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.

Basil Pesto
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
Heidi's Pesto
Elise's Asparagus Pesto with Pasta
Chris's Spinach Fettucine with Spinach Pesto
Joey's Gnocchi with Rocket Pesto

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Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

Your posts are always worth the wait. um um.

Bradley said...

Looks fantastic, I really enjoy free form lasagna. The photo is great as well!

Joanna said...

I loved hearing about your first garden and the forest of tomatoes. How does your garden grow these days? And how many tomato plants do you plant nowadays?


Asha said...

Love the individual Lasange!
LOL @ tomatoes for the small army,my sentiments exactly.I grew cherry and Pear Tomatoes this year.
I have a Walnut Pesto Pasta,check out.

Abby said...

I saw 24 tomato plants and I thought, oh my goodness, I know where this is going! And it was that sweet, fertile N.C. soil that did it, you know.

They learn about olive oil in med school? Those Tar Heels...

And the lasagna is beautiful! Elegant and comforting - just as it should be.

Mishmash ! said...

Susan, a big tight hug for you..:) for all that tips on freezing pesto and making tomato sauce...I made pesto last two weeks, using my basil plants and was wondering how I can freeze ' doubt is is it ok to freeze pesto where cheese is also mixed?

Your tomato story was a cute one....and let me see if I can plan this individual lasagna for my next week's menu :)

Thanks again

Katie Zeller said...

I bet your neighbor had a chuckle over your glut!
I love lasagne but rarely make the traditional 'heavy' version. This looks wonderful... My garden was an almost total washout this year...hardly enough basil for everyday let alone future pesto...maybe next year.

Lynne Daley said...

This looks wonderful!

cookiecrumb said...

Ha ha ha ha!
Guess they don't teach tomato ranchin' in med school.

Anh said...

I am getting so hungry reading your post! Excellent recipe.

Anonymous said...

This looks gorgeous . . . I'll most certainly give it a try. I've got a recipe for herb pesto here if you've ever got a surfeit of random herb.

If it makes you feel better about overplanting your first garden . . . we moved the August we planted our first garden (I'd started everything from seed . . . waaaay too much, seedlings under lamps all over the house that I couldn't bring myself to toss) and couldn't bear to leave the bounty behind. So we dug everything up and replanted them in giant black plastic pots and rented a U-haul for the sole purpose of moving our garden to our new house. Insanity.

Vicki said...

Someone told me once that if you're going to freeze pesto, don't put in the parmesan before freezing, otherwise it'll taste funny. I've always done it that way, so I don't know if that someone was right...?

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous looking lasagna and what a particularly mouth-watering picture! (Can you tell what a lasagna fan I am?)

I think fresh pasta makes a huge difference in lasagna -- it's much less heavy. And the way you bake, or, rather, don't bake, the lasagna is a great idea and one that I don't think I've ever seen before. I also love your use of eggplant in the lasagna. Sounds like a wonderful lasagna to me.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm not usually a lasagna fan, purely because I find them to be too rich, stodgy and heavy for me...but I definitely reckon I could give your fresher, lighter version a very hearty try :D

Anonymous said...

I love pesto and lasagna. I also love your blog.

Suzie Eller

Meeta K. Wolff said...

A lovely fresh idea Susan. I got a pasta machine for my birthday and unfortunately it is still sitting in it's box!! I just have not found the inspiration. Until now. I wish I could hug you because guess what I'll be making this weekend!

Amy said...

Oh wow I can only imagine what those huge and bountiful plants looked like. I want to grow tomatoes next year, but I think the Seattle summers are too short for them.

Anonymous said...

What a exciting garden adventure you guys had! Wow...I can only imagine...all I have is a little pot of thyme! Hehe :)

That lasagna looks wonderful! I love individual servings :)

Glenna said...

24 plants? I laughed out loud. That's fabulous. Thanks for telling the story!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Love your story about the garden -- in the first year in my new herb garden, I planted 30 basil plants, because for the first time in my life I had the room to do it. Well, by the end of the winter I was so sick of eating pesto! Now I'm down to a dozen plants, and I'm still giving pesto away to anyone who will take it. Next year, one six-pack of basil plants, tops....

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Tim-Aw, I appreciate that.

Bradley-I like that, "free form lasagna." Thanks!

Joanna-None! We just moved into a high rise with a small patio, so it's just a couple of potted herbs now.

Asha-Oh, yum, walnut pesto sounds fabulous.

Abby-No, but they should start offering one!

Shn-Oh, yes, it's fine to freeze it with cheese. I put mine in very small plastic containers, cover the tops with olive oil, and freeze them. Then I just toss the container when I've used it.

Katiez-This version is a lighter, healthier departure for a change.


Cookiecrumb-Nope. Think they might be open to adding it to the course listing if I send them this post? ;)

Anh-Oh, thanks!

Swirlingnotions-Wow! That's impressive! Did everything survive?

Vicki-I've never had any trouble freezing it with the cheese.

Julie-I appreciate your kind words. I just love the slightly smoky eggplant flavor.

Ellie-It is much lighter, so you don't feel stuffed after you eat it.

Suzie-Thanks! I'm so happy to hear it!

Meeta-Yeh! Have fun with your new machine!

Amy-Maybe 24 plants aren't such a bad idea in Seattle then! ;)

Joey-Guests love individual lasagna too; then they get to eat a "whole" lasagna. ;)

Glenna-Good! I'm glad it made you laugh.

Lydia-That's a great story! There is something so alluring open that open space that makes you want to plant much more than you need. :)

Anonymous said...

When I make pesto I measure my amount into a baggie, lay it on its side and moosh the pesto flat so that no oxygen can get into the bag. Then I freeze it flat. Once it's solid, they stand or stack really well, and because its so thin, it takes only a few minutes to thaw, making it a super good deal for a quick dinner.

I saute my garlic too....fresh garlic is just too overpowering. I don't need to ward off vampires.

This dish, as always Susan, looks amazing. Man do I wish you lived in MN! I could pick a perfect wine for that!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely divine!

I have to admit - your 24 tomato plants and 4 1/2 ft tall basil gave me quite a chuckle ;-)

s'kat said...

I was craving a pasta/pesto combination last night, but couldn't talk my husband into it.

I take your posting as a sign- there will be pesto pasta this weekend!!

Matt said...

that's just pretty. it looks great!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I love the idea of individual lasagnas! Here's to a massive tomato harvest!

thepassionatecook said...

i'm the same with my pesto: always toast the pine nuts! i don't sautee the garlic, but i achieve a mellower taste by putting the pine nuts in the food processor straight after toasting while they're still hot and press the garlic into it - it'll "cook" while the pine nuts are ground.
i wen to the local nursery this spring and thought that'd be something educational for Max (3) - the 3 straberries i had put on the garden table while i was making lunch succumbed to a hungry quirrel who ate all of the roots! of the two tomato plants, only one survived and it's bearing some fruit - no nearly enough for an army, but then again, i didn't plant it out either, after the disappointment with the strwberries it remained on the window-sill... maybe i should have done more chatting ;-)

Madame K said...

Susan, this is the kind of food I like to eat in my jammies, in front of a fine Netflix selection. If only!

Our first garden was in Miami. We made a raised bed and planted out our tomatoes in November (Florida summertime). I wanted to go all organic, and before you could say "caterpillar" my plants were attacked by every insect known to the sub-tropics. We did manage to get a few tomatoes, but it was basically a big disappointment.

Nora B. said...

Another enjoyable read, Susan. I wish I had your garden. Mine is a small patch near the entrance because we live in an apartment. This recipe sounds terrific and I don't mind putting in some time for such wonderful results like yours.

I also like toasting pine nuts before using it in pesto. I've also used roasted garlic, which adds a depth and slightly sweet tinge to the pesto. I also replace pine nuts with walnuts sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I remember planting our first tomatoes. They grew and grew. Never did it again...our friend has a lot and just shares her tomatoes. Now that pesto lasagna looks so inviting and delicious I don't mind having one right now.

Truffle said...

oh my! This sounds absolutely heavenly. Looks beautiful too.

Wendy said...

A very elegant dish. Gorgeous.
Laughed lots at the "maters" story too! :)

bazu said...

I love the story about your garden in North Carolina! I wouldn't mind having an obscene number of tomatoes to play with. So far, we've had 2 summers in Syracuse, and not much luck in the garden department. Our basil is doing well, however, so there will be frozen pesto in our future!

Lisa Johnson said...

Oh yum! I'm going out to dinner tonight and hope I can have something like this!

Stella said...

Hi Susan,
that's a wonderful lasagna you've made & I love the fresh look of it!
Plus, I've never had any lasagna with pesto, I bet it's finger licking good=)

Anonymous said...

What a lovely lasagna recipe. Fresh and light!

sra said...

Your lasagne sheet's a revelation - it looks almost lacy and delicate!

Sig said...

hehe wish u had a picture of that tomato plantation.... :)
That lasagna picture looks superb susan... and a great recipe too!

MeloMeals said...

Absolute perfection... seriously..

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Fantastic! Both the lasagna and the garden/tomato story. I think we planted 12 plants one year in some boxes my husband make and had well over 1200 tomatoes that summer! It's unreal to think about how many 24 healthy plants would produce. I love that my basil gets to be huge!

Scribbit said...

Is there such a thing as a bad lasagna? Those look delicious!

Chris said...

This looks divine! I am a huge pesto fan - basil, parsley, arugula, or spinach! Speaking of...thanks for linking to my Spinach Fettucine with Spinach Pesto! Have a great week. :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Kate-I never thought to freeze it like that; good idea! And I agree, anything to make a quick delicious supper is high on my list. Vampires...hehehe. :)

Melissa-Glad I put a smile on your face!

S'kat-Hope your hubby enjoys it too!

Suburbangourmet-Oh, thanks!

TW-So will your guests!

Johnanna-Honestly, is there anything that squirrels won't eat? They are insatiable and impossible to outwit. I know...unfortunately, I speak from experience.

Karen-Oh, I hear ya. Insects are ferocious with the hot summers and mild winters in the South. We had some mysterious creature taking bites out of our veggies one year...never did discover what it was.

Nora-No more garden now; just some potted herbs, which is ok with me. I love the roasted garlic idea; I'll have to try that next time. It does give it a special sweetness, doesn't it?

Veron-We don't have anymore plants either; thank goodness for farmers' markets!

Truffles-Many thanks.

Wendy-I loved his accent. :)

Bazu-Happy pesto making!

Anali-If not, give me a holler. ;)

Valentina-I can attest that it is finger licking good. ;)

Bea-That's why I love it for the fall.

Sra- I really like them too; it's a nice change from traditional lasagna noodles.

Sig-I'm so glad you like the recipe.

Melody-Thank you!

Tanna-Wow! 1200! You must have made some neighbors happy! Basil seems to thrive even when neglected, doesn't it?

Michelle-Nope! :)

Chris-You're so welcome; it sounds fabulous!

Anonymous said...

oh food blogga, let me drag my lazy arse to the computer to say this is beautiful! mmmmm droooooling but i'm too hot to do anything about it....

Anonymous said...

What a riot -- trial by fire in the gardening department. But I bet you learned a lot, fast. Your conversation about the tomatoes sounds like ours, when we decided 50 asparagus plants was about right for a family of two. Ha! This lasagna sounds wonderful -- it has all my favorite things!

Chubbypanda said...

*sigh* I really want to start a garden. First, I need to buy a house.

... *sigh*

Deborah Dowd said...

Your dish looks so fabulous! I wish a glut of tomatoes was my problem, but the drought has not been kind!

Toni said...

I adore lasagna, but am too lazy to make it. This, however, looks fabulous! And pesto? Another favorite. I agree with you about toasting the pine nuts first - it gains a depth that way.

Oh, how I wish I had you as my nonna!

Anonymous said...

I just read your piece on Kitchen Window and loved it. The thing I miss most from moving to Long Beach from San Diego is Fins! I heard they closed recently, which is really sad because they had the best Shrimp Tacos. I'll try your recipe and see how it goes. Thanks for sharing it!

Kajal@aapplemint said...

hey susan , i simply love gardening, there no greater joy with harvesting your own produce and cooking it.And gardening is addicting ,I'm sure u've planted many more after that.I'v planted some basil too and within just 1 month its grown into a gigantic bush ! Another reason to make pesto ! how i just love it.

Trenting said...

I'm going to have to try this, I have so many of my parents garden tomatoes.. looks delish...

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Aria-This version shouldn't work up too much of a sweat. ;)

Christine-Wow! I've never tried asparagus, but that's quite a bounty!

Chubbypanda-I'm in a high rise now, so no more gardens for me either.

Deborah-It really makes you feel for farmers whose livelihoods depend on weather, doesn't it?

Toni-This is more of a Type B lasagna. ;)

Adnohr-Oh, many thanks! I don't know about Fins, but isn't it funny that I just moved from LB to SD!

Kate-Basil really takes on a life of its own, doesn't it?

Trenting-Hope you do!

Unknown said...

I just looked at this recipe again and thought - I have pesto in the freezer, I have tomato sauce in the freezer. Suddenly this recipe becomes quick and easy! (well okay, glossing over the work that already happened ;) Sounds like a lovely simple dinner for tonight to me :)

Jeanne said...

Mmmm that sounds so good! I adore pesto but I have never had much luck with growing basil (or tomatoes fer that matter) in the UK. We tend to get an infestation of blackfly & that kinda kills off the plants :( Love your story though. Reminds me of my dad who insisted, when he and my mom moved into my childhood home, on planting two saplings in each hole "in case one died". Needless to say nothing died and we had an impenetrable thicket of coral trees!!

Lore said...

I just adore eating pasta, any kind of pasta; that's all I need to keep walking.
I'll try your lasagna recipe as soon as possible, it's force is stronger than mine :). Thanks!

Anonymous said...

24 plants, you are blessed! Thank you for sharing such a detailed recipe!

Anonymous said...

Wow, just stumbled upon your post because I googled "lasagna with pesto". I LOVED how you started this out with that story. Especially since I just moved to West Virginia and the tomatoes seem to grow just as well here! Recipes prefaced with stories are so much better than just recipes. But your recipe sounds fab, probably does pretty well standing on it's own.
Keep up the good work, hopefully I'll meet your blog again.

Dazy said...

I'm making this tomorrow. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I hope you enjoy it, Dazy!

Anonymous said...

Pesto is my FAVORITE thing - I eat it all the time. My grandmother and I always make and freeze pesto, whenever the basil needs thinning. She has a forest of it!

Susan, I freeze mine topped with butter. I don't know why, olive oil seems to make more sense now, but butter is the way my grandmother always did it. Also, we sometimes freeze it in ice cube trays then pop the basil cubes out into a freezer bag - single servings!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

squeaker-I have never heard of butter on top, but I suppose it functions the same way, right? And if it worked for Grandma, then you know it's good.