I was just in DC to visit my family and excited to raid my mom’s garden. Every summer their suburban yard transforms into a farm. They grow tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, herbs, strawberries, lettuce and whatever else meats their fancy. I took home a horde of tomatoes and zucchini and had no idea what to do with them. So I made strata. It is very similar to lasagna, but instead of using noodles, you use slices of zucchini.
Italian Zucchini Strata
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 links of fresh sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
4 links of fresh hot Italian sausage, casing removed
½ tablespoon Italian seasoning
15 ounces ricotta
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Sautee until they are soft and translucent. Add the sausages and Italian seasoning. Break up the sausage with the back of your wooden spoon. Chop 4 of the tomatoes and add to the sausage. Stir and cook to brown. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
Using a mandolin or really good knife skills, slice the zucchini lengthwise to make thin flat strips.
To assemble the strata, put down a layer of the tomato sausage mixture. Layer with the zucchini, making sure that the zucchini fits together tight and there is no sausage exposed. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Then spread half of the ricotta over the zucchini and then cover with the sausage and repeat the layering process.
Slice the remaining tomatoes and place them in one layer on top of the last layer of sausage. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with the mozzarella cheese and bake in the oven for an hour until it is cooked through and the cheese is golden brown.
Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. Being very careful, tip the lasagna over the sink and drain out all of the excess fat and liquid from the zucchini. Cut into squares and serve.
Ok so there where some problems with the lasagna. There where too many competing flavors and the crab was too dry. Next time I’d actually mix the crab meat like I would mix up some crab cake balls. Layer that with the noodles, bechemel and cheese and call it a day! Enjoy!
I have no idea how it happened but I have 3 boxes of lasagna pasta in my kitchen. I guess I just have a tendency to buy ingredients on the fly in the supermarket without checking what I have in stock. I’m an inspired cook, not really a planner. As you have figured out by now, I don’t follow recipes.
Ok so my white lasagna really has a béchamel sauce base. That is the secret. It is subtle and most people don’t notice it. It is truly an amazing and rich addition and ties it all together.
So there are three basic elements to this dish, the pasta, the sauce and then the fillings. The first thing you want to do is make the ricotta and spinach filling. I love fat free organic ricotta. It makes a rich addition but is still healthy. The ricotta I buy comes in 1 pound containers, so you want to take half of it and mix it with an egg, sat and pepper and Italian seasonings. Sometimes I add a sprinkle of nutmeg just to heighten the flavor. Now take a package of chopped frozen spinach. You should defrost it and wring out ALL of the water, first, before adding it to the ricotta mixture. Now you have a great filling that is cheese, flavorful and chocked full of healthy spinach. Next make the other fillings. Today I’m going to use crabmeat, but I’ve also done this with sautéed chicken chunks. Just lightly season the crabmeat with salt and pepper and garlic. Drain a large jar of roasted red peppers and set that aside. For the final filling, sauté a ton of sliced mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and garlic. Now you have 4 amazing fillings.
On to the sauce! In a large pan melt ½ stick of butter. Add some flour and make a rough. Pour in half a quart of milk, little but little, whisking as you go. Now sprinkle in a ton of garlic powder and parsley (fresh or dried). Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper and some Italian seasoning. As that starts to simmer, you want to keep whisking so that no lumps form. Keep cooking it till it turns into a nice thick sauce. Since we are using crab, and I always put a touch of honey cup mustard in my crab cakes, I’m think it would be a nice tangy addition to this sauce. Whisk in one or two tablespoons to taste. At the end, stir in a bit of parmesan cheese and set this aside.
Now we just need to boil the noodles and assemble. Boil up a small box of lasagna noodles. You can figure out how many it will take to fill one layer of your pan. You are going to need between 3 and 4 layers of pasta.
Ok put a tiny bit of sauce all over the bottom of the dish. Lay down your first level of noodles. Always start with the ricotta filling first. Then you can layer on the crab, mushrooms and peppers and finish with more sauce and mozzarella cheese before you put on the next layer of noodles. Keep doing this till you run out of all ingredients except for sauce and mozzarella cheese. On top of the last layer of noodles you should pack on the leftover sauce and mozzarella cheese. Top that with some grated parmesan cheese and sprinkle with herbs. Now put this all in the over, covered with foil, for at least an hour. At the last minute, you want to remove the foil so that the top can brown. Enjoy!