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Veggie lasagna layers season’s produce

Lasagna is one of my favorite make-ahead meals.

Anticipating soaring temperatures later in the week, I baked a big pan last night, intending to heat up single servings in the microwave when my enthusiasm for cooking started to wane. Had I only waited until today, with its unexpected rain shower, I could have kept the kitchen even cooler.

Why lasagna in summer? Simple. It’s delicious. And I had all the ingredients in my fridge and pantry. Tomato sauce and no-boil lasagna noodles are staples. But I also had picked up some bargain-priced ricotta in the past couple of weeks that wouldn’t keep forever. With garden-grown zucchini, eggplant and kale to be used, a vegetarian lasagna practically makes itself.

Lasagna as a concept — a flexible format — rather than a recipe, has been a topic of this blog over the years. I’ll reiterate from a November post that it’s the layers of noodles and ricotta, not what goes between them, that define lasagna in my mind.

So last night I crafted one of my most freeform lasagnas yet. I cut a large zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch planks and layered those with sauteed coins of Japanese eggplant. I didn’t have enough ricotta for more than one layer, so I composed the second layer of leftover mushroom paté that I had mixed with ricotta to take on a rafting trip last week. A few ounces of leftover silken tofu kept that layer creamy.

For the sauce, I seasoned a can of Muir Glen organic tomato sauce with salt, sugar, dried oregano and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I’ve taken to skipping the fancy jarred pasta sauces over the years for their cost and the fact that they all taste pretty much the same — and not much better than what I can make at home from essentially plain tomatoes.

The following recipe from Tribune News Service uses much the same approach for a vegetable-laden lasagna that could accommodate almost any seasonal produce. Make it today, so the kitchen stays cool!

Tribune News Service photo

3 Cheese Kale Lasagna

2 tablespoons butter

1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes

1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1/2 peeled onion

Generous pinch of red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt, to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream, or more to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

8 ounces mushrooms (any variety), sliced

Pepper, to taste

1 bunch Tuscan kale, destemmed and chopped

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top

Zest of 1 fresh lemon

12 cooked or no-boil lasagna noodles

16 ounces grated mozzarella cheese

Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the whole and crushed tomatoes, along with the onion wedge, red pepper flakes and salt.

Bring tomatoes to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing large pieces of tomato with a fork or spoon.

Remove onion wedge, stir in the cream and season with additional salt or pepper flakes, if needed. Keep warm.

While sauce is cooking, make cheese filling. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, egg, grated Parmesan, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn it. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, until mushrooms are lightly browned. Add the kale and saute for 5 minutes, or until kale has softened. Set aside to cool slightly.

Ladle about 1 cup tomato cream sauce into bottom of a 9-by-12-inch lasagna pan and spread so it completely covers bottom. Lay 4 lasagna noodles on top of sauce.

Pour another 3/4 to 1 cup tomato sauce on top of noodles (depending on how saucy you like your pasta) and spread with a spatula or spoon to cover.

Layer half of kale mixture over noodles, then dollop 1/3 of ricotta mixture on top, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat with 4 more noodles, sauce, kale, ricotta mixture and mozzarella cheese.

Add a final layer of lasagna noodles and top with remaining tomato sauce and remaining ricotta and mozzarella cheese. If desired, sprinkle a little grated Parmesan on top along with finely chopped parsley.

Cover pan with foil and bake lasagna in preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until top cheese is melted and golden.

Remove from oven; let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.