entire dish is seasoned.
Next, prepare the pesto by placing the 2 c. packed basil leaves, minced garlic clove, and pine nuts in a food processor. Start the processor, then slowly add in the olive oil until the mixture starts to come together but isn't too oily - about 1/3 c. Scoop out of the food processor into a small bowl and stir in 1/2 t. kosher salt and 1/4 t. pepper (or a few generous grinds from a pepper grinder). I don't add cheese to this pesto since there is enough in the rest of the dish.
In a medium-sized bowl, add the crushed tomatoes, 1/2 c. of the pesto, and 1 t. kosher salt to make the sauce.
Grate the parmesan cheese. In another medium sized bowl, add the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 t. salt, and 1/4 c. of the parmesan cheese and stir until blended.
Now it's time to assemble. Add about 1/2 c. of the sauce to the bottom of the pan and smear to create a light coating (so the noodles won't stick to the bottom). Lay down a layer (1/3) of the noodles, then approximately 1/2 of the ricotta mixture. I find that using my hands in lasagna, while messy, is best to distribute the components, so spread the ricotta out with your fingers. Then, top with approximately 1/2 of the squash, 1/2 of the mushrooms, and 1/2 of the chard (also using your fingers). Top with about 3/4c. of the sauce (the sauce doesn't need to be in exactly an even layer as it will cook together). Repeat with another layer of noodles, the remaining 1/2 of the ricotta, 1/2 of the squash, 1/2 of the mushrooms, 1/2 of the chard, and another 3/4 c. sauce. Top with the final layer of noodles, then the remainder of the sauce. I try to more carefully spread out the sauce on this final layer as you ideally want the noodles to be coated so they don't dry out in the cooking process. Then, top with the mozzarella cheese, and finally, the remaining 1/2 c. of parmesan cheese. The great thing about making lasagna this way is since you've already pre-cooked many of the ingredients, you just have to pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. It should have a nice golden brown crust when you remove it and it's important to let it sit for a few minutes before serving so that the lasagna stays together. Enjoy!