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The jarring rigidity of the back-to-school routine leads many of us to focus on quick, no-fuss meals that can be prepared on-the-fly with a few pantry items. Of equal value this time of year are meals that can be prepared ahead of time, ones that can be stashed in the fridge or freezer, baked on demand, after, say, returning home from soccer practice or an evening skate. Pop the prepared meal into the oven, finish homework, run a bath, and by the time the end-of-day tasks are complete, dinner is ready.
Lasagna falls into this realm. Assembled and covered in foil, it holds up beautifully in the fridge for 24 hours. After forty minutes in the oven, it’s done. Loaded with vegetables, noodles, sauce, and cheese, lasagna can stand alone as dinner, though glistening and glazed green beans or a simple tomato salad would be welcome alongside.
As with many casserole-style dishes, the variations of lasagna are endless, and this recipe can be tailored to what you have on hand—I’ve used the format to clear my fridge of leftover roasted red peppers, sautéed beet greens, and near-spent blocks of cheese. This version, with homemade tomato sauce, roasted eggplant, and sautéed mustard greens, tastes surprisingly light and fresh thanks to the peak summer produce.
The Essential Elements
Sauce: Lasagna need not be a complicated dish layered with both tomato and béchamel sauces. This one calls for a simple tomato sauce (I’ve been making Marcella Hazan’s), but any will do, and if you like meat in your lasagna, you could certainly make a bolognese or other meat sauce. If you’re using store-bought sauce, you’ll need a quart for this recipe.
Noodles: No-boil noodles make the assembly here incredibly fast, and they taste great, too. I like the Barilla no-boil noodles, which emerge gently ruffled, melding into the layers of sauce and cheese beneath.
Vegetables: As noted above, lasagna is a great format for cleaning out the fridge. The key is to use cooked vegetables, which will prevent the final lasagna from being watery. Roasted tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, eggplant, and squash are all great options. It's nice to include some sort of sautéed or steamed dark leafy green, such as Swiss chard, kale, spinach, or mustard greens—just be sure to squeeze out excess moisture. Sautéed or roasted mushrooms will add a meaty depth of flavor.
Cheese: Many lasagna recipes call for heaps of ricotta cheese mixed with an egg. I’ve omitted that here and used a combination of fresh mozzarella and grated Parmigiano Reggiano instead, which offers significant flavor and a nice amount of richness without making the dish heavy.
Assembly: There are two ways to get a jumpstart on the assembly: 1. Prep all of the elements ahead of time—make the sauce, roast the vegetables, and grate the cheese—then assemble as needed and bake immediately. (Again, no-boil noodles make the assembly fast). 2. Assemble the whole lasagna, then cover it in foil, and store it in the fridge until needed. If you want to freeze the lasagna to serve on a later date, bake the lasagna for 25 minutes covered in foil, let it cool completely, then freeze. When ready to serve, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight, then proceed with the baking instructions in the recipe, checking the lasagna after 25 to 30 minutes for doneness.
- 2 to 3 small-ish eggplant (about 2 to 3 pounds)
- grapeseed oil
- kosher salt
- 10 to 12 ounces greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, or mustard greens, leaves removed from stems and finely chopped (you should have about 8 oz. greens post trimming)
- 1 quart tomato sauce, homemade is best, see notes above
- 1 box no-boil noodles (about 9 oz, you'll need 12 sheets, see notes above)
- 4 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (about 1 cup)
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (not stored in brine), pulled into small pieces (about 1 cup)
What's your go-to meal to prepare for back-to-school insanity? Let us know in the comments!