Besides the constant stream of birthday dinners that have been happening all of July, summer has gone off without a hitch. My siblings came back home for a while and left the house (mostly) unscathed. It was fairly strange to all be living under one roof again. But it did prove one thing, you are never too old for petty annoyance tactics. My extended family has also gotten together for several meals, days at the cabin, etc. And school has been…. like being in school during beautiful summer weather. I think enough is said about that.
With all of these big family meals, I have basically had to force myself to break out of my usual meals and really create some epic dishes. Not only are there allergies and different diet restrictions galore in my family, but the appetites of these people. Watch out! Since it is usually just my parents and I, rarely do we have to worry about there being enough food. But with brothers and sisters and grandparents and cousins, I have really had to step up the game. Which is good news for all of you because now you get to reap the rewards of these tested and approved recipes.
This past week, even though the ol’ thermostat has been topping off in the high 90s, I was really craving hot and warm meals almost every day. One of my favorite kinds of warm meals has been Italian food. Anytime I have it, it just tastes like pure comfort food. The only downfall of regular Italian food is the richness of it leaves you feeling so stuffed you can barely move. So I opted for a healthy version that actually aids your digestion instead of hinders it and still has all of the decadence of regular Italian food, including the much-desired nap after eating it.
Instead of using a gluten-free pasta or one of those bean pastas, I went the ultimate health route and used eggplant and zucchini for my noodles. Since this recipe is so simple to start with I wanted to use both to give it a little more variety. Before testing this recipe for the first time, I was a bit worried because I have never been the biggest of eggplant fans. However, because of this dish, I realized a lot of restaurants just aren’t cooking it enough which gives eggplants that styrofoamy taste and texture. While reading up on eggplants I also saw that some people swear by dabbing the extra moisture off vegetables like eggplants and zucchinis when using them as noodles, but when I did it I felt that the dish became way too dry. So, in this case, I would recommend saving a couple of extra paper towels and leaving the extra moisture.
If you have never made a ‘green lasagna’ before you may think there’s not enough rinotta and pesto for the amount of ‘noodles’ in this recipe, but trust me when I say, less is more. You definitely shouldn’t be absolutely covering the pasta like you would with a red lasagna recipe. That being said, a few people in my family absolutely love red sauce and if that’s the same for you, you can either drizzle some over the top of the dish or serve it on the side as a kind of dipping sauce.
And finally for the nutritional rundown of this dish, since Italian food always seems to be the kind of thing that throws my gut health all out of wack, I really wanted to focus on that for this dish. For starters, there is no dairy in this recipe (as usual) and so to keep the pesto rich, I used fresh basil and walnuts. While basil helps prevent an inflammatory response in the digestive system and keep the body at a proper pH level, walnuts have been shown to increase good bacteria strains in the gut to help more easily digest food. The ‘noodles’ in this recipe also pack a punch for your digestion, both zucchini and eggplant contain a good dose of fiber which is not only essential to your gut health but helps improve the absorption of nutrients when digesting food. And last of all, zucchini also has anti-inflammatory properties, like the basil, to really help soothe your digestive system and leave it happy after this meal.
Often times rich and flavorful meals mean absolute havoc for your digestive system. But you shouldn't have to choose between delicious meals and your gut health. So I came up with this rich and decadent lasagna recipe that is gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free and tastes absolutely fantastic. Eggplants, zucchinis, basil, cashews. Each ingredient is filled with important nutrients for your overall health but more importantly to soothe any potential rumblings in your stomach while you're still enjoying the same rich Italian food you love.
- 2 eggplants
- 3-4 zucchini
- 4 handfuls spinach
- 3 cups fresh basil
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 4 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- To taste salt & pepper
- 3 cups raw cashews, soaked for 3 hours
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp almond milk, original unsweetened
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- To flavor, salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice off the top of the zucchini and eggplants (where the stem would be). Slice both the eggplant and zucchini the long way into 1/4 inch thick slices so that they resemble lasagna noodles.
Spray a baking sheet and lay out the eggplant and zucchini, making sure not to overlap. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top and place the sheets into the oven. Cook for 15 minutes.
In a food processor, add basil, walnuts, garlic, olive oil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. Remove from the food processor and set aside.
In a food processor, add soaked cashews, olive oil, almond milk, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until a thick creamy consistency is reached and there are no chunks of cashews remaining. Remove from the food processor and set aside.
In a 9x13 dish, lay down a layer of eggplant until the bottom of the dish is covered (not overlapping any of the eggplant slices). Spread a thin layer of the pesto mixture over the eggplant, making sure that the eggplant beneath can still be seen through the layer. Break up the rinotta into small pieces and sprinkle over the layer of pesto, leaving plenty of space between the pieces. Spread out a handful of spinach over the ricotta into an even layer. Cover all of the spinach completely with a layer of zucchini slices as was down on the bottom with the eggplant.
Repeat this process alternating between eggplant and zucchini layers as the noodles. It should end up being three layers of eggplant and two layers of zucchini.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place into the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove aluminum foil and allow to cook for 25 more minutes.
Remove from oven, allow to cool, serve, and enjoy~
If you would like this recipe to be a last minute throw together kind of recipe, you can easily make the rinotta and pesto ahead of time and keep it in the freezer until you need it or make the entire dish and simply heat it up when you are ready to eat.