If you’re trying to go vegetarian, and some concern troll in your immediate circle of friends or family starts fretting that you’ve doomed yourself to a life of culinary asceticism, a plate of lasagna is really the most gracious way to shut him up.
Where I come from, a pan of lasagna is also widely considered the most gracious way to extend condolences after someone dies, celebrate the birth of a child or help a family in the wake of an emergency.
My version involves plenty of mushrooms, onions and mozzarella and is both grownup and teenager-approved. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Red Fork Hippie recipe if it didn’t lend itself well to improvisation, and this one certainly does.
The basic ingredients:
1 box lasagna (do NOT get the no-boil kind)
2-3 cups of your favorite marinara sauce*
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 small onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 big bags shredded mozzarella
Things you can add if you want:
Any kind of white cheese you like (ricotta, Asiago and Romano are traditional, but if you’re feeling decadent, swap the ricotta for manouri or grate a little myzithra over the finished product)
Fresh or sun-dried tomatoes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Boil noodles according to package instructions. While the pasta cooks, saute the mushrooms and onions in olive oil until the onions are clear. Add garlic, saute for 30 seconds, and remove from heat.
Layer ingredients in the pan as follows: pasta on the bottom, then vegetables, then sauce, then cheese. Repeat until you reach the top of the pan.
Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (double that if you’re using no-boil noodles). Remove foil and bake another five minutes to brown the edges if you like. Serve with an I-told-you-so smirk and plenty of grated Parmesan.
*I usually cheat and use the store brand from Viviano’s Grocery in St. Louis, because it’s as good as anything I’m likely to make, but there are plenty of good marinara recipes online. Just don’t trust anything too complicated. Marinara sauce should be a simple affair, with no more than a handful of ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano and a little red wine and olive oil. (Too much time in New Mexico has taught me the merits of red chile wine, which is an excellent base for arrabbiata sauce if you like a bit more kick.)