Four decades ago, Mollie Katzen wrote the seminal vegetarian guide The Moosewood Cookbook. She tells Evan Kleiman that the biggest change in vegetarian cooking over the last forty years is that vegetables have gotten a lot better. Eaters following a vegetarian lifestyle don’t have to rely as much on pasta, grains, eggs or dairy to create delicious vegetarian meals.
The shift is reflected in her new book The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, which updates Katzen’s classic, sensual fare for the modern vegetarian.
This vibrant Autumn Vegetable Lasagna is a great example. Perfect for fall, it relies more on vegetables than pasta. Hear Katzen discuss the dish in an outtake below and keep reading for the recipe.
Autumn Vegetable Lasagna
(Excerpted from THE HEART OF THE PLATE, (c) 2013 by Mollie Katzen. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.)
Makes 6 servings
Vegan (when made as directed in the variation)
Fall vegetables paint the plate in this hybrid of landscape and abstraction, themed in toasted butternut orange, striated scarlet, onion mauve, and chard-leaf green. Swirls of Balsamic Reduction complete the design (and the flavor).
If you can find spinach lasagna noodles, this will be even prettier.
You can prepare the reduction while the lasagna bakes.
6–7 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds butternut squash (1 medium)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 pound red onions (about 2 medium), cut into 1⁄4-‐inch-‐thick slices or rings
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 pound ruby chard, leaves removed from stems and chopped
Nonstick cooking spray (optional)
8 21⁄4-‐inch-‐wide lasagna noodles (1⁄2 pound)
1 pound ricotta (preferably whole milk)
1 (packed) cup grated or chopped mozzarella (about 6 ounces)
2 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic Black pepper
1/3 cup grated or shredded Parmesan, plus more for topping
Balsamic Reduction (see below)
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F, with a rack in the center position. Line one or two baking sheets (however many are needed to accommodate the squash) with foil or parchment paper and slick each with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
2. Peel and seed the squash and cut it into rounds (or half rounds) a scant 1⁄2 inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the baking sheet(s) and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the squash becomes tender. Check the squash during the roasting, so you can loosen—and possibly flip—the slices with a small metal spatula, if they seem to be sticking or burning.
3. Remove the squash from the oven, sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, and let it rest. Turn the oven down to 375°F.
4. Place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high, toss in the onions and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring, until the onions are bright pink and shiny, about 3 minutes.
5. Fill a large pot with water, add about 1 tablespoon olive oil, and bring to a boil.
6. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar into the onions, along with the chard and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat, and let it rest.
7. Meanwhile, slick a 9-x-13-inch pan (or its equivalent) with a little olive oil. Lay out a kitchen towel on a counter near the sink or spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Add the noodles to the boiling water, using a dinner knife or something similar to swish in a gentle slicing motion between and among them, to prevent their sticking together. Boil for exactly 4 minutes, then carefully drain the noodles in a colander. Immediately use tongs or a pasta gripper to gently lift out 4 of the noodles, laying them directly in the oiled baking pan in a single layer. Place the other 4 noodles in a single layer on the towel or baking sheet.
8. Combine the ricotta and mozzarella in a medium-large bowl. Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the garlic in a small, microwave- safe bowl, cover, and zap for 30 seconds, then stir into the ricotta. Season with the remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste.
9. To assemble the lasagna, spoon half the ricotta here and there on the noodles in the pan. Try to get the cheese fairly evenly distributed. (There will be gaps.) Cover the cheese with a layer of half the squash, followed by half the chard and onion mixture, and sprinkle with the 1⁄3 cup Parmesan. Lay the remaining 4 noodles on the Parmesan, then repeat the layers, ending with a light dusting of Parmesan.
10. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until heated through and lightly golden on top. Serve hot or warm, drizzled with the Balsamic Reduction. Drizzle the plates decoratively and serve.
Makes about ½ cup
American versions of balsamic vinegar are fairly sweet, and if you enjoy their effect on savory dishes, you might well love this thickened version. You can drizzle this syrup over more foods than you might imagine—from roasted vegetables and grain dishes to mashes and grilled tempeh and tofu. It also works on pancakes, fruit, and sorbet.
Store in a covered container at room temperature, where it will keep indefinitely. If it solidifies, zap it in a microwave for a few seconds or stir in a little boiling water, and it will soften right up again.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1. Turn on the stovetop fan and/or open your kitchen windows—the fumes will be intense. Place the vinegar in a small nonaluminum saucepan (a shallow one, if possible) and heat to boiling.
2. Turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the vinegar is thick and reduced in volume by about half. Check it every 5 minutes or so, to be sure it isn’t cooking down too quickly. You don’t want it to reduce further than slightly more than half its original volume, nor do you want it to burn.
Place the cooked noodles (cut to fit, if necessary) and vegetables in a bowl, along with a crumble of firm tofu, if desired and ladle in some hot vegetable stock (any kind you prefer). Drizzle the top with Balsalmic Reduction, if desired.