Thursday, September 6
Pesto Lasagna for One, Tomatoes for a Small Army
Jeff and I bought our first house when he started medical school in North Carolina. It was a charming 1930’s bungalow with a huge backyard. We had just moved in and were surveying our lot one early morning when Jeff said: “You know what, we’ve gotta plant a garden.”
“A garden? We don’t know the first thing about gardening,” I said.
“How hard can it be?” he asked.
Then I thought, Yeah, our grandparents did it. How hard could it be?
The next day we carefully mapped it out and headed to the local nursery. When we came to the tomato plants, we didn't know how many to buy. I thought 6 would be enough, Jeff thought 24; we planted 24. (“They’re cheap,” he said, “just buy them.”)
On a hot and sticky Saturday just before he started classes, we dug up our yard and planted our first garden. While we were out there, our next door neighbor, Bill, walked over to say hello. He was an imposingly tall fellow with thick glasses that fogged up in the humidity. A native North Carolinian, he had a thriving garden and a wonderful drawl. He stopped a couple of feet away from us and stared at our tomato plants.
“Hey, Bill. How ya doin’?” Jeff asked.
“Them’s an awful lot of ‘maters,” he said, “You sure you want all them plants?”
“Yeah, sure. We’ve got room for them.” Jeff replied.
“They’s gonna get big, ya know,” he responded.
“Oh. Well, maybe I’ll spread them out more,” Jeff said.
“All right. But them’s an awful lot of ‘maters,” he said, heading back to his textbook-perfect garden, replete with small tractor.
We cared for our tomato plants like they were our children. We watered them with Miracle Grow and weeded their beds, and to our delight, they grew. As the weeks passed, Jeff spent more and more time in gross anatomy, and I spent more and more time in the garden. By the fall, we had a grove of tomato plants so thick and high you could’ve cut a maze through it like it was a corn field. And I had so many mosquito bites that I had to start taking iron for anemia.
In case you’re wondering, 24 tomatoes plants produce an obscene number of tomatoes. We ate (and gave away and froze and roasted and pureed) scads of tomatoes.
I don’t know if it was something in that soil, the Miracle Grow, or the dense heat and humidity, but most everything (especially herbs) in that garden grew beyond our imagination. Our rosemary plant turned into a bush and the basil was fully 4 ½ feet tall. I also started making pesto that summer, enough pesto for the entire winter and entire spring.
I was craving a basic basil pesto last week and made this lasagna, my go-to tomato and basil dish. Made with fresh pasta sheets, grilled eggplant, and fresh tomato sauce, it is savory yet lighter than traditional lasagna, perfect for early fall.
Though more time-consuming than most of my recipes, this dish is worth it. In fact, you can even prepare the lasagnas a day ahead and pop them in the oven for dinner the next night.
A couple of tips about making and freezing pesto:
I prefer to slightly saute the garlic and toast the pine nuts before adding them to the pesto, which imparts a mellower savory flavor.
Also, when I first tried freezing pesto years ago, it would turn a muddy brown, until Jeff told me to cover the top of it with olive oil to stop the oxidation process. See, medical school does come in handy sometimes.
Individual Pesto Lasagnas
Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.
1 tsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
2 cups firmly packed basil leaves
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp warm water
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and a couple of shakes of crushed red pepper
Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce
2 tsp olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 cups de-seeded diced fresh tomatoes
Salt and several shakes of crushed red pepper flakes
A note about the lasagna ingredients: How much pasta you use will depend on the type of pasta sheets you buy. I used 2 sheets per person, which was about ¾ of pound of pasta in total. So, adjust measurements of the following fillings to match the size of your pasta sheets. Also, if you can’t find sheets, then you can use traditional long lasagna ribbons and roll them up for individual servings.
8 sheets of fresh pasta
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
About ½ pesto (from above recipe)
1 medium sized eggplant, cut into 8 slices
Some olive oil, for brushing the eggplant
16 sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated (oil-packed are fine too)
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
To make pesto:
Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small skillet over low heat. Add garlic, and heat through until slightly golden (about 2-3 minutes). Add to food processor.
In same pan, add pinenuts, and toast 1-2 minutes, until golden; add to food processor.
Add basil leaves, cheese, water, salt and pepper to food processor. Pour olive oil though processor chute (or add to with other ingredients if unable), and process until smooth.
If you’re not going to use your pesto immediately, then pour in a small sealable container and cover with a layer of olive oil. This will prevent the pesto from turning brown.
To make tomato sauce:
Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, and sauté until slightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes, and cook for 5-7 minutes minutes, until they start to break down. Season well with salt and crushed red pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
To assemble lasagna:
Now that you’ve got the pesto and the sauce made, it’s time to make the lasagna. Preheat your broiler for the eggplant and bring a wide, shallow pan of salted water to a boil. Slice eggplant into 1/8 inch rounds and place on a lined baking sheet; brush both sides with some olive, and sprinkle with salt. Broil for 5-6 minutes, turn over once, and broil for another 5-6 minutes, or until slightly charred and softened.
By this point, your water should be boiling. Add 1 pasta sheet at a time to the boiling water. Cook for about 1-1 ½ minutes, flipping once with a pair of tongs. When cooked, remove to a large lined baking sheet to assemble individual lasagnas. Having all of your ingredients lined up will make the assembly much quicker.
Here’s how I do it: Start with one sheet of cooked pasta; spread some ricotta cheese over the surface; spread some pesto on top of the cheese. Add two slices of eggplant, then 4 sun-dried tomatoes, and a few fresh spinach leaves. Top with another cooked pasta sheet. Continue until you complete all four. (If you’re planning ahead, then cover and refrigerate the lasagnas at this point.) Otherwise, place under the broiler for about 3-5 minutes, or until the pasta starts to become slightly bubbly and crispy. Remove from oven and using a large spatula, CAREFULLY place onto plates. Top with some fresh tomato sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
You might also like:
Of Yankees and Yams
Bring Back Sunday Dinner
Wild Arugula Pasta
Broccolini and Sun-Dried Tomato Calzones
Here are some other delicious pesto dishes I have come across:
Susan's Tomato Pesto Pizza
Elise's Asparagus Pesto with Pasta
Chris's Spinach Fettucine with Spinach Pesto
Joey's Gnocchi with Rocket Pesto
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