Autumn arrives and the cooler evenings call for more warming dinners. Why not layer up the Italian way with this veggie-ful lasagne that stacks up with nutrients AND taste! Being typically a hearty meal for a large family or gathering, this dish is also the best friend of anyone living alone or with their partner because you can make it in a large batch and pack away single portions for ready-made meals on busy weeks. Tempting?
Lasagne vs Lasagna
Not so much nutrition-related, but I’ve always wondered why some places or products spell this iconic Italian dish as “lasagne” while others go by “lasagna”. Lasagna is the singular term that describes one sheet of lasagna, whereas lasagne is the plural form – so the actual dish, which would typically be made of many sheets, would be called lasagne.
Lasagne traditionally consists of layers of meat-based bolognese sauce, bechamel sauce (made of butter, four and milk), lasagne sheets and plenty of parmesan cheese, then all baked to cheesy, delicious perfection in the oven. Yes, there’s tomato in the meaty sauce, but that’s barely enough veggies to make up even one serve of your daily 5 serves. Adding veggies will not only add filling fibre and key vitamins and antioxidants, it will also help bulk up the dish with fewer kilojoules so you don’t overeat.
Eat a rainbow by adding layers of your favourite autumn veggies in between the lasagne sheets – think pumpkin, capsicum and zucchini (hurry, zucchini season is coming to a close though! Check out what’s in season in your area of Australia via the Seasonal Food Guide). Roast, steam or microwave them before adding to the lasagne to slash baking time. The lentils in the recipe below also count towards your daily 5 – half a cup of lentils is one serve of veggies AND half a serve of filling protein too! Want more? Why not try making a cauliflower mash as a topping, or add finely chopped mushrooms as part of the bolognese? The possibilities are endless – think outside the baking dish!
Now that we’ve added veggies IN to our lasagne, what do we want OUT of it as much as possible? Nowadays, it’s quite common to grab a jar of ready-made bolognese sauce and bechamel sauce on your way home. Unfortunately, what you thought were helpful time-saver products could actually be tossing in unnecessary salt, additives, oils and flavouring into your basket and dinner!
One solution is making your own sauces since you have complete control over what goes into it. Simply steer away from the sauce section and speed towards the canned food section and pick up cans of no-added-salt tomatoes, then head to the fresh food area and grab some onions, good old garlic and fresh basil (if you’re keen for the Italian experience). Homemade sauces don’t have to mean hours of simmering – you can make this sauce in under 20 minutes! (yay!) Add lean mince for a low-fat meat option, or pick up a can of brown lentils while you’re in the canned food aisle and make an equally meaty and filling veggie variation (see the recipe below!).
While we’re on a roll, let’s see what else we can tweak for maximum nutrition and top-notch taste. Even though bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese do contain dairy, the milk in the sauce and the cheesy topping don’t make much of a contribution towards your dairy serves for the day – especially compared to the contribution the butter and cheese make to your saturated fat limit. An average adult needs around 3 serves of low fat dairy per day – which is a struggle for most of us. A serve could be:
- A glass (250mL) of milk (a splash of milk in your coffee is around 30mL, so you’ll need at least 8 cups to make one serve – and not to mention all that caffeine you’d get along the way!)
- 2 slices (40g) of cheese
- 1/2 cup of ricotta or cottage cheese
- A small tub (200g) of yoghurt
In this recipe, I’ve replaced the bechamel sauce with low fat ricotta cheese and chose low fat cheese. Alternatively, if you choose to opt for plant-based cheese or milk, be sure to check that it is fortified with calcium – check the nutritional information panel for at least 120mg of calcium per 100mL/100g.
Cost: $14.00 ($2.33 per serve)
Cooking time: 45 minutes
- 500g pumpkin (I used Jap pumpkin, but Kent works too – know your pumpkin varieties and how to use them here)
- 2 medium zucchinis
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 brown onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1 small yellow or red capsicum, diced
- 400g canned brown lentils, rinsed and drained
- 800g canned diced tomatoes, no added salt
- 6-8 fresh lasagne sheets
- 500g low fat ricotta
- ¾ cup low fat mozzarella or tasty cheese
- Fresh basil leaves, to serve
Let’s get cooking!
- Preheat oven to 200°C.
- Slice pumpkin and zucchini into thin slices (around 5mm-thick) and bake or microwave until soft but still holds their shape. Option 1: line two large baking trays with baking paper and arrange veggies in one layer. Bake for 20-25 mins or until tender. Option 2: place pumpkin and zucchinis on two separate large plates, cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave for 4-5 minutes each or until soft and tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, make lentil bolognese sauce: heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until softened and fragrant. Add capsicum and cook, stirring, for 2-3 mins. Add lentils and cook for a further 2-3 mins. Pour in tomatoes and reduce heat to medium-low to bring sauce to a simmer. Season with black pepper to taste. Continue simmering (no lid), stirring occasionally, for 10 mins (the sauce will thicken slightly). Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Spread half the lentil sauce over the base of a 1.5L (6-cup) capacity baking dish. Layer half the pumpkin over the sauce, followed by half the zucchini. Spread half the ricotta over the veggies and cover with half the lasagne sheets, trimming to shape. Layer remaining pumpkin, zucchini, sauce and lasagne sheets, spread remaining ricotta.
- Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for 20 mins. Remove foil and sprinkle lasagne with all the cheese and bake for a further 10-15 mins or until cheese topping is melted. Stand for 5 mins before cutting. Serve with fresh basil leaves, if you like.
- Making sure the veggies are soft and tender in step 2 cuts down the baking time in step 5 since the veggies just need to be warmed through.
- Adding the cheese after removing the foil will prevent cheese from sticking to the foil cover. If you like, you can add the cheese straight after spreading the ricotta – just make sure the foil is not touching the cheesy top of the lasagne (time to make a top-notch foil dome!).
- This recipe is also a great time-saver for speedy weeknight dinners or lunch ideas. Bake, cool for a few minutes and then pack into single servings to be stored in the fridge (for a few days) or freeze (for a few months) to have meals at any time!
One serve provides 4 serves of veggies and 1 serve of dairy.
|Total fat (g)||11.3|
|– Saturated fat (g)||4.0|
|– Sugars (g)||14.2|