With the first days of spring and warmer weather, I bury in my refrigerator all those meats and potatoes, which missed their chance to become comfort food during the cold days, and look with desire at all the crunchy and green vegetables that the spring brings about. Before we will even notice cold soups and fresh vegetable pasta will rule on our deck tables, and the neighborhood yards will beam with the aroma of grilled meats.
This winter I made exceptionally many comfort dishes, often coming from my native tradition, trying to keep my mother busy in the kitchen, but many of these winter specialties I will save for the next season.
Influenced by the weather, I came home from grocery shopping with a bag full of vegetables, which looked so fresh as if they grew in my own yard. I bought a couple of pounds of zucchini, red peppers, and fennel, for the first time ever. As a result, last week we had many vegetarian dishes for dinner to celebrate the first days of spring.
I bought so much zucchini that I decided to make the whole dish of them and I came with an idea of a zucchini lasagna in white cheese and béchamel sauce. White sauce lasagna with spinach is my kids' favorite, so I was hoping I could rely on that to smuggle zucchini into their diet. For those who never made, preparing the béchamel sauce is the most difficult part of this recipe. Other than that, it is a very simple dish.
Contrary to the conventional culinary wisdom, I always make my béchamel sauce with cold rather than warm milk. In spite of that, it has always turned out perfect. The use of cheese increases the calorie content of this dish, but it is still a leaner dish than a typical lasagna, which is based on pasta.
For bechamel sauce
3 tbsp butter,
3 tbsp flour,
2 cups milk,
1/4 tsp nutmeg,
salt and pepper to taste.
8-10 medium green zucchinis, sliced lengthwise into 3-4 slices each (with the ends trimmed),
15 oz ricotta cheese,
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese,
4 cloves garlic, sliced,
salt and pepper,
To make béchamel sauce
1. Melt butter in a medium pot over a low heat and, when liquid, add flour. Mix well with an egg whisker until it turns into a smooth paste.
2. Take the pot off the heat and pour in one cup of milk. Mix well with a whisker until it makes a smooth sauce. Add another part of milk and whisk.
3. Return to the heat and mixing constantly bring the sauce to boil. Let it boil for about 2-3 minutes on the low heat. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
To make lasagna
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Spread half of the béchamel sauce over a bottom of a medium sized oven-proof dish. Cover with slices of zucchini and slices of garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Mix ricotta with egg and spread half of it on top of the first zucchini layer.
4. Cover ricotta cheese with another layer of zucchini and again season with salt, pepper, and garlic.
5. Cover the second layer of zucchini with the remaining ricotta.
6. Put the last zucchini layer on top of the ricotta. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and the rest of the bechamel sauce over it.
7. Cover the bechamel sauce with shredded mozzarella cheese.
8. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the top becomes gold.
Serve with a lettuce salad, either with bread or as stand alone dish.