Getting to the Meat of the Matter: Meaty Spinach Pesto Lasagna
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One of the cardinal rules when throwing a dinner party is “don’t serve your guests a recipe you’ve never made before.” (Also, “don’t wear white when you’ll be cooking with beets”; “don’t seat ex-spouses next to each other at the table”; “don’t make Baked Alaska in July”; and “don’t leave the house without clean underwear”–oh, wait, that’s a different cardinal rule).
This past Saturday evening, I had the pleasure of cooking dinner for my friend Eternal Optimist and her friend. So what do you suppose I did, friends? Yep, exactly that; I served up something I had never made before. I wasn’t truly cheating on the rule, though, since I’d already cooked and eaten each of the dish’s components individually and knew they were, on their own, spectacular.
What did I serve? Why, the old classic: that Romance-infused, saucy, cheesy, meaty, stratified seductress, lasagna.
For the most part, I’m a pretty lazy cook. I prefer meals that are ready before I can say, “Elsie and Chaser, get out of the kitchen,” and I don’t enjoy multiple steps or extremely detailed instructions. Desserts and cooking for others is the exception, however.
When I used to throw a bazillion dinner parties during my Social Thirties, I’d spend almost the entire weekend cooking and didn’t mind a bit. Getting lost in the whir of the electric beaters as I whipped cream for a multi-layered meringue-and-buttercream affair, or methodically chopping six onions for various dishes, or zoning out to the crackling sizzle of veggies sautéeing always felt therapeutic to me. And while I’m not keen on lengthy preparation during the regular work week, when I whip up a special-request meal for the HH (for his birthday, or to say thanks for walking the dogs twice a day when my back is out, or to show my appreciation when he picks up baking ingredients from my favorite supplier, or to express gratitude for cleaning the house when friends are coming over–whoah, wait a sec, that HH sure does do a lot for me!), well, then a longer and more complicated process is even welcomed.
I’ll tell you straight off the bat, this lasagna falls into the “food-of-many-components” category. It’s not difficult per se, but it does contain many layers, and each layer requires its own prep. If you happen to have prepared marinara sauce at the ready (or a good jarred type you like), prepared pesto, and meat in the freezer, then you can throw it together in no time, and there’s no worr–
Did I just say, “MEAT”???!!!!
Now, now, calm down, people! It may look like meat, and it may taste like meat, but it is not meat. It is faux meat. This latest meaty substitute is just SO authentic, both in look and in flavor, that I simply forgot to specify–it’s entirely vegan! And SOY-FREE!
After creating a killer soy-free faux pepperoni a while back, I’ve been thinking about other ways to use vegetable bases to stand in for meat. It’s not that I’ve hopped on the “soy-is-no-good-soy-is-awful-soy-is-the-Lucifer-of-legumes” bandwagon or anything; it’s just that, sometimes, you want something that isn’t soy. Especially with this lasagna (since it already contains tofu in the ricotta cheese), I wanted a no-soy “ground beef.” And so, this ground meat was born.
When I served the HH a big hunk of the lasagna, his immediate response was, “Ths turstes jess lak urrglrr lrzgne.” (He was so impressed he forgot to swallow before speaking). To translate, “This tastes just like regular lasagna.” Whoopee! Considering that he consumes “regular” lasagna about once a month, his was high praise, indeed.
I’m incredibly pleased with this vegan meat, and am already dreaming up different uses for it. Scattered on nachos. Bound together with some flax eggs and cooked as burgers. Atop a huge mound of spaghetti arrabiata. Or even as the base in a vegan tortiere, like so:
The possibilities are endless. . . my head is spinning with dinner party plans already. Because, after all, the true cardinal rule is this: if it tastes great, eat it.
“Mum, are you sure that isn’t real meat? We’d be happy to help you taste-test your recipes. As you know, the cardinal rule for canines is, ‘if it’s not poisonous, eat it.’ Oh, wait, we might eat it anyway, even when it is poisonous. But don’t worry, I won’t go near that chocolate again.”
This recipe is my submission this week to Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays event. Head on over to see what other healthy dishes are posted!
