meatless mondays: homemade veggie lasagna

Lasagna is an art form. At least, when I make it then it is. I have been a little wary about posting a lasagna "recipe" because recipes require measurements and methods that can be duplicated and I don't have those. I've only been really cooking for about three years, but the more food I make the more I realize that I'm a mix-together-whatever-is-in-the-fridge-and-bake-it-for-an-hour type of cook.

I get away with this mostly because I spend a lot of time educating myself on the chemistry of cooking. Pam Anderson's How to Cook without a Book got me started thinking this way, although I should warn you that I basically read the book, thought "this is pretty much common sense," and left it on the shelf after that. I like to know why every ingredient is in my recipe, what purpose it plays. And if you know the why, it becomes very easy to strip a recipe down to it's bare components (the things it MUST have to work) and build your own recipe up from that base. So that's why today I'm going to post the basic lasagna method I use.

Making a Lasagna
There are three main components to any lasagna I make: 1) Flat noodles to separate layers, 2) some sort of sauce, cream or tomato-based, and 3) a cheese/egg/herb mixture.

Step 1: Getting your noodles ready
If you can boil water, you can make lasagna noodles. Cook the boodles until tender and then lay them out on a clean kitchen towel to dry (flour sack towels work great).

Step 2: Making a sauce
Pick you favorite sauce recipe and whip it up or grab your favorite jarred sauce. I'm a personal fan of this recipe:

1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tbs grapeseed oil
1 14oz can organic tomato sauce

1 tsp Italian herbs blend
1 tbs basil, fresh or dried (use less dried)
1-2 tbs balsamic vinegar (the good stuff)
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped

Saute onions and garlic in grapeseed oil for 3-5 mintues, until soft and fragrant. Add tomato sauce, Italian herbs, and basil. Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes and then add the balsamic vinegar. Let the sauce simmer again for about 15 minutes, or until all of the flavors are incorporated. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped spinach.

Step 3: Cheese mixture
The cheese/egg mixture is the binding agent of a lasagna. It keeps the whole thing together. Some people like using a ricotta-base, but I'm a huge fan of using cottage cheese. I usually make a medium lasagna (not quite a 9x13) and I mix together 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup shredded mozzerella, 1 egg, 2-3 cloves of garlic, 1-2 tsp of Italian herbs.

The egg is the important part of this mixture since it will thicken and hold everything together as it cooks, so if I'm in the mood for a bigger lasagna (9x13) I throw an extra one in there. There's really no science to my madness, I just figure two is better than one...Aren't you all ashamed of how willy-nilly my cooking is? Don't worry, I've never made anyone sick :)

Step 4: Make it your own
Other than the three steps above, I never make the same lasagna twice. The one in the picture is a mixture of shredded chicken, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and extra spinach. A great addition to our meatless Monday routine.

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