"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart." -Cesar Chavez
If you plan on making this lasagna, give yourself three hours to prepare before your guests arrive, or make sure you have enough wine, cheese, bread, and salami to keep them at bay while you prepare. This recipe takes at least an hour to prepare, 1:30 to baking, and 20-30 minutes to cool before it’s served. This is the kind of meal you should make when you’re going to be home all day and have dinner guests arriving in the evening. Lindsey and I made this lasagna on Valentine’s Day, and we didn’t start until 8 and took the lasagna out to cool at 11:26 pm. It was worth it.
But it’s one of the best lasagna’s I’ve ever tasted, and it’s enough food to feed a small army. Well, perhaps not a whole Army, but definitely enough for a small squad or fire team.
Start by mixing the pepper, nutmeg, and ginger together in a small bowl and setting it aside.
Then, in a deep pot (stock pot, Dutch oven, whatever you’ve got), heat the olive oil and then throw in the onion. Cook it for about five minutes on medium-high uncovered, then lower to medium-low, add the garlic, and cover. Let it sit there for another five minutes. Add the two cans (1 each) of diced and crushed tomatoes and then stir in the spice mixture.
Now raise the heat to medium-high until the sauce begins boiling, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15-20.
Set your oven to broil, then chop the three red bell peppers by slicing off the top and bottom of the pepper, and then slicing it down one side. Flatten the pepper, remove the seeds and core, and lay it flat on a baking sheet, skins up. Place in the oven and broil until the skins are blackened but not burnt. Then place the peppers in a paper bag, close the bag and set aside.
Rinse it, steam it for 5 minutes (in batches), squeeze the water out, then finely chop it and set it aside. Easy.
Cut the tofu into about 8 pieces. Squeeze the moisture out of each piece, and place it in a medium-sized bowl. It should look like—but not probably not taste like—cottage cheese. If it tastes like cottage cheese, go back to the beginning of the recipe and completely start over. If it just looks like cottage cheese, then stir in the ricotta, egg whites, Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, salt, and pepper. Whip it up real nice now.
Assembling the Lasagna:
Preheat the oven to 350⁰. Cover the bottom of a 3-inch deep, 9 x 13-inch baking dish with 4 cups of the tomato sauce. Place three noodles on top of the sauce, then cover the noodles with half of the roasted bell peppers. It’s okay to have gaps. Cover the peppers with half of the spinach, pull apart the clumps. Again, there will be gaps. Sprinkle half of the garlic evenly over the spinach. Now spread half of the cheese mixture on top of the spinach with the back of the spoon, gently spread the cheese as much as possible without pulling up the spinach–this was the hardest part of assembling the lasagna. There will be some spaces—that’s okay. Top with another layer of the noodles, and then the remaining peppers, spinach, garlic and cheese mixture. Cover with the remaining 3 noodles. Spread the remaining 4 cups tomato sauce over the top. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.
Bake for 1:15, then uncover the lasagna. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella evenly over the top. Replace the foil, and continue to bake for 15 more minutes, until the pasta is soft and the cheese on top is melted.
Remove the lasagna and cool for 20 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).