Light & luscious lasagna: this delicious dish is full of veggies and low in fat

When I think of a fattening food, lasagna is one of the first that comes to mind. Typically, it’s oozing with cheese, sitting in a faint remnant of sausage drippings. This created an interesting challenge in the kitchen-reduce the calories and fat, while improving the overall nutrient content!

First I deciphered the most offending foods in the dish. Cheese is usually used in large quantities and varieties: ricotta, mozzarella for layering, and some Parmesan just for good measure. A near elimination of all three would drastically reduce the fat and calories, but I had to leave some for flavor.

Let’s start with the ricotta filling. I got rid of the ricotta altogether and used fat-free cottage cheese instead. Although both can be found in fat-free varieties, the cottage cheese is a little moister, which made it easier to spread. I also think fat-free cottage cheese tastes better than fat-free ricotta, and it still provides a good source of protein and calcium.

Most lasagna dishes call for approximately 4 cups of mozzarella cheese, but mixing just I cup of low-fat mozzarella with some shredded zucchini worked beautifully to add flavor and help bind the dish together. Mozzarella is already considered a lower-fat cheese, but I decreased the fat even more with the reduced-fat version. I also decreased the parmesan, leaving just enough for flavor.

Boosting the dish’s nutrient content with vegetables was tricky because the flavors need to blend well. I used veggies often found in Italian dishes, like eggplant, zucchini and spinach. Carrots or broccoli probably wouldn’t have worked as well. The spinach adds nutrients like folate and calcium, the mushrooms provide some zinc, and the tomato sauce provides a good dose of Vitamin C and lycopene.

Since fat is a major flavor-enhancer in any recipe, recipes designed to be low in fat need to have flavor added back from other sources. This is where fresh basil comes in. If fresh isn’t available, you could add half a teaspoon dried basil to the tomato sauce mixture, but fresh is really better. Balsamic vinegar is a standby flavor-enhancer for me because it adds zip without adding fat or sodium.

Breakfast sausage lends a bit of authentic taste to the dish because of the subtle meat flavor and spices. I used only 5 ounces, but the flavor was apparent. Originally, I planned to use a soy breakfast sausage, but the fat content was a little higher than the turkey sausage and the protein content was a tad lower. If you prefer vegetarian sausage, soy would probably work just as well.

Convenience was an important factor when making this recipe. Typically, lasagna is some what labor-intensive, and most of your time here will be spent chopping, shredding and slicing the vegetables. The no-cook noodles decrease prep time, as does the prepared spaghetti sauce. Use whatever sauce you like, but choose one with plenty of seasonings. If you can’t find no-cook noodles, use regular lasagna noodles but add an extra three-quarters cup of tomato sauce. The noodles will bake well without pre-boiling, but it’s important to include enough moisture.

This recipe takes about 40 minutes to prepare, but it can save you time in the long run-you’ll have at least one day of leftovers! Besides, any lasagna tastes better the following day.

LIGHTER & LEANER LASAGNA

SAUCE:

  • 1/4 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 brown onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 oz. low-fat breakfast turkey sausage (we used Healthy Choice), chopped
  • 31/2-4 cups spaghetti sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

FILLING:

  • 2 cups Fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cups shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
  • 12 pieces no-cook lasagna pasta
  • 12-14 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 eggplant, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a saucepan, heat olive oil and cook onion until soft, then add garlic. Add sausage and cook until browned. Add spaghetti sauce and vinegar, heat for about a minute and set aside. In a separate bowl mix together cottage cheese, egg whites, nutmeg and pepper; set aside. In another bowl mix together zucchini and mozzarella cheese and set aside.

In the bottom of a 9×13-inch pan, evenly spread 1 cup of spaghetti sauce. Lay 3 pieces of pasta on the sauce without overlapping. Now layer 1/2 cup cottage-cheese mixture, all basil leaves, mushrooms and 1 cup sauce. Follow with layers of 1 cup zucchini/mozzarella mixture, 3 pieces pasta, 1 cup cottage-cheese mixture and eggplant. Again layer 1 cup spaghetti sauce, 1 cup zucchini/mozzarella mixture, 3 pieces pasta, then 1/2 cup cottage-cheese mixture. Spread the spinach evenly, then top with 1 cup zucchini/mozzarella. Lay down the remaining 3 pieces of pasta, then the remaining sauce, followed by the rest of the zucchini/mozzarella mixture. Top with parmesan cheese.

Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake 35 minutes; uncover and cook another 20 minutes or until bubbly. Let dish cool 10-15 minutes before serving. Makes eight servings. Per serving: 267 calories, 22 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat.

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