When I have a special occasion and want to make a stunning feast, I will often turn to this dish. The initial inspiration came from the lasagne served at Union Square Cafe in New York and featured in their book The Union Square Cafe Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. While that recipe calls for goat cheese, eggs, and grated parmesan, I have, of course, veganized my version. My attempts to do so have evolved over time, but I think it is now pretty much perfected so I’m going to share it with you. And don’t worry, while it’s a bit labor-intensive, you won’t really be working for 3 days to get it into shape. The name came about because there is one step that requires you to plan ahead because something needs to sit for a few days to deepen the flavors.
As with many lasagne recipes, this one is comprised of a lot of components. Happily, they can all be made ahead, including the assembling of the dish, which is a great help for your festive occasion; since all you have to do on the night of your dinner party is pop it into the oven, you will be free to have fun with your guests.
Now for the components… let’s start with the one that gave it the title, the one that takes three days, namely the oven-dried tomatoes. These tomatoes are delicious, juicy, flavorful wonders that can be used in place of sun-dried tomatoes in any recipe, not just this one. You will need to get your hands on about 2 pounds of plum or Roma tomatoes and split them lengthwise. Place them on a baking sheet with their cut side up, sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt on them, and let them sit for an hour. Now put them into a preheated 200 degree oven and roast them for 5 to 6 hours, until they are dried but still plump (not shriveled and leathery like a store-bought sun-dried tomato). Once they have cooled to room temperature, put them in a storage vessel along with 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil, 2 fresh thyme sprigs, 1 fresh rosemary spring (cut in two), 3 sage leaves, and 3 cloves or garlic cloves, halved. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days before using. Note that these tomatoes will keep for up to 2 weeks if properly stored.
After they have done their thing in the refrigerator for a few days, they will look like this when you take them out and get ready to use them:
For this recipe, I make a tomato sauce from scratch. I start by simmering onion, zucchini, garlic, red bell pepper, and red pepper flakes in olive oil until soft and aromatic, about 25 minutes.
Next, add canned plum tomatoes and about 2 pounds of fresh tomatoes, along with fresh basil, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
Puree this mixture with an immersion blender and voila – your sauce.
You will need to make something to stand in for the traditional ricotta of lasagne (or in the case of this recipe, the goat cheese that Union Square Cafe used). My favorite vegan ricotta recipe is the tried and true one from Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I love how it performs in baked pasta recipes such as this one and definitely recommend it (it’s also in Veganomicon and available all over the internet), but feel free to use any recipe or product that you happen to love. If you go with the tofu ricotta, it will look like this:
The last time I made this lasagne, I had a bit of an extra degree of difficulty added to the recipe because one of my guests doesn’t eat soy, so I made a macadamia nut-based ricotta for her. Problematically, Mr. Man can’t eat many nuts, so this lasagne ended up being half nut-free and half soy-free. The macadamia ricotta recipe is from Allison Rivers Samson and here’s a link (note: the entire baked ziti recipe is divine, not just the ricotta!):
The next component is the Mozzarella Sauce from Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli. I adore this sauce (I could just about eat it with a spoon – it’s good on everything!), and I use it as a drizzle on top of the lasagne at the end. Because it is nut based, on this particular lasagne (as you will see later), I only drizzled it on half of the pan. But trust me, you’re going to want to slather it on everything! Because every single thing I’ve made from this book has been delicious, I absolutely recommend that you pick it up at your library or bookstore and play with it yourself. The mozzarella sauce recipe is on page 237 and involves cashews, lemon juice, salt, garlic, onion powder, cornstarch and magic.
The final components of the lasagne that require any effort are the veggies that will be layered throughout, specifically eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. Slice a large eggplant thinly and evenly, place the slices in a colander and salt both sides of each one. Place some kind of weight atop them and let them sit for at least 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly, pat dry and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil over the slices, sprinkle with black pepper, cover with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until very soft, about 20 minutes.
Cut one large zucchini into rounds and toss with olive oil, salt and black pepper. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Repeat with one large yellow squash. (Do not combine the two squashes as you will be layering them separately.)
Now it’s time for assembly:
Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with tomato sauce, then put a layer of lasagne on top of the sauce. (Note – I’ve used both no-bake lasagne sheets as well as lasagne that you need to boil first. Either is fine. You will just need to have the one of your choice on hand and ready to go at this point.) Spread more sauce on top of the lasagne, enough to cover it. Arrange a layer of eggplant (use half of your eggplant supply) and a layer of zucchini (this will be all of your zucchini) on the sauce. Next, spread half of your ricotta. As you can see below, half of this pan has the tofu ricotta (left), while the other half is macadamia ricotta (right).
Top this layer with some of the oven-dried tomatoes:
Beginning with a layer of pasta, repeat the above steps, only this time use up your yellow squash. You should have used up your eggplant, your ricotta and your tomatoes. Your final layer will be a layer of pasta, a covering of tomato sauce and a slathering of mozzarella sauce:
Cover the lasagne in foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. Here is the nut-based side, including the mozzarella sauce drizzle:
And here is the nut-free zone, with the tofu ricotta and no drizzle:
They’re both delicious, but my personal favorite way to build this dish is to mix everything together! Both kinds of ricotta (in alternate layers) with tons of the mozzarella sauce drizzle is heavenly, indeed. But just as I did, feel free to make this your own.
Since I don’t always have this much time and effort to spend on a meal, I am happy to report that I have also recently perfected what I’ve dubbed my “Everyday Lasagne,” which comes together quickly and easily. I will be posting that soon. In the meantime…