(Grain-less) Gluten-free Zucchini Lasagna

lasagna pan 1

This has been a crazy couple of weeks, to say the least.  I knew it would be, but even I couldn’t prepare myself for the little wave of panic when I looked at my calendar and saw three tech-to-performance weeks in a row.  There is a reason that the theater industry calls these “hell weeks”…nah, I’m (mostly) joking.  Thankfully, all of these performances are with my children’s company which means: (A) I know those involved, (B) Most of our team has down this before, and (C) We are all awesome enough to make these week run smoothly and simply!  This post has been sitting in my drafts, half-written, for almost a week-and-a-half, and this recipe has been waiting even longer!

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This lasagna was one of the actual “recreation” dinners I made after going gluten-free, and it was also the first time I’d ever tried making lasagna at home.  I was intrigued by the grain-free recipe (one less ingredient to worry about converting to gluten-free–score!) and the extra veggies with zucchini substituting for noodles.  I added more vegetables in the form of onions and peppers, but this recipes is incredibly flexible.  Sub more vegetables in for some or all of the meat, or any more to the onion-pepper mixture.  When I first made this recipe, I sliced the zucchini lengthwise, into long strips like noodles.  These had a tendency to slip out when trying to cut a bite’s-worth, so I recommend cutting into circle crosswise, or peeling the zucchini before slicing it.

lasagna pan close

I wish I had had time to make this Lasagna this week (the recipe and photos are from about a month back).  This makes the best leftovers, and we have plenty when I’m only serving dinner to three people.  This comforting dish is the perfect bridge between winter and spring (we’ve just had three days of torrential rain–yuck) and would be the best lunch on my hectic performance days.  I’ve got one more performance weekend, one more week of wrap-up, and then we’ll be off on our relaxing cruise!  I’ll certainly keep you posted before then, and plan to come back with a full review of Royal Caribbean’s gluten-free offerings!

As noted in the recipe below, there is plenty of room to play in this recipe. If you make this vegetarian or vegan, or sub in an awesome ingredient, let me know how it turns out! 🙂

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Zucchini Lasagna (Pasta-less Lasagna)

Serves: 8 | Prep time: 30 minutes

  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color), finely diced
  • 4 cups fresh spinach or kale leaves (kale stems removed), roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese*
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese*
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese*
  • 1 lb italian sausage (can replace with equal amounts of another ground meat or finely diced tofu or mushrooms or veggie mix)
  • 2 c. tomato sauce (storebought or homemade), divided

*I’m guessing that you could possibly use cashew ‘cheese’ if you wanted to make this vegan.  I’ve never tried it myself, please let me know how it turns out if you give it a try!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice the zucchini into thin slices crosswise (making circles, not long strips). (Optional–peel zucchini before slicing).  Lay slices out on papertowels and salt generously.  Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes–zuchinni will release some of their liquid.  Crumble sausage/meat/tofu/veggies into a large sauté pan.  Cook completely, then set aside.  Drain grease. Cook chopped onions and peppers in a large sauté pan with minimal oil for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.  Set aside.  Rinse all zucchini well.  Cook zuchinni in sauté pan for about 5 minutes, until slices begin to wilt.  Spread on papertowels and allow to cool.  Cooked spinach/kale in a covered sauté pan until wilted, about 3 minutes.  Mix together wilted greens, basil, garlic, parmesan, 1/4 c. mozzarella, and ricotta cheese in medium bowl.  In separate bowl, mix together onions, peppers, and meat/veggies with 1/2 c. of tomato sauce.  Firmly pat zucchini slices dry

Lightly grease a 9×9″ pan.  Spread  1/2 c. of tomato sauce into the bottom of the pan, coating evenly.  Layer zucchini in even layer, top with cheese mixture then meat/veggie mixture, spreading evenly for each layer.  Top meat/veggie mixture with 1/2 c. of tomato sauce.  Continue this pattern (zucchini, cheese, meat, sauce) until ingredients run out–I got three layers.  Be sure to end with sauce on topmost layer.  Cover with remaining 3/4 c. mozzarella cheese.

Cover pan with aluminum foil.  Bake at 375 degree F for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until cheese is browned and bubbling.  Allow lasagna to rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Can be refrigerated in sealed container for up to 4 days.


