Sunday, July 27, 2014

Zucchini Lasagna

The first time I read "zucchini lasagna", I probably gagged a little.  How does that even sound edible?  Welp, eating according to keto means no pasta, and I happen to really love pasta.  Why would someone tease me with zucchini in place of noodles?  I thought I was going to regret this, but desperate times called for desperate measures.  This is the how it went down.

First, the full ingredient list so you have everything in one spot.

  • olive oil
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 7 medium, ripe, on the vine tomatoes
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
  • 3 mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • half white onion (4 oz by weight)
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 12 oz ground pork 
  • 7 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 2-3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • cumin
  • dried Thai chili (optional)
  • dried oregano
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • dried basil

Zucchini Slices


Well, this is pretty straightforward.  I used a mandolin, and probably wouldn't make this dish without one.   (My mandolin of choice is a Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline which is absolutely beautiful in it's simplicity.  I've had it for about 3 years and it's still as sharp as can be.)


The primary problem with zucchini and lasagna is that zucchini is full of water.  If you don't take any precautions, and try combining zucchini with a meat sauce, you'll end up with a very soggy lasagna.  To combat this problem, simply slice your zucchini ahead of time, salt them, and lay them out to dry.  There are obviously several ways to do this, but here is my method.



You Need
  • at least 3 medium zucchini
  • salt
  • mandolin
  • cookie sheet
  • paper towels

Instructions



  1. slice zucchini with mandolin after trimming off the root edge.
  2. place all zucchini into a colander and lightly salt all slices.  make sure the colander ends up somewhere you're OK with water dripping;  I placed the colander inside a larger bowl.
  3. let them sit in the colander for a bit while you prepare the tomato sauce.
  4. once the tomato sauce is finished, remove the slices from the colander and layer them on the cookie sheet, with a layer of paper towels in between. 
    • one layer of zucchini slices, one layer of paper towels, one layer of zucchini slices, one layer of paper towels, etc.
  5. let the zucchini rest on the cookie sheet until it's time to construct the lasagna, and move onto preparing the meat sauce.

Pictures!



Tomato Sauce 


Every worthwhile pasta dish is built upon a spectacular sauce.  In the case of this lasagna, we need to create a red sauce to accompany our meat, cheese, and zucchini.   My take on tomato sauce is very straightforward: simple ingredients, simply prepared.

(everything will be blended together so these chops can be quick and easy.)


You Need


  • 7 medium, ripe, on the vine tomatoes, cut into fourths
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1tbsp roughly chopped parsley
    • I picked a few small branches from my parsley plant, but neglected to measure. this is a best guess
  • 3 mint leaves, roughly chopped
    • I was picking basil and parsley so I added some mint.
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp dried Thai chilis
    • optional -- I prefer a little kick to my marinara.
  • half white onion (4oz roughly chopped)
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste



Instructions


  1. heat the olive oil in a pot capable of holding all of the ingredients. 
    • I used a 3 quart saucepan
  2. once oil is heated, mix in the garlic, both onions, and celery. 
  3. mix in the dried oregano, chilis, and cumin, and saute until onions start to become translucent; usually around 5 minutes
  4. once onions are starting to get clear, lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes, basil, parsley and a pinch of salt & pepper.
    • I find it important to wait to add most of the salt & pepper until after everything is blended.  I have over-salted too many sauces by salting before I could taste everything together.
  5. cook covered for at least 15 minutes, but if you have more time, lower the temperature after 15 minutes and simmer for a few hours. 
  6. use an immersion blender and mix all ingredients until smooth. 
    • if you don't have an immersion blender, then you're going to need to mix these in the regular blender. it'll probably take a couple batches since the tomatoes will still be mostly solid. I would recommend, if it's at all possible, spending a few bucks on a simple immersion blender.  They're real time savers if you're going to be making any sort of sauces.
  7. lower the heat to your lowest setting, cover, and let the sauce simmer while you finish the rest of the dish.
    • In case you've forgotten, it's time to go back to your zucchini before moving to the meat sauce.  (step #4 of the zucchini instructions)

Meat Sauce

Well, in my opinion, lasagna really isn't lasagna without a meaty sauce.  I chose ground pork because it's what I had on hand, but any ground meat would work.  I spice the meat with complimentary spices like I normally would, except I add very little salt.  This goes back to the note above about not really salting the food until it's in the final form that will be on the plate.

You'll Need
  • 12 oz ground pork
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • pinch salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 cups tomato sauce from the earlier steps

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in the pan over medium heat
  2. Add the meat & stir in spices to break up the meat. 
  3. Cook until the meat about halfway cooked - about 3-4 minutes
  4. add about 1.5 cups of the tomato sauce and continue cooking over medium-low for another 5-7 minutes, reducing the sauce.
    • In the beginning of this recipe/blog post, I wrote about the water content of zucchini.  Although we're doing our best to eliminate a lot of that, we also need to take special care of our meat sauce in the same way.  In order to thicken the sauce, this additional reducing step is required to help avoid overly soggy lasagna.  
    • now is also the time to add the final touches of salt & pepper, and other spices you feel you may need.  this is the best stage to taste and adjust since everything is now together how you'll eat it on the finished plate.

Final Assembly

Finally!  This is the easy part.  

You'll need
  • pre-heated oven to 350 degrees
  • meat sauce from earlier
  • zucchini slices from earlier
  • 7 oz mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • oven-safe pan/dish 

Instructions

  1. Start by spraying your baking dish to help with not sticking
  2. add about 1-2 tbsp sauce to the bottom of the dish
  3. make two layers of zucchini on top of the sauce, alternating directions with each layer.  if you're using the same dish that I was, this ended up being 3 slices horizontal, and then 3 slices vertical.
  4. add mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese directly on top of the zucchini slices, and then add a couple tablespoons of meat sauce, followed by zucchini again.
    • I'd estimate about 1.5 oz of mozzarella on the bottom layers so that you have a little extra for the top.  I only added the Parmesan cheese on the first and last layer.  I was afraid of the dish being too salty if I added too much.
    • I ended up with 4 layers of zucchini, so the bottom three layers had about 1.5 oz, which left 2.5 oz for the top.  This is my method, but maybe you want more cheese in the middle.  Adjust accordingly.
  5. continue layering in your preferred manner until the last of the meat sauce has been used.  
    • I ran out of meat sauce and cheese well before I ran out of zucchini slices
  6. once the layering has been finished, add the dried herbs to the top of the dish.  
    • I prefer adding a little more basil than oregano on top since there is a significant oregano flavor already.  Adjust according to your taste preference
  7. place baking dish/pan in oven, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes.  
This is the layering process






When it's all cooked up, it should look something like this





Thanks so much for reading.  Enjoy!

Weight loss & keto

In October of 2013, I decided that I'd had enough of my weight problems and embarked on a mission to actually fix it.  I've had some bumps along the road and erased previous gains a few times, but I didn't give up.  Over the past ~7 months, I've lost nearly 50 lbs and I've done it by eating more fat and eliminating carbohydrate. I've been eating what is referred to as a ketogenic diet (keto), which is eating primarily fat, with a moderate amount of protein and extremely limited carbohydrates.  A typical ratio of calories by fat, protein, and carbohydrate is 65, 30, and 5 percent respectively.  This means, on an average day I eat less than 30g of carbohydrate, and it's often less than 20g.  So far, I have not added any exercise to my daily plans, but that will come shortly.  I have planned on adding the gym after I've lost 60 pounds, which should be in a month or two.  Anyway, I will be posting recipes here that have helped me along the way.  This is the reason you won't see any grains, bread, sugar, fruit, or similar in the recipes.

A few articles or pages devoted to keto or keto principles, in case anyone is interested in further information.

A guide to ketosis

Diet Doctor's Guide to LCHF (low carb, high fat)

Time magazine's "The Truth About Fat"

Hello again..

Yea, I stopped updating my blog.  Yea, I'm going to try to post more.  No, I probably won't keep up like I should.  This blog thing is more work than it seems.

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