Monday, March 5, 2012

Skinny Lasagna

Veggie Lasagna - layers of deliciousness!

One of the hardest things about staying or getting skinny is to avoid favorite foods - like pasta and really yummy dishes like lasagna.  Think about it: many Italian dishes feature supporting players like pasta to showcase the real star, the marinara sauce.  I love pastas such as rigatoni because it has ridges that marinara clings to.  And who doesn't love ricotta cheese?  How can you experience the joys of these dishes without ingesting tons of calories and fat?

All about the layers - be sure to dry the eggplant before cooking by covering in sea salt and wrapping in paper towels (see Method below)

Lasagna is all about the layers.  So, instead of layering sheets of pasta with tiers of fatty ricotta I had an idea: Why not substitute some of my favorite veggies for the pasta and a smidge of goat cheese instead of a mountain of ricotta?  And meaty portobello mushrooms instead of beef?

I decided on asparagus, portobello mushrooms and eggplant but you can use any vegetable you would like.  There is a method to my madness: Instead of using a meat such as ground sirloin, I grilled portobello mushrooms.  They are really meaty and taste delicious.  I just love eggplant anyway, but it helps with the lasagna because they are good for layering.  And the asparagus fit in nicely and added some color and crunch. 

First the sliced eggplant

I grilled each vegetable briefly on my cast iron skillet - just long enough to get the grill marks. I used cooking spray instead of olive oil. Eggplant in particular can really soak up oil and your end result would be really heavy and greasy veggies. Cooking spray also has zero calories or fat. 

Next the portobellows

Finally the asparagus

Dot goat cheese among the layers

One of the great things about lasagna is the cheese.  My mother's lasagna was delicious and she didn't hold back on the ricotta.  I really like goat cheese - it has a bit of a sour taste (good sour) and spreads very easily.  Just leave the package on your kitchen counter for several hours before use.

The key here is to use the goat cheese strategically.  We're not talking about a great deal of difference in calories and fat between goat and ricotta cheese.  I used 2 ounces of goat cheese for my lasagna.  That's 140 calories, 100 of which are from fat.  The same amount of ricotta would be 214 calories, 107 of which come from fat.  I think you get more bang for the buck with goat cheese - it spreads and melts better so you cover more territory with a smaller amount.  I consider the calories in veggies and a marinara with no meat to be negligible.  I haven't done Weight Watchers, but I think they assign zero points to veggies. 

Top with Parmigianno-Reggiano

As a special treat, I grate Parmigiano-reggiano across the top.  It comes out to about a 1/4 cup which is about 120 calories.  Again, you're not putting Parmigianno-Reggiano throughout each layer - just the top.  I recommend holding off on this layer until about 20 minutes before the lasagna is cooked.  It melts very quickly and can burn.

Et viola!  A teeny slice of foccacia to dip in the marinara

So I don't feel completely deprived I have a small piece of foccacia bread on the side to dip in the marinara.  I buy a garlic parmesan foccacia from Epicerie Boulud.  It's sinfully delicious.  I get about 4 square pieces out of each one - and the leftovers freeze very nicely.  The little touches like the goat cheese, parmigianno and foccacia give you the indulgences so you don't feel deprived and still enjoy the lasagna experience. 


1 medium eggplant - partially peeled and sliced (I peel into stripes - so you keep some of the skin)
1 small bunch asparagus
1 portobello mushroom (I bought in package already sliced and cleaned)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 ounces goat cheese - at room temperature
1 countainer prepared marinara (or make your own - my recipe to follow soon!)
1/8 - 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano shredded


Several hours before cooking, partially peel the eggplant, slice, cover in sea salt, wrap in paper towels, weigh down and let stand - this will draw excess water from the eggplant.  You want the dish as dry as possible. 

Peel eggplant leaving strands of skin - cover in sea salt and wrap in paper towels

Put a heavy object on the eggplant and paper towels to help squeeze out water

You'll be astounded at how much moisture is drawn out!

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Grill the eggplant, asparagus and mushroom separtely in cast iron skillet with lines (if you have otherwise regular skillet) until grill mark appear - about 2 minutes per side for the eggplant, less for asparagus and mushroom
Set aside veggies; pour marinara across bottom of an oven-proof casserole dish
Layer eggplant, asparagus, portobello and marinara - I had eggplant and portobellow on the top and bottom and one layer of asparagus in the middle. 
I layered goat cheese on top of the eggplant and again on the top
Cover top with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and marinara
Bake in oven for 30 minutes
Add grated Parmigianno-Reggiano over the top and bake for an additional 15 minutes

PLEASE NOTE: This dish is best if you cook and let cool for a few hours.  If you have time, cook for 45 minutes, let stand on counter, then add the Parmigianno-Reggiano and cook for 15 minutes until cheese melts.

ALSO NOTE:  Drain some of the excess moisture from the casserole dish as you go - the vegetables have lots of moisture in them - you want your lasagna as dry as possible.

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