Cabbage Rolls, Stress, Love and Life

Today, I wanted to post about stress.  About how there are still three laundry baskets of clean, unfolded clothes in our bedroom(by the time we got to packing, it seemed silly to take them out of one container to pack them right into another box) that I haven’t managed to fold, hang, and put away, even though I still do not have a true sense of how much can fit in our closets and dressers.  I wanted to talk about how those few last things missing in the house (a mail organizer, a printer, an out-of- the-way place to put my purse) are more irritating than the plates that we were missing for two weeks.  I was going to discuss my body’s clock being completely out-of-whack: that waking up at 7am to walk the dog allows me time for a walk, yoga, and a real breakfast before work, but then I am exhausted by 4:30pm only to catch a second wind (with or without additional caffeine) that keeps me up until midnight (or later) and makes me grumpy all evening and sets the cycle to repeat.  I wanted to be a little bit selfish, to let out my frustrations, to vent the stress that builds as both of my jobs go into the second busiest month of the year.

Instead, I’m thinking of Boston.  Virginia Tech.  Sandy Hook.  9/11.  Deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, around the world.  Yesterday, I did not hear about the bombing until almost 5:00pm.  My father’s side of the family lives in Cape Cod, MA.  My cousin lives in Boston.  Everyone fine, as I expected, but the slim, slim chance was enough to jumpstart my senses.  The overwhelming awareness that comes in the blink of an eye: a new wide view of the whole landscape of life, instead of the trivial sliver that I concern myself with on the day-to-day basis.  I have noticed something different with the Boston bombings.  Shock and horror and fear are still there, there are still many people who responded with hate, but even more responded with reminders of love and hope.  From the moments of the aftermath, these glimmers of humanity, faith, and empathy have been brought to the forefront–paraded on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites.  As they should be.

A Projection on the Brooklyn Academy of Music

I am impressed and inspired that so many chose hope, especially on public and social media, where hate and condemnation can escalate so easily.

Today, instead of complaining, I am reminding myself to be grateful.  I have a home that I can afford, a boyfriend, family, friends, and a dog (or three) that love me as much as I love them, two jobs I enjoy, access to healthcare, to shelter, to food, to water.  I am fortunate to be able to be so trivial, to be annoyed at my staying up late.

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Today, especially is about love.  Many times, I speak better with food than with words.  It is my way of showing people I love them, of showing off, of challenging myself.  The cabbage rolls that I promised to share make a comforting dinner.  The simple ingredients and slow-simmered, familiar flavors do not make these cabbage rolls revolutionary.  They are little more than meatballs wrapped in cabbage.  But the succulent cooked cabbage makes the perfect complement to these un-meatballs.  We ate them with the ricotta gnudi and pasta for dinner.  I made two large pans, enough that we had leftovers with a salad for lunches and reheated for snacks for several days.  The flavors continue to meld, and, in some ways, these cabbage rolls are even better the day after.

cabbage roll low

Italian Sausage Cabbage Rolls

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 40 minutes

  • 1 small head of cabbage
  • 2/3 lb ground (4 links) of gluten-free italian sausage*
  • 4 slices of gluten-free bread, crusts removed ( I used Udi’s–use less if your slices are larger)
  • 1/3 c. milk (non-dairy is fine)
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese (add a non-dairy substitute, or a little extra salt and bread to replace cheese)
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. sage, ground
  • 1 jar (16 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water or broth
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Toothpicks

*Chicken or pork, sweet or hot, whatever your meat and spice preference, all work–you could even go veggie.  While there are several options for Vegetarian Italian Sausage on the market, I’ve yet to find a brand that is gluten-free.  If you are avoiding gluten and animal products, sub in your favorite GF sausage substitute and throw in some additional spices (try fennel, parsley, paprika, red chili flakes, garlic, rosemary, basil, salt, and pepper).  Par-cook and finely chop/crumble the sausage substitute and mix with the bread as directed

Tear the bread into small pieces.  Add to a large bowl.  Add milk, stir, allow to sit and soak up the liquid.  Lightly saute the chopped onion until translucent.

Carefully remove the leaves from the head of the cabbage.  Remove the tough stem (up to about 1 inch into the leaf).  Rinse, pat dry, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove meat from casing.  Add sausage, onion, parmesan cheese, garlic and other spices to the bread and milk mixture.  Mix well.

