I’m almost positive that the last time I ate lasagna was November 14, 2009. I know it seems weird to be able to pinpoint the date, but both the day and the lasagna are etched in my brain for several reasons…
After my college graduation, my bestie Fifi and I decided to go on a little trip to New Zealand. I packed my oversized backpack with 57 pounds of completely impractical clothing, traded in my trusty Motorola Razor for an international Blackberry at my mother’s request, and set off on my epic adventure. Having done almost zero advance travel planning, Fifi and I signed up for a well-known tour called The Kiwi Experience, boarded the big green bus, and hoped for the best.
The two of us hostel-hopped around the country for a little over a month, doing all kinds of out-of-character, outdoorsy and adrenaline-fueled activities, including skydiving, bungee-jumping, caving, and my personal favorite, “zorbing,” which involved being rolled down a hill in a giant inflatable ball. It was awesome, and I have never felt more badass.
However, after a few weeks, the hostel-lifestyle began to take a toll on our dynamic duo. I was running dangerously low on clean clothes (in retrospect, dry-cleanables were a poor choice), my “quick-dry” towel appeared to be molding, and despite a pre-trip keratin treatment, I was sporting some unintentional baby dreads. Fifi was also suffering from similar white girl problems.
Knowing that Fifi’s birthday fell during the last few weeks of our trip, I decided to surprise her by booking us a room at a very fancy hotel in Queenstown for the occasion. Not only did I think that she deserved a shower and a comfy bed on her birthday, I felt I owed it to her after booking us on a “cruise” that left us spooning in this “deluxe cabin” for 3 very long nights:
I managed to keep my present a secret from Fifi until the big day arrived, and she was both shocked and thrilled when the half-hour trek from the Kiwi Bus ended at a real hotel and not the expected communal dorm room. Booyakasha. Although management almost kept us from checking in based on our homeless-chic appearance, Fifi and I were soon happily rolling around in robes on our king bed like the princesses that we were meant to be.
Naturally, the first thing that we did after cleaning ourselves up was order room service. Having subsisted primarily on “toasties” (aka the poor man’s grilled cheese) and oversized Cadbury bars for almost a month, we practically passed out from excitement upon viewing the choices. I dialed the kitchen and asked for two of whatever the best thing on the menu was, stat. Twenty minutes later, a waiter wheeled in a cart carrying the two largest pieces of lasagna I had ever seen in my life. It was such a random and beautiful sight that I teared up a little bit. Fifi may or may not have hugged him.
I still remember that lasagna in exquisite detail. It had meaty Bolognese and creamy béchamel sauce, and it oozed deliciously melted cheese all over the warmed plate. It was hands-down the best thing that I ate in New Zealand, but at the time, I would have said it was the best thing I had eaten EVER. (I have a flair for the dramatic.) We proceeded to order that lasagna two more times in the next 24 hours, once around 3am after birthday celebrations, and again for lunch the next day. I could barely move after round 3, but it was worth it. That lasagna was magical.
I happened to be talking to a friend about New Zealand last week, which is what brought the Queenstown lasagna incident to mind. I also realized that I don’t remember having eaten lasagna since Fifi’s twenty-third birthday. I know that sounds crazy, but lasagna is one of those foods that I love, yet rarely eat (unless it unexpectedly appears, as it did on that fateful day in November four years ago). Since I’ve been asked for a lasagna recipe a few times recently, I figured that now was as good a time as any to experiment with the popular Italian specialty.
Although I’m a huge fan of lasagna, I’m not so much into the food coma/bloating situation that inevitably accompanies it. So, in the spirit of keeping Logan everyone from putting on their “winter layer” prematurely, I went ahead and lightened up this classic comfort food. I give you: Skillet Lasagna with Vegetables and Turkey Sausage.
This lasagna is straight fire, folks. Packed with a medley of zucchini, red bell peppers, mushrooms, basil and lean turkey sausage, it’s a healthy, hearty meal that’s bursting with Italian flavors. The unbeatable trio of ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella gives this lasagna the requisite melted cheese factor, but thanks to the conservative quantities and low-fat nature of these cheeses, you can responsibly indulge without having to put on sweatpants (which are never acceptable dinner attire).
