Reaching Righteousness

Right after New Year’s I’m getting serious about eating healthy. Ok, maybe not New Year’s Day, because I may be hung over and need fatty foods and a little ‘hair of the dog’ to recover. The second week of January I’m getting serious. The first week there’s still leftovers to deal with, and it’s a sin to throw away food, a mortal sin to throw away chocolate. Any of this sound familiar? If you are one of the many that begin a new year with a solemn promise to eat right, lose weight, exercise, meditate or whatever, it should.  I’m the same as you. But when I finally do get serious about it, my resolve is steely and steadfast. That is, until the hormone fairy decided to take over my life and the soup of self-produced chemicals in my body tosses my emotions, whims, cravings and sanity around like a dingy in a hurricane. What does this do to steely resolve and steadfast goals? Lets just say a sleeve of Oreos goes quite nicely with a tin of cocktail peanuts and an amusing pinot noir.

However, despite this, I know I can be successful on my New Year quest. Because I know the power of Righteousness. What is that you ask? Righteousness happens once I’ve strung up enough achievement days in a row towards my goal and begin to become drunk on the self-control coursing through my being. With righteous mojo, you cannot fail. You hold the nose a little higher in the air, a little smug grin begins to creep across your face, and you become impenetrable to corruption. For example, let’s say your goal is to lose weight. Once you have had the degree of success to land you in the ‘righteousness zone’, nothing could entice you to cheat. You could be standing in the middle of Charlie’s chocolate factory with George Clooney himself offering to spoon feed you, and the only thing crossing your chocolate-free lips would be “no thank you George, I’m not hungry”. Seriously, it’s THAT powerful. Of course, once you have achieved the BIG R, you need to be careful. The line between righteous and obnoxious is paper-thin. Righteous is turning down dessert when the waitress comes along with the menus. Obnoxious is suggesting your dinner companion do the same. Righteous is walking an extra mile just because you feel like it. Obnoxious is taking your out-of-town guests on a ‘walk around town’ that to them strongly resembles the Bataan death march. So here’s to each of us finding our own righteousness…. and knowing how to keep it to ourselves when we do. (Oh, and in case you were concerned, I’d NEVER turn down anything offered by George. I’d walk an extra 2 miles instead.)

So, what recipe to include in a blog on righteousness? Some sort of salad? Perhaps a recipe for water and lemon? Nah. When you are in righteousness town you know you are in control, so a recipe that is somewhat healthy, but also creamy cheese-y  pasta-y wonderfulness is perfectly acceptable. You know you’ll walk the extra mile (or 3) to work it off tomorrow. My Vegetable Lasagna fits the bill quite nicely, and George Clooney can feed me forkfuls anytime!

Vegetable Lasagna with Béchamel

The bones of this recipe came from my very dog-eared copy of the Tuscany edition of Bon Apetit, published back in the late 90s. I have revised it over the years to make it my own, and it is very easily adapted to your particular preferences in veggies. This recipe takes a bit of prep since all of the veggies are cooked before they go into the lasagna, but it’s definitely worth it. Wholesome, not too fattening (all things considered), and a great way to get vegetables into those who aren’t big fans, it’s a keeper in any recipe file and definitely a righteous slice of pasta.

Recipe note:  The veggies that go into this are up to you. The only thing to remember is the more moisture in the veg, the more water in the lasagna. So if you are adding vegetables that tend to the soggy side, be sure to roast or cook them until they are relatively dry. And since the vegetables are cooked before they go into the final dish, this is a great way to use up leftovers too!

Vegetable Lasagna with Béchamel

Serves 8-10

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced into ½” pieces (about 4-5 cups, sliced)
  • 3 TBSP plus 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup finely chopped celery
  • ¾ cup finely chopped carrots
  • 10 oz. package of crimini or button mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 bag baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 15 no-cook lasagna noodles, soaked 5 minutes in boiling water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Béchamel Sauce

  • 6 TBSP (3/4 stick) butter
  • ½ cup flour
  • 5 cups milk (whole, or if you are feeling particularly righteous, 2%)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 ¼ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss the butternut squash slices in 1 TBSP olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-35 minutes or until the squash is tender and starting to brown on the edges. Cool slightly and mash a little to a rough puree. Set aside. Turn down oven to 375°F.

Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the vegetables are tender and there is no liquid left from the mushrooms. Remove to a bowl, cool and set aside. Wipe out skillet with paper towel

Heat remaining teaspoon oil in same skillet. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, just until fragrant but no color. Add the spinach, a tablespoon of water, a pinch of salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Sauté over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until the spinach is wilted and relatively dry. Set aside to cool.

For the sauce:

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook until mixture comes to a boil, whisking often, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of nutmeg.

Butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish (I like using a glass dish for this.) Place the no-cook lasagna noodles in a bowl or dish and cover with very hot tap water. Let sit for 5-7 minutes to slightly soften. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough so you can handle.

Spoon 1 cup of béchamel into the bottom of the lasagna dish. Arrange 5 noodles atop sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon the mashed butternut squash over the noodles, distributing evenly. Spoon 1 ½ cup of the béchamel over the squash, and sprinkle ¾ cup parmesan over. Repeat with another layer of noodles, the celery mixture and the spinach, another 1½ cups of sauce and ¾ cup cheese. Top with the remaining 5 noodles. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top, making sure to cover all of the noodles with sauce. Mix the remaining cheese with the ¼ cup dry breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Place lasagna dish on baking sheet and put in oven. Bake on center rack until bubbling and the top is lightly browned, about 35-45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Calories: 500 per serving for 8 servings, 400 per 10 servings.

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