In a large saucepan, mix the tomato sauce and water/broth (if your sauce is already thin, you may not need this).  Heat over low heat.

Form the sausage mixture into small balls, about 1-2 Tbsp worth.  Wrap in the cabbage leaf, secure with a toothpick.  Once all meat is formed and wrapped, place into saucepan, ladling sauce over top.  Bring cabbage rolls to a boil over medium heat, reduce to low heat and cook for 35-40 minutes more, under the meat is cooked through and cabbage is tender.

Serve topped with more cheese, with pasta, salad, or side of choice.

cabbage roll top

Next time, I will be sharing something sweet (and simple).  I think we all could use a treat.

What are you grateful for today?


Autumn Harvest Stuffing with Apples, Sausage, Gouda, and Quinoa

We had our first frost last night.  When I’m home this evening I’ll have to rescue the basil and turn most of it into pesto.  But, for now, I want to share one of my new favorite recipes.  I needed to clear out the vegetable bin and I was craving a healthy, heart, warming meal.  I took stock of what we had, and starting throwing things in a pan…an unusual approach to cooking, for me.  I like measurements and precision and details.  Throwing ingredients together is more M’s style, which I appreciate.  It’s nice to be surprised by how ingredients combine.  So I was even more proud of myself when this toss-together dish turned out to be so delicious!  This is what I had to work with:

Plus some quinoa and wild rice and a yellow onion I added later.  I had purchased the sopressata (sausage) and the gouda in preparation for Hurricane Sandy.  Both are smoked, dry, and aged, strong additions to any grain salad.  The peppers, onions, celery, and carrot were simple enough, a fairly common modified-mirepoix that we make.  I wanted some sweetness to link to the basil and the acorn squash, which was begging to be paired with a flavorful, filling stuffing.  An apple was the perfect bridge.

So, I set up the quinoa and wild rice to simmer while I preheated the oven.  I cleared the seeds from the squash (rinse them clean, dried ’em, and roasted them up–perfection!) and rubbed the halves with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, brown sugar, and worcestershire sauce.  After tossing them into the oven, I diced up the onions, celery, and carrots, and finely diced the peppers, sausage, apple (coat with a few teaspoons of lemon juice to keep from browning), and gouda.

With a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet, I added the chopped carrots, celery, onion, peppers, and the white portion of the green onions, and cooked them until the onions turned translucent and all softened.  Then I added the apple and cooked for a few minutes more, seasoning all with 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp chinese 5 spice, 2 cloves of garlic (minced), and salt and pepper.  I added 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil, warming enough to melt the butter before removing the pan from the heat and adding the cheese, sausage, quinoa, wild rice, almonds, green onions, and chopped basil.  After stirring it all together, I ladle the mixture into the squash, pop it back in the oven for 20 minutes and serve.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I am in loooove with this dish.  The complex flavors still compliment one another, from the sweet, soft apple against the nutty wild rice, to the peppery bite of sopressata sausage and the spice squash.  Plus, there’s the added benefit of knowing how healthy the dish is.  I always feel better when I eat quinoa, and this dish is no exception.  It was even better the next day, after the flavors settled even more.  M and I finished this off within three days.  I had grand plans for filling omelets with the mix, but, inevitably, I finished the serving before I could add this stuffing to any other dish.  By itself, it is enough to make me smile (and chow down!)  I think this would make an excellent, unique stuffing or dressing for Thanksgiving dinner!  If you do not want to serve it in squash (despite the lovely presentation that makes), you can just serve it in a large casserole dish, with the addition of chopped squash or without.  We will add this to our Christmas dinner list, since our Thanksgiving is already overwhelmed with stuffings, but, I wouldn’t be surprised if this dish becomes dinner again before then!

