1.22.2011

Throwdown: Lasagna


Feeling ambitious last night, I decided to pair two different types of lasagna against each other in a Bobby Flay-style "Throwdown." The first, a traditional meat-sauce-cheese version catering to my younger brother's simple, carnivorous preferences; the second, a meatless version with a sauteed vegetable and pesto filling for a more adventurous palate.

The Contenders: Turkey Lasagna with Garlic Marinara vs. Pesto Lasagna with Spinach, Mushrooms and Zucchini

Basic differences:

-The fillings-- ground turkey meat sauce vs. veggie-pesto mixture
-The cheese mixtures-- cottage cheese in the turkey vs. ricotta in the veggie
-The tomato sauces-- Garlic Marinara for the turkey and Tomato-Basil for the vegetable (same brand)
-The herbs-- parsley in the turkey lasagna vs. basil in the veggie
-The addition of pesto in the veggie lasagna

I used no-boil whole wheat noodles, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan in both dishes, providing a few constants between them. It was a quite a whirlwind trying to make them at the same time and keep the ingredients straight. Needless to say, one mess of a kitchen and an hour of baking later, the true test of the throwdown between traditional and non-traditional began with the fork.

The Recipes:

TURKEY LASAGNA WITH GARLIC MARINARA

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey breast
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups water
1 (26-ounce) jar Monte Bene Farm Fresh Garlic Marinara Pasta Sauce
3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups 1% low-fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp black pepper
9 no-boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Cook the turkey in a large saucepan coated with cooking spray over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Add water and pasta sauce; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Combine 2 cups mozzarella, cottage cheese, and next 4 ingredients (cottage cheese through pepper) in a bowl.

4. Spread 1 cup turkey mixture in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles over turkey mixture; top with 1 1/2 cups turkey mixture. Spread half of cheese mixture over turkey mixture. Repeat layers, ending with the remaining turkey mixture.

5. Cover and bake at 350° for 1 hour. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese, and bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Let lasagna stand 10 minutes before serving.


PESTO LASAGNA WITH SPINACH, MUSHROOMS & ZUCCHINI

Ingredients:

4 cups torn spinach
2 cups sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 large zucchini, cut in half and sliced
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup jarred pesto
1 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 carton fat-free ricotta cheese
1/3 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (25.5-ounce) jar Monte Bene Farm Fresh Tomato-Basil pasta sauce
1 (4-ounce) can tomato sauce
Cooking spray
No-boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

Directions:
1. Arrange the spinach in a vegetable steamer; steam, covered, 3 minutes or until spinach wilts. (Repeat process if it doesn't all fit in one batch). Drain spinach, squeeze dry, and coarsely chop.

2. Heat cooking spray in a medium skillet and add sliced zucchini and chopped onion; saute until browned. Remove from skillet and set aside in a medium bowl. Add mushrooms to skillet and saute for several minutes until browned.

3. Combine spinach, mushrooms, and pesto to the zucchini-onion bowl, stirring to coat; set aside.

4. Combine mozzarella, ricotta, and egg substitute in a medium bowl, stirring well to combine. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan, and set aside.

5. Combine the pasta sauce and the tomato sauce in a medium bowl.

6. Spread 1 cup pasta sauce mixture in the bottom of a 13"x9" baking pan. Arrange 3 noodles over pasta sauce mixture; top with 1 cup cheese mixture and 1 cup spinach mixture. Repeat the layers, ending with spinach mixture. Arrange 3 noodles over spinach mixture; top with remaining 1 cup cheese mixture and 1 cup pasta sauce mixture.

7. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional 15 minutes until heated through.

The Reviews:

Turkey Lasagna-- Hearty, meaty, cheesy, classic. The cottage cheese gave it texture and flavor that the ricotta lacked in the veggie version. Overall, the layers held together well and each forkful landed a clean bite. Impressive cohesiveness of the ingredients.
Pesto Lasagna--The drier ricotta suited the moistness of the veggies, though it dominated texturally. The flavor of the pesto came through, though the spinach was the strongest component of the filling--I wished the mushrooms would have had more of a presence. I thought the red sauce was slightly lost within the layers, but its abundance on the top made up for the lack below. Compared to the turkey lasagna, the layers of this dish tended to slip and were more separate.

Being so different it is hard to pick a winner -- each lasagna had its own strengths. I loved the turkey lasagna as a meat version; its use of cottage cheese made it a standout compared to other classic varieties I've had. The pesto-veggie was more inventive and had a complex layering of flavors; the trio of spinach, mushrooms and zucchini was excellent and the incorporation of both pesto and red sauce was an interesting twist. I might try to combine the two in the future -- perhaps adding the meat sauce to the pesto-veggie version and swapping the ricotta for cottage cheese would produce a super-pasta sensation...


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