Meaty Spinach Pesto Lasagna (ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
from Diet, Dessert and Dogs (http://dietdessertndogs.com)
A great dish to serve to friends and really impress those meat-eaters. Because the cheese mixture in this recipe was soy-based, I was pleased that the meat was based primarily on a veggie. Make a huge batch so that you can freeze the leftovers and enjoy another lasagna-based meal later on, without all the prep.
8-12 sheets lasagna, parboiled for 5 minutes (I used Tinkyada rice lasagna)
1 recipe tofu ricotta (I used the recipe from Cozy Inside; you could also use this one)
about 5 cups (1200 ml) homemade or prepared marinara sauce (for ACD, be sure it doesn’t contain sugar)
1 batch Spinach Pesto (recipe follows)
1 batch ground “meat’ (recipe follows).
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Grease a 9 inch (22.5 cm) square pan and 8 inch (20 cm) loaf pan. (If you have a larger pan that equals the same area, please feel free to use it instead of two separate pans).
In a medium-sized bowl, fold the cheese and pesto together, just enough to combine (I left a few blobs of pesto visible here and there–you can mix it in completely if you wish). Set aside.
Line up the different ingredients so they’re ready to go, assembly-line style.
Cover the bottom of each pan with one layer of lasagna noodles. If necessary, overlap the noodles, but no more than 1/4 inch (.5 cm) to fit them into the pans (I broke them into smaller pieces to accomplish this).
Measure out about 1-1/2 cups (360 ml) of the sauce and set aside.
Using the remainder of the sauce, spoon a thick layer of sauce over the noodles in each pan (I used about 3/4 cup/180ml for the loaf, 1 cup/240 ml for the square pan). No noodles should be visible.
Divide the cheese mixture in half. Using one half of the cheese mixture, sprinkle it evenly over the sauce in each of the pans (I used about 2/3 of one half to cover the square pan, and 1/3 of one half to cover the loaf–in other words, 1/3 of the total in the square pan and 1/6 of the total in the loaf pan).
Divide the meat mixture in half. Using one half of the meat mixture, sprinkle it evenly over the cheese in each of the pans (I used about 2/3 of one half to cover the square pan, and 1/3 of one half to cover the loaf–in other words, 1/3 of the total in the square pan and 1/6 of the total in the loaf pan).
Repeat the layers one more time, using up all the cheese and meat. Cover with one more layer of noodles, then coat with the reserved sauce.
Bake in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until bubbly and browned on the edges. Remove from oven and allow to set for at least 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Makes 8-10 servings. May be frozen.
1 cup (240 ml) lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup (120 ml) lightly toasted walnut halves and/or pine nuts (I used a combination)
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 bunch (about 1/2 pound or 230 g) fresh spinach, trimmed and washed (stems included)
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Use as is or mix with ricotta cheese. Will keep, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days. May be frozen.
Meaty Veg-Based Ground “Meat”:
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and washed, broken into florets (about 1 pound/450 g after trimming)
2 cups (250 g) raw walnut halves
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 cloves garlic, minced, or 1tsp (5 ml) garlic powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) dried sage
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) liquid smoke (for ACD Stage 1, use more smoked paprika)
1/2-3/4 tsp (2.5-3.5 ml) fine sea salt, to taste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Bragg’s liquid aminos, soy sauce, or tamari (ACD Stage 1 use Bragg’s only)–omit for an entirely soy-free “meat”
Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Line a large rimmed cookie sheet or rectangular pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a food processor, blend the cauliflower and nuts to a fine meal. Depending on how grainy you like your “meat,” it can be more or less fine; I made mine like a coarse cornmeal.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add remaining ingredients.
Using your (clean) hands, knead everything together thoroughly, until the grounds are uniformly coated.
Turn the mixture into the pan and spread out evenly. Bake for 45 minutes and up to 1 hour 15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the pan and how thick the mixture is when you first begin to bake it), stirring after 30 minutes and then every 15 minutes after that, until the meat is dry and brown (if the layer underneath comes up looking wet and white–as cauliflower tends to do–then you need to keep baking). The grounds will begin to separate and intensify in color as they roast.
Once the meat is cooked, you can cool, package, and freeze it for later use, or use it right away. Will keep, up to 3 days, covered in the refrigerator. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Grilled Avocado on “Toast”
Two Years Ago: Mrs. K’s Date Cake (not an ACD-friendly recipe)
© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs