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Frozen peas surprise in lasagna

Meatballs keep the protein front and center in one of my family’s favorite meals.

When it comes to another Italian classic, lasagna, I’m more inclined to stretch small amounts of meat with veggies — or leave out protein altogether. Because lasagna is so flexible, I keep ricotta and no-boil lasagna noodles on hand, ready for layering with seasonal produce. In wintertime, that often entails kale, collards or other hardy greens, as well as winter squash.

But when a true Italian cook sanctions an ingredient I never would consider for lasagna, I’m all for it. Celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich came up with this skillet lasagna for her latest cookbook using essentially pantry staples, in lieu of homemade pasta and sauce.

Frozen peas are Lidia’s surprise ingredient that I feel compelled to try. Of course, she acknowledges that a bit of crumbled Italian sausage or sautéed mushrooms could be added. I’m leaning toward some bacon lardons with the peas, which are a mainstay of my freezer.

Tribune News Service photo

Skillet Lasagna

Extra-virgin olive oil, for coating skillet

3 1/4 cups marinara sauce, homemade or store-bought

1 cup fresh ricotta

1 cup shredded low-moisture mozzarella, divided

1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup frozen baby peas

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Kosher salt, to taste

Red pepper flakes, to taste

12 sheet no-boil (oven ready) lasagna

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add enough of the olive oil to make a thin film on the bottom of the skillet. Add 1 3/4 cups of the marinara with 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, 1/4 cup of the grated Grana Padano, the egg, peas and parsley. Season with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and mix well.

Layer 3 of the noodles in skillet over sauce. (Ends may need to be broken to fit.) Dollop 1/3 of ricotta mixture on top of pasta in skillet, and spread it out to cover noodles; then drizzle with 1/4 cup tomato sauce. Make 2 more layers, ending with noodles. Drizzle with remaining 1 1/2 cups sauce. Top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup grated cheese.

Cover skillet and simmer until pasta is al dente (test by piercing center with a paring knife), for 20 to 25 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup grated cheese on top and broil lasagna until top is nicely browned, for about 1 minute.

Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving so lasagna will settle and portions can be cut more easily.

Makes 4 servings.

"Recipe from Lidia's A Pot, A Pan and A Bowl" by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, October 2021).