Autumn Harvest Stuffed Squash

For the Squash

  • 1 large acorn squash, halved and de-seeded
  • 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. coconut oil, melted and cooled

For the Stuffing

  • 1/3 cup quinoa, toasted and well-rinsed
  • 1/3 cup wild rice
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 large stalks celery, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium banana peppers, finely diced
  • 1 small apple (honey crisp, gala, fuji, or granny smith), finely diced
  • 2 green onions, diced, whites and greens separated
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) sopressata (or similar dry smoked sausage), finely diced
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) smoked gouda, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp (about 12 leaves) basil, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp almonds, toasted and finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (plus more for coating apple)
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. chinese 5 spice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional: 1/4-1 tsp cayenne pepper (I would have loved a little more heat!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Set wild rice to cook according to package directions.  Toast dry quinoa in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until fragrant, stirring constantly to keep from burning.  Rinse quinoa well in fine-mesh sieve, then cook according to package directions.  Rub squash with mixture of coconut oil, brown sugar, and worcestershire sauce, set to roast in oven for 1 hour.  Dice vegetables, nuts, herbs, and apple.  Coat apple with lemon juice to keep from browning.

Coat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon coconut oil.  Add diced onion, celery, carrot, pepper, and whites of green onion, cook until softened.  Add apple and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Season with all spices, olive oil, butter, and lemon juice, then add remaining ingredients (green portions of green onions, cheese, sausage, garlic, almonds, basil).  Stir to combine.  Add quinoa and wild rice, mix thoroughly, and spoon into cooked squash.  Place stuffed squash back into oven and heat through for 20 additional minutes.  Serve.

Variations:  Remove skin from squash, dice, and stir into stuffing mixture.


Italian Peasant Soup

I have the house to myself for two days.  And what else does one do when home alone, but cook massive amounts of food?  Come on folks, I can’t be the only one who cooks outrageously and then has to figure out how to save the leftovers until the rest of my housemates return…right?  Anybody?

Well then, I couldn’t help myself.  I’d put together the christmas tree (yes we are on the fake tree bandwagon), finished all my christmas shopping, worked out, cleaned the kitchen…it was just begging to be dirtied up again.  I had a few different bread recipes tucked away to try; and, with our region encased in heavy rains for 48 hours straight, I was craving soup.  Pull out the stockpot and the yeast, here we go!

Quinoa-Sesame Sandwich Bread, Rosemary-Olive Oil Loaf, Italian Peasant Soup, & Whole Grain Quinoa Loaf

I’ve been looking for easy, reliable bread recipes.  While I like the taste of some commercial brands, I can’t actually reason spending $5+ on a tealoaf.  I’m hoping to find something consistent enough to become my own go-to for bread.  After the great success with their Popovers and Easy Dinner Rolls, I went ahead and tried Living Without Magazine’s Quinoa Sesame “Wonder” Bread.  I would highly recommend picking up a copy of this magazine (no, I am not under any incentive to say that) if you can find it in stores.  The consistency of their recipe success has been better than any other Gluten Free cookbook or blog I’ve encountered thus far.

Additionally, because I was intrigued by the ability to bake without the loaf pan, I made a batch of Gluten Free Girl’s “Crusty Bread Even Those Who Eat Gluten Might Like” from Shauna’s Gluten Free Girl and The Chef cookbook, splitting the dough and making one plain, while adding olive oil, rosemary, sea salt and parsley to the other.

I was impressed with both recipes.  The Quinoa loaf is especially delicious, but I may keep the sesame seeds and continue looking for a good bread recipe that uses more easily attainable flours.

During the rising and baking time, I decided to throw together Italian Peasant Soup, a surprisingly quick recipe that makes a ton of soup.  Be prepared to serve a lot of people or to go ahead and freeze a few servings.

Italian Peasant Soup

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb italian sausage, chopped
  • 1 lb chicken breasts, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (14 oz cans)
  • 2 cans cannellini beans (14 oz cans), drained and rinsed
  • 2 boxes chicken broth (24 oz boxes – 48 oz/6 cups total)
  • 1 Tbsp basil
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 bag of spinach (about 4 cups), torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

In large stock pot over medium heat, cook sausage in olive oil until browned and cooked through.  Remove sausage to reserve bowl with slotted spoon.  Add onions and garlic to pot and cook until translucent and fragrant.  Add chicken, cook through, stirring often.  Add tomatoes with their juice (undrained) and rinsed beans to pot, followed by chicken broth and spices.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Return sausage to pot, continue cooking 15-20 minutes more, until sausage and soup is hot.  Add spinach and heat until wilted. Serve garnished with parmesan cheese.

Dinner is served!