Lasagna Senza Formaggio
Lasagna Senza Formaggia… now doesn’t that just sound fancy! This is no ordinary lasagna and it certainly isn’t your grandma’s lasagna. Lasagna, for me, is one of the most perfect winter comfort foods, a true labor of love. I’ve created this lasagna with many veggies blended into the sauce as well as into the ricotta layer. Oh, before I forget, the direct Italian to English translation of Lasagna Senza Formaggia is Lasagna Without Cheese. Yes, this is indeed a completely dairy free lasagna.
Now before you freak out about trying a dairy free lasagna (how can there possibly be lasagna with no cheese?!?!), I used to be a cheese-a-holic. Even the thought of making a beloved lasagna without a hint of dairy was incredibly intimidating. When you decide to let go of preconceptions on what certain foods are “supposed” to be made of, amazing things happen. Like this intensely flavored, herb-ilicious, veggie-loaded, dairy free lasagna senza formaggio. Many dairy free lasagna recipes simply substitute soy based ricotta or cheeses. I personally find soy cheese pretty un-appetizing and not very flavorful. Not to mention that most soy is GMO and contains plant estrogens that can cause havoc on your system. Other dairy free lasagna recipes contain a very delicious cashew cream that mimics the texture of ricotta. Since my son is allergic to nuts, that wasn’t going to be an option either. Enter, the humble cauliflower. Cauliflower is the BEST vegetable for this sort of application. It’s nutritionally superior, blends to a perfect ricotta like consistency and it’s the great chameleon of veggies being able to take on the flavor of whatever you mix it with so the flavor of cauliflower is barely noticeable if even at all.
This lasagna begins like a traditional lasagna with a homemade tomato marinara. Into this marinara, I combined just a bit of squash puree to enhance both the flavor and nutrient profile. Add to that, traditional Italian spices and some olives and you have the perfect flavorful sauce. I used brown rice noodles (no boil) to make it gluten free. You could use almond flour based noodles or eggplant slices to make it paleo as well.
Next comes our cauliflower ricotta layer. My good friend was gracious enough to test this recipe out for me and chose to roast the cauliflower which I think was the perfect suggestion. You can steam it if you prefer but the roasting brings out the nuttiness while diminishing the extreme cauliflower flavor that can sometimes occur with steaming. While the cauliflower is roasting, sauté some shitake mushrooms (crimini would also be lovely) with garlic until the mushrooms give up most of their moisture and the garlic is fragrant. Then toss the roasted cauliflower together with the mushrooms, garlic , eggs, salt and broth and puree with a stick blender. Alternately, you can put them all in a regular blender and puree as well. The layers then come together just like any other lasagna alternating sauce with noodles, Italian sausage, and the cauliflower ricotta.
My next challenge was what to top this dairy free lasagna with. Just leaving it with the sauce on top seemed boring. So, I sliced three stoplight bell peppers into rings and layered them overtop for a nice presentation. To get a slight char on the peppers, turn on the broiler for the last ten minutes of baking and you’ll get perfect roasted pepper perfection.
And for the last challenge, to see if this lasagna was everything I ever wanted it to be and to pass the my-kids-will-eat-it test. I’ve very proud to say my kids as well as my taste-tester friend and husband all claim this dairy free lasagna is as good if not BETTER than traditional cheesy lasagnas! Happy dance! Of course, if you choose to add a small amount of parmesan to the cauliflower layer or top it with a smidge of mozzarella, I think it would make for a delicious addition as well.
As a bonus, you can freeze this lasagna too so make two and freeze one for later. Bake it, let it cool completely, then cover with a layer of plastic wrap followed by two layers of aluminum foil. Freeze up to 2 months. To cook, let it unthaw until the center is no longer frozen but still cool and bake for about 45 min to an hour to reheat fully.
- 1 box brown rice lasagna noodles (or other noodles of choice)
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed
- 1 medium onion, diced
- CAULIFLOWER RICOTTA LAYER:
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 8 ounces shitake or crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup broth of any kind
- 2 eggs
- MARINARA SAUCE:
- 2 large cans (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup squash or pumpkin puree (about 1 acorn squash, roasted and pureed)
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon rosemary
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup olives, chopped
- ¼ cup olive brine
- 3 bell peppers - 1 each of green, red and yellow
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Break apart cauliflower into florets and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and roast 40 minutes, turning once halfway through.
- While cauliflower is roasting, brown sausage in pan with fennel and onion and drain excess fat. Set aside.
- In separate frying pan, sauté mushrooms with garlic until mushrooms have given up most of their moisture.
- Add roasted cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, salt, broth and eggs into a bowl and blend with a stick blender or place in regular blender and pulse until mixture resembles ricotta. Set aside.
- For marinara sauce, combine all sauce ingredients in a bowl or saucepan and mix well.
- Lightly grease a 9x13 pan with olive oil. Have your bowls of sauce, cauliflower ricotta and sausage handy along with the noodles. Layer as follows: 2 cups sauce, 4 noodles, ½ of the ricotta mixture, ½ of the sausage, 2 cups sauce, 4 noodles, last ½ of the ricotta mixture, last ½ of the sausage, 2 cups sauce, 4 noodles, remaining sauce (approx. 2 cups).
- Slice three bell peppers and layer on top.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove foil and turn on broiler for 10 additional minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes before serving.
Also delicious if you add ½ cup parmesan or manchego to the cauliflower ricotta mixture. Can be topped with mozzarella as well for any who wish to add a little cheese.
You can freeze this by letting it cool completely after baking. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap, then 2 layers of aluminum foil. Freeze up to 2 months. To reheat, let thaw until center is no longer frozen but still cool and bake at 350 degrees about 45 min to 1 hour until hot throughout.