Thanks to pre-made marinara sauce, no-boil lasagna noodles, and the whole one-skillet thang, this lasagna is a breeze to prepare and clean up, making it the perfect hassle-free weeknight meal. If you happen to be a planner, assemble this lasagna when you have the time (aka Sunday), freeze it, and then bake it whenever you’re craving a deliciously comforting meal. Boom.
For the record, Skillet Lasagna with Turkey Sausage and Vegetables is also a great choice for fall entertaining. Served with a few bottles of Pinot Noir, a simple salad and maybe some cheesy garlic bread, it turns into a pretty epic feast for friends. The recipe can be easily doubled and baked in a larger dish if you happen to be super popular and feeding a large group.
My favorite part about this lasagna is that it’s customizable, so don’t hesitate to riff off of this recipe. Vegetarians, ditch the sausage and add some extra veggies. Gluten-free folks, swap in your favorite gluten-free lasagna noodles. I also recommend trying grated pecorino Romano in the place of Parmesan, adding some eggplant into the veggie mix, experimenting with different chicken and turkey sausages, or using roasted red pepper tomato sauce instead of marinara. You know I love it when you get creative. Buon appetito, amici! Lasagna è così caldo in questo momento. (“Lasagna is so hot right now” sounds so much sexier in Italian, no?)
Skillet Lasagna with Turkey Sausage and Vegetables: (Serves 6)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sweet Italian turkey sausages, casings removed
1 medium zucchini, diced
½ large red bell pepper, diced
1½ cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup freshly chopped basil
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Fresh ground pepper
2¼ cups marinara sauce (if you want to go the homemade route, try this recipe)
6-8 pre-cooked lasagna noodles (depending on the size of your skillet/pan)
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Preparing your Skillet Lasagna with Turkey Sausage and Vegetables:
-Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
-Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan (or use the skillet you plan to use for the lasagna). When hot, add the onion, garlic and turkey sausage. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring to break up the sausage, until the onions are translucent and the sausage is lightly browned.
-Add the zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms chopped basil and red pepper flakes and sauté for another 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are just tender. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
-Pour ½ cup of marinara sauce into the skillet and spread it in an even layer.
-Add half of the ricotta cheese mixture in an even layer. Sprinkle with ¼ cup shredded mozzarella and top with ½ cup of marinara sauce.
-Add the third and final layer of lasagna noodles. Top with the remaining ¾ cup marinara sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.
-Cover your lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 25 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and lightly browned. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Get after it.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 sweet Italian turkey sausages, casings removed
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- ½ large red bell pepper, diced
- 1½ cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup freshly chopped basil
- ¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/3 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- Fresh ground pepper
- 2¼ cups marinara sauce (if you want to go the homemade route, this is my favorite recipe)
- 6-8 pre-cooked lasagna noodles (depending on the size of your skillet/pan)
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan (or use the skillet you plan to use for the lasagna). When hot, add the onion, garlic and turkey sausage. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring to break up the sausage, until the onions are translucent and the sausage is lightly browned.Add the zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms chopped basil and red pepper flakes and sauté for another 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are just tender. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta and parmesan cheese and season with fresh ground pepper to taste.
- Pour ½ cup of marinara sauce into the skillet and spread it in an even layer. Top the marinara sauce with a layer of lasagna noodles. You will probably have to break up the noodles to fit your skillet. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be perfect, people.
- Spread half of the sausage and vegetable mixture over the noodles. Add half of the ricotta cheese mixture in an even layer. Sprinkle with ¼ cup shredded mozzarella and top with ½ cup of marinara sauce.
- Repeat the layers a second time (lasagna noodles, sausage and vegetable mixture, ricotta mixture, mozzarella, and marinara sauce).
- Add the third and final layer of lasagna noodles. Top with the remaining ¾ cup marinara sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.
- Cover your lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 25 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and lightly browned. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Get after it.