Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Early Summer Lasagne with Sweet Shelling Peas, Zucchini & Spring Onions

It was not my intention to only write two blog posts during the month of June.  I have had ideas to share…and recipes….  But as has been increasingly the case as the years have passed, June has been insanely busy.  So here we are and June is just about over.

I’m sad to see it go.  I love the farmers’ market in June…the end of the spring crops meet the beginning of the summer ones—making for inspiring abundance and variety.  The recipe I am sharing today takes advantage of that moment, combining the shelling peas of late spring/early summer with the first of the summer’s zucchini crop in a surprisingly light lasagne.

“Light” is probably not the first word that you associate with lasagne.  But I think on balance that this lasagne can be called light.  It doesn’t include tons of sauce…or heavy fatty meats….or gobs of stretchy cheese.  What it does include are loads of those aforementioned green vegetables of June…along with a whisper of béchamel, a touch of salty prosciutto (to bring out the flavor of the green vegetables) and just enough cheese to hold it all together.

I adapted the recipe from Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita.  I admit to reducing the cheese a bit—and adding the prosciutto—but by and large it is his delicious recipe, and I can’t take a lot of credit for it. 

What I can take credit for is the biggest change I made—changing from traditional dried lasagne noodles to no-boil noodles.  I have already sung the praises of “no-boil” on two previous posts so I won’t spend a lot of time on it here.  Suffice it to say I think they are fantastic.  It is unlikely I will ever make a lasagne using traditional dried noodles again.   If you have never used them this lasagne would be the perfect place to give them a try.

Early Summer Vegetable Lasagne

1 1/4 lb. (about 3) medium zucchini
Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 medium leek, halved, thinly sliced cross-wise and thoroughly rinsed
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed (use white and equal amount of green), or 1 sweet onion (like a Vidalia), halved—thinly sliced
2 T. butter, divided
2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 c. (240 g) whole milk ricotta
1 oz. (1/3 c) finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 T. finely sliced chives
Zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic, finely grated with a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne
1 1/3 c. whole milk
2 T. flour 
Pinch nutmeg 
8 "no-boil" lasagna (half of an 8 oz. box)
1 c. peas, thawed if frozen, blanched until just tender (refresh under cold running water) if fresh
6 oz. Fontina or Fontal, coarsely grated
1 oz. (1/3 c) finely grated Parmesan

Top and tail the zucchini.  Slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slabs (the widest setting on my Benriner slicer is perfect).  Spread the slabs in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.  

Roast in a 450° to 475° oven until tender, beginning to brown in spots and most of the moisture has evaporated....about 10 to 15 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, melt a half of a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the leeks and onions along with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat in the fat.  Cook until the leeks/onions begin to sizzle and steam in the pan.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid, and cook until the leeks have collapsed and are very tender—this will take about 15 minutes for early spring onions and leeks....maybe 30 minutes or more for storage leeks and onions.  Uncover and add the prosciutto and stir to distribute evenly.  Continue to cook for a minute or two.  If there should be a lot of liquid remaining in the pan, increase the heat and cook uncovered until the liquid has mostly evaporated.  Taste and correct the seasoning and set aside to cool.

Place the ricotta, pecorino, lemon zest, chives, garlic, and a pinch of cayenne in a medium-sized bowl.  Mix until well combined, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the béchamel: In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer; keep hot.  (Alternatively, heat the milk in a microwave proof container of some kind.)  In another medium saucepan, melt 1 1/2 T. of butter over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour.  Cook stirring constantly for a minute or so—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow.  Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot milk, whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately.  Add the remaining milk.  Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer.  Taste and season as desired with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

When you are ready to build the lasagne, oil a square 2-quart baking dish (an 8 1/2- by 8 1/2-inch Pyrex is perfect) and bring a shallow pan of water just to the boil and remove from the heat.  Arrange these two items...along with all the other components—on your work space so that you have easy access to everything.   Add two of the noodles to the pan of hot water.  Spread a couple of tablespoons of béchamel in the bottom of the oiled dish.  

Lift the noodles out of the pan. (They should not be soft or flexible at this're just giving them a head start by soaking them briefly—less than a minute.)  Let the excess water drip back in to the pan and arrange them in a single layer in the prepared baking dish.  Add a couple more noodles to the pan of hot water (to soak while you build the first layer).  Spread/daub a third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, 

followed by a third of the onion mixture, a third of the peas, 

and a third of the zucchini slices.  

Drizzle a scant third cup of béchamel over all and finish with a scattering of a quarter of the Fontina (1 1/2 oz).  

Beginning with the noodles, repeat this layering two more times.  Finish with the last two (soaked) noodles, the remaining third cup of the béchamel (spreading evenly)

and a scattering of the remaining Fontina mixed with the Parmesan.

Cover the pan with a piece of aluminum foil that has been brushed on the underside with olive oil (or sprayed with pan spray), tenting the foil slightly if possible so that it isn't touching the top of the lasagne.  Bake in a 350° oven until the Fontina on top has just melted—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Uncover and continue to bake until the lasagne is bubbling around the edges and the top is beginning to brown around the edges...another 10 to 15 minutes.  Let the lasagne rest for 10 to 15 minutes.  Cut with a sharp knife and serve.  Serves 6.

Notes: To make a 13- by 9-inch lasagne, increase the recipe by half.

(Recipe adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt)


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