Four years ago today, I published my first blog post on Savvy Eats. I started as a healthy living blogger, and I wasn’t much of a cook at the time. In fact, it wasn’t too much earlier that Dan and I had our first spectacular kitchen fail. We were slowly teaching ourselves to cook, and decided to try our hand at lasagna. The lesson we quickly learned? If you don’t cover the dish with foil while baking and you use the no-boil noodles, the lasagna will be crunchy and inedible. Gross.
Fortunately, I’ve come a long way since then. My focus has largely been on local, in-season foods throughout the past four years, and I’m returning to my roots with “healthified” recipes. Here are some of the favorites:
Best Recipe That Took Way Too Many Attempts to Perfect: Mexican Hot Chocolate Roasted Pecans. These are one of my favorite snacks, ever.
Best Stand-By Recipe: Cincinnati Chili. I make this one about every other week in the fall and winter.
Best Easy Recipe: Slow-Cooked Ham in Cider Gravy. I can’t wait to make this one again in a few weeks.
Best Vegetarian Dish: Lentil Gratin.
Best Healthy-ish Scone: Chai Tea Scones. These are the original (and the pictures are terrible), and they are delicious.
Best Butter-Filled Scone: Double Chocolate Chip Scones.
Best Salad: Strawberry Mint Salad. Fresh strawberries, come back!
This lasagna may very well be added to my list of best recipes soon. It totally redeems lasagna with meat sauce after that spectacular failure years ago. To make it a bit healthier, I replaced half the meat with a coarse puree of vegetables to make a veggie-packed bolognese sauce.
Thanks for joining me in this little space on the internet, whether you’re a long-time reader or new to the scene. Here’s to another four years and beyond.
Baked pasta dishes are delicious fresh, but they are even better when they are cooked the day before and then reheated, making them an excellent lunch option. The veggie-packed bolognese sauce is a slightly lighter version of the traditional favorite. If zucchini is no longer in season, you can replace it with additional carrots and onions, or parsnips.
Recipe inspired by Smitten Kitchen and Anne Burrell.
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 2 celery ribs
- 4 carrots
- 2 medium zucchini
- 5 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound fresh tomatoes (about 3), pureed to about 1 cup
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from its casings
- 1/2 pound hot Italian sausage, removed from its casings
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- 1 box lasagna noodles OR
- 4 eggs
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups 2% milk
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Chop the onions, celery, carrots and zucchini into 1" or 2" pieces and peel the cloves of garlic. Pulse them in a food processor until they form a coarse puree. You may need to do this in a few batches - even with my 11 cup food processor, I found it to be easiest to do this in three portions.
- Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable puree and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until it is browning and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook, scraping the pot with a wooden spoon occasionally, for another 10-20 minutes, so that it turns a deeper brown color.
- Add the tomato puree and tomato paste. Cook, stirring continuously, for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour in the wine. Stir, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until the wine is reduced by about half. It should take 5-ish minutes.
- Crumble in the sweet and hot Italian sausages, breaking up the clumps with your wooden spoon.
- Now comes the watch-and-wait portion of the recipe: Tightly tie the thyme and rosemary together, and add them to the pot. Pour water over the sauce so that it is covered by about 1/2". Bring the sauce to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer the sauce. Now let it simmer for about 3 hours. The more you let it simmer, the more the flavors will develop. Come back to stir the sauce every 20-25 minutes or so. Add a bit of water every time you stir the bolognese if it looks like it is getting too thick -- I've found 1/2 - 1 cup to be sufficient each time.
- This recipe will make about double the bolognese sauce you need. Freeze the rest in an airtight freezer-safe container for up to 3 months, to serve over pasta or make more lasagna.
- If you are making your noodles from scratch, beat the eggs with the flour, water and salt. If the dough seems too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time. If it seems too sticky, add a few tablespoons of flour. Mix and knead until the dough is smooth, then pat it into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for about 20 minutes.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Tear the pasta dough into 8 portions, and roll it into sheets according to your pasta roller's directions. I rolled mine out to the number 5 setting, but use the setting recommended by your roller.
- Boil the sheets of pasta for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until the noodles are cool to the touch, to keep them from sticking together.
- Bring the milk to a simmer.
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, and whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes. The roux will darken to a gold color, and your stirring should keep it nice and smooth.
- Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk, and then add the rest all at once. Whisk constantly until the bechamel sauce is thick. It should drop off the whisk in sheets when it is the appropriate thickness.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce over the bottom of a 9x13" baking pan.
- Layer the noodles on top of the bechamel, then spread 1/3 of the bolognese on the top. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese over the bolognese, followed by 1/4 of the bechamel sauce.
- Repeat with this layering system twice. For the final layer, top the noodles with the last of the bechamel and the rest of the Parmesan cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, at 400F for 30-45 minutes.
Make Ahead and Storage
You have three time-saving options here:
1. Make the bolognese the day before you make the noodles, bechamel sauce or assembled lasagna. Freeze half for later use, and refrigerate the rest until it is time to put the lasagna together.
2. Cover and refrigerate the assembled lasagna for up to 24 hours before baking. If you choose to do this, uncover the lasagna and put it in the cold oven before you begin preheating the oven. This way, you'll prevent a sudden temperature change that can cause glass pans to crack. You'll want to cut a few minutes off the cooking time to compensate for this warming-up period.
3. Make the lasagna on the weekend, and serve it throughout the week for lunch or dinner. Baked pasta is better reheated than fresh anyways!