What’s Cookin’ at Callie’s Cabin: TLC Veggie Lasagna | TahoeDailyTribune.com

What’s Cookin’ at Callie’s Cabin: TLC Veggie Lasagna

Cal Orey

This week is the time women and men have Valentine’s Day on the brain. After all, it’s the most romantic time of the year. When I think of love and food, lasagna enters my mind. It’s a comfort food that is perfect for that special someone and singles, too. After all, lasagna is a warm, gooey, wholesome entree that can warm you up on a cold, snowy winter night at Lake Tahoe.

When I was in my 30s, I lived in a charming, rustic, Spanish-style bungalow in the Bay Area with a round fish pond in the courtyard and splashes of violet-blue morning glory bushes. The building was a Monet-type architectural European masterpiece. What’s more: I was young and in love. I chose to make homemade lasagna for my boyfriend. The recipe came from an Italian gal-pal since cooking wasn’t in my vocabulary. I used fresh ingredients, layered with pasta, cheese, sauce and meat (I am a vegan so this was a sacrifice). It was a dish to love.

These days, as a busy author living a solo mountain lifestyle, I admit I’ve purchased all-natural frozen lasagna for one. A few months ago, however, I tried making my own Italian favorite, but I made it my way. This, in turn, means store-bought and 100 percent natural pasta, sauce, cheese and plenty of fresh vegetables.

Vegetable lasagna is a healthful and hearty Mediterranean meal in one because you’re getting whole grains, antioxidant-rich produce and tomato sauce (rich in lycopene, an anti-cancer nutrient), and calcium-rich cheese. It doesn’t get much better than that.

And yes, I’ve mastered the art of creating lasagna with tender loving care that I’m pleased to serve to my sibling, friends and future soul mate.

TLC Veggie Lasagna

1 package lasagna noodles, whole grain or gourmet

2 cups ricotta cheese

1 8-ounce package low-fat mozzarella, shredded

1 package low-fat Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded

24-ounce jar marinara sauce (with olive oil, garlic or mushrooms)

2-2 1/2 cups fresh vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes), chopped

nutmeg and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, boil pasta al dente. Drain. In a mixing bowl, combine cheeses. Add nutmeg and pepper. Mix well. Boil vegetables for a few minutes. In a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish (I use a rustic red Italian one), layer ingredients: Sauce, pasta, vegetables and cheese. Repeat. The top layer will be sauce topped with mozzarella. Cover with foil to prevent burning the edges of the pasta. Bake at 350 degrees for 70 minutes until bubbly. Remove foil after the first 20 minutes in the oven.Makes approximately 10 to 12 servings.

By trial and error, I’ve picked up some hot tips for a cool lasagna. First, try the Colavita premium pasta from Italy. Use a 100 percent all-natural marinara sauce. Add earthy spices. For extra gusto, add fresh garlic and onion. Forgo generic ingredients for a richer, Italian taste. Let cool before slicing for a picture-perfect lasagna.

When you slice the first piece of lasagna, you’ll be wowed at the look of layers. It’s oh-so-pretty. The first to the last taste of gourmet pasta is rich. Roma tomatoes add a nice kick, and the different local vegetable textures work like a charm. And, not to forget, the different cheeses blend well together – the more Italian types, the more Italian flavor. It’s a European dish with a California Sierra twist you’ll be proud to serve. Buon Appetito!

Enjoy a romantic Valentine’s dinner and dessert

For dessert, think chocolate love. Thanks to a brain chemical known as phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural substance in dark chocolate, chocolate can increase the feeling of excitement and alertness. It has been called the “love drug” because it can mimic feelings of falling in love. Enjoy a hot cup of quality cocoa paired with a dark chocolate truffle (70 percent cocoa content). Or savor a piece of double chocolate cake with a glass of Zinfandel or Malbec.

Cal Orey is an author and journalist. Her books include The Healing Powers series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate) published by Kensington. Her Web site is http://www.calorey.com.

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