by Diana Kelly for What’s Cooking
Calling all lasagna lovers! If you’ve been making mom’s homemade lasagna recipe for years, but are looking for a new twist, we’re here to help. We chatted with Chef Carla Contreras, founder of the healthy cooking blog RedClogKitchen.com, for her expert tips for jazzing up lasagna. Here are a few ways to kick up the flavor — and make healthier — this favorite Italian dish your family loves.
Change Up the Sauce
“I love adding chilies to my pomodoro or red sauce,” says Contreras. Bringing in the heat changes the sauce and the overall flavor of the dish. If you don’t have fresh chilies, you could add smoked Spanish paprika, crushed red chili flakes or chili powder to your tomato sauce or alternative.
“I also like to add mint instead of basil to sauces sometimes, or sprinkle in a teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika along with a teaspoon of cumin,” says Contreras. “Add a tablespoon of fresh ginger to a pomodoro sauce for a unique-quality flavor that you can’t quite put your finger on, but stands out.”
You might even want to swap your red sauce for pesto sauce in lasagna. Contreras likes making pesto sauces with different nuts, like pistachios, walnuts and Brazil nuts (they all make pesto a little more interesting), while adding a few tablespoons of lemon juice to the sauce to brighten up the flavor. “I also use different veggies to make pesto, like kale and broccoli rabe,” says Contreras. “Not only do they amp up the nutritional value, but they make the everyday lasagna something special with different flavors.”
Swap Out Meats and Cheeses
“I make a mean all-veggie lasagna that uses butternut squash as the ‘noodle,’ and is paired with pesto sauce,” says Contreras. To get started, slice raw butternut squash on a mandolin to turn it into thin noodle-like strips. These same strips would be delicious with a simple pomodoro as well, notes Contreras. Another option: Swap meat for vegetables, like roasted eggplant and portobello mushrooms, or cooked spinach and zucchini.
If you want to remove the cheese altogether from your lasagna recipe, swap in firm tofu that you’ve mashed up. The secret to making it taste delicious? Add one to two tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the tofu for that cheesy flavor, suggests Contreras. You can also add a clove of minced garlic and chopped up fresh basil, and season with salt and pepper.
Ditch the Casserole Dish
If you want to make slow cooker lasagna, spray the dish with cooking spray and layer the ingredients. If the dry, hard noodles don’t fit, you can always break them to fit your crock. Then cook on low for three hours or until the noodles are cooked.
Or, there’s always the option to make single-serving lasagna if you have a night solo from the family. Contreras starts with fresh pasta, cutting it into circles and putting them in eight 10-ounce ramekins that have been prepped with cooking spray. Layer as you would lasagna in a large baking dish, then bake about 30 minutes at 350 F. Cover with aluminum foil the first 20 minutes, then take off the foil. You could also do this in a cupcake or muffin tin pan if you didn’t have ramekins. Substituting round wontons for the fresh pasta could also be an easy swap.