This vegetable abundant lasagna is drenched in a mind blowing Spicy Tomato Sauce, and interlaced with the creamiest homemade Ricotta you will ever taste (and yes! It is made using chickpeas, not milk). Heirloom tomatoes float between layers of crispy cauliflower steaks, oozing with the sweetest of juices, popping with each bite. The lasagna is reinvented, for the better, at last!
I must have watched too many Molto Mario episodes during my early teenage years. Now that I think of it, I must have been brainwashed then, because I am pretty sure the cooking mantras I follow today came directly from Mario Batali’s teachings. Though his recipes were very Italian (meat heavy, pasta heavy, and cheese heavy) I rejoiced in watching him cook enthusiastically; throwing heavy “pinches” of salt into bubbling pots, reserving just enough pasta water to flawlessly dress the pasta, pouring streams of olive oil onto dishes until glistening, and talking about Italy, as if it where the one and only place we should all live in.
If I were to transform Mario’s teachings into a list of three principles, which are of course based on the authentic Italian ways of cooking, I would articulate them to read something like this: (1) good cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or cumbersome, enjoy the process, have fun!; (2) a recipe is just a concept, and you should be motivated to adapt it to use the right, fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients you have at hand; and (3) food is cultural, therefore eating should happen in the company of good friends and family, always with a glass of good wine.
Though I might not be as interested in pasta, or cheese, or meat, I am still interested in the beautiful techniques and principles of authentic Italian cooking, because, hey, who says I can’t eat a lasagna if I want to?
As I thought about what makes a good lasagna, and searched for recipes of all different kinds, I came to the conclusion that the most essential components are: (1) a delicious sauce that holds everything together, (2) a creamy ricotta like spread that would make each bite sinfully delicious, (3) some sort of layering device (traditionally pasta, but I would have to use something different), and (4) another ingredients that would give the lasagna personality.
Made using garlic, shallots, cumin powder, chili flakes, ginger, of course, roasted tomatoes. Ginger, though untraditional here, brightens the sauce, giving it refreshing undertones that cut through the tomato’s acidity.
The Creamy Component
Coming up with a plant-based component to substitute the cheese wasn’t as difficult as you would expect. Us vegetarians have an arsenal of delicious spreads (hummus, baba ganoush, pea pesto) that can be modified to fit ricotta’s creamy texture and tangy flavors. To achieve the umami undertones always present in lasagna, the chickpeas are mixed into a combination of miso paste and tahini, olive oil and water. Pureed until smooth, this chickpea ricotta is rich, salty, flavorful, and most importantly, creamy. Sandwiched between layers of cauliflower steaks, the chickpea ricotta just burst out to coat everything, making it sultry and sublime.
I already told you that the “pasta” in this “lasagna” is cauliflower steaks. Because cauliflower keeps it shape, is fairly neutral in flavor, and can stand up to bold seasoning, it is the ingredient of choice. You could use eggplant rounds, but it just would not have the body to hold itself together, like cauliflower does. I quickly cooked each steak in a hot pan with olive oil, until the edges start to brown. This allows the cooking process to begin while simultaneously adding flavor through caramelization. Another win for cauliflower!
The wild card
It is Fall. It is getting cold outside. Tomatoes season is almost done, and these tasty heirloom cherry varietal are the bomb. Case closed.
Layered on top of each other, these ingredients come together for a dish that feels familiar, though unique enough to keep you asking for more. Each bite an explosion of flavors that will fill your belly and warm your soul
This lasagna is robust, this lasagna is beautiful, a harmonious combination of late summer and early fall flavors that pairs well with a bottle of good Pinot. This lasagna kicks traditional lasagnas ass, and this is not just my opinion. Just invite a couple of friends over, put some music on (maybe some Molto Mario), and have a feast while making this lasagna, starting with chopping shallots, sandwich it between several delightful bites of this dish, and finish with a sip of a bottle’s last drop.
Spicy Tomato Sauce
Makes about a cup and a half
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ knob fresh ginger
- 1 can tomatoes
- 1 tsp. cumin powder
- 1 dried chili pepper or 1.4 tsp. chili flakes
- ½ tsp. salt
Place a large pot over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and shallot. Sauté, stirring occasionally for five minutes. Add minced garlic and knob of ginger. Stir for another couple of minutes. Stir in can of cooked tomatoes, cumin powder, 1 chili pepper, and salt. Stir. Add I cup of water and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Transfer into blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Makes a little over a cup
- 1 8 oz can chickpeas
- 1 tbsp. tahini
- 1 tbsp. miso paste
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 tbsp. water
Drain and fully rinse chickpeas. Place in a food processor with tahini, miso paste, olive oil and water. Pulse until smooth. Set aside until ready to use.
Cook time: 45 minutes, approximately
- ½ head cauliflower
- 1 cup fresh tomatoes
- ½ cup chickpea ricotta
- 1 cup spicy tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Optional garnishes:
- Shelled pistachios
- Sesame seeds
- A fresh herb of choice (parsley, cilantro, oregano)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice Cauliflower into ¼ inch vertical slices. You should have 5-6 cauliflower steaks at a time. Heat a large skillet. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook cauliflower, one steak at a time, until golden brown on the edges about four minutes for each steak. Set aside. Repeat until all steaks have been par cooked.
To assemble lasagna, start by adding a couple tablespoons of the tomato sauce onto a small cast iron. I used an 8 inch long oval cast iron pan. Place one or two cauliflower steaks, making sure it covers most of the surface area. Add three tablespoons of chickpea ricotta, 5-6 tomatoes, sliced in half. Repeat twice cauliflower steak, chickpea ricotta, tomatoes and tomato sauce, picking the cauliflower steaks that fit and cutting them accordingly so that they do. But don’t worry too much about it being perfect, this is dish should feel rustic. Place in oven for 35 minutes. Remove from oven.
Add several cilantro leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, and pistachios, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds to garnish.
To serve, slice into quarters and serve while seeping hot.