With its layers of pasta, vegetables, tomato sauce, and cheese, vegetarian lasagna is a no-brainer for feeding the meatless set. But is lasagna a dish that can be translated into the realm of vegan-dom? Or is the cheese part of lasagna's integral appeal?
I decided to see just how well cheese-less lasagna would go over by testing out this recipe for Lasagna with Roasted Cauliflower Ricotta and Spinach from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction. Moskowitz uses a clever combination of whipped tofu and roasted cauliflower mixed with nutritional yeast and lemon juice to stand in for creamy ricotta. Sure, the combination sounds like the work of some sort of crazy vegan made scientist, but there was something decidedly cheesy about this so-called cauliflower ricotta. The texture was lumpy-creamy like real ricotta, and the yeast and lemon gave it a cheese-like tang. The usual layer of salty Parmesan that graces the top of the lasagna was replaced with salty black olives, a genius move if you ask me. The oil-cured ones that I used even had a slight nuttiness on par with that of a good Parmesan
Moskowitz opted to forgo vegan cheese substitutes in favor of real food and real flavors for all of the recipes in this book, and I have to commend her. This vegan lasagna might not be the lasagna that dairy eaters are accustomed to, but the flavors are bright and creative. There's something really wonderful about olives and cauliflower standing in for ricotta and Parmesan.
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Appetite for Reduction to give away this week.
Adapted from Appetite for Reduction. Copyright © 2010. Published by Da Capo Lifelong Books. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.
- For the Roasted Cauliflower Ricotta:
- 1 medium-size head cauliflower (11/2 to 2 pounds), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound extra-firm tofu
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
- For the Red Sauce:
- One (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- To Assemble:
- 8 ounces lasagna noodles, broken in half, cooked in salted water
- 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
- 1/4 cup chopped black olives
First, we’ll roast the cauliflower. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; that way the cauliflower won’t stick. Place the cauliflower on the sheet and drizzle the oil over it. Spray it with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Toss it with your hands to make sure everything is salted. Spread the cauliflower in a single layer and bake for 10 minutes, then flip it with a spatula. You don’t have to flip each and every one, so don’t get OCD about it. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned, tender, and toasty.
In the meantime, crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl. Use your hands to mash the tofu, squeezing it between your fingers, until it has the consistency of ricotta cheese. Add the nutritional yeast, lemon juice, pepper, and remaining salt. Use a fork to mix well.
When the cauliflower is done, transfer it to the mixing bowl with the tofu mixture. Use a potato masher to mash it really well, for a minute or so. If it doesn’t seem to be mashing enough with the potato masher, a few pulses in the food processor should get it nice and crumbly. Set aside.
To prepare the sauce, mix all its ingredients together and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour a thin layer of red sauce on the bottom of an 8-inch square casserole. Line with a layer of noodles. Spread with one-third of the cauliflower ricotta. Layer with 3/4 cup of spinach leaves. Pour on about a cup of sauce.
Repeat the process one more time, creating another identical layer, starting with the noodles. For the top layer it’s just a little different: Layer with noodles, pour the sauce on first, then layer with ricotta. This layer doesn’t get any spinach. Sprinkle with a layer of olives and press it into the the tofu.
Bake for 40 minutes, until the top is browned. You can serve it immediately or let it cool down for a bit first, whatever floats your boat!