September 5, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

My parents are very typical of their age group when it comes to food, in that they’re all about the meat & potatoes. They also know what they like, and don’t like for anyone to mess with it.  I cook dinner for them just about every Sunday, and tend to menu ‘comfort’, staying away from too many experiments. Except for vegetables-but that’s another story for another day!

So when dad requested lasagna a couple weeks ago, it was with some trepidation that I took upon the task of lightening up the recipe I’ve used for many years. It’s full of fat, with ground beef, Italian sausage (the pork kind) and full fat cheeses. It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong, but a single serving is enough fat & calories for a week!

Breaking it down:

The Sauce: the healthiest part of the dish! I’ll admit to cheating when it comes to sauce. Barilla brand marinara & arrabbiata sauces, mixed together in equal portions, along with lots of onion & garlic sautéed in evoo, is the perfect sauce for any Italian dish! 
The Noodles: Dad request came about not long after I found a cool lasagna recipe that uses raw zucchini planks in place of the noodles. 

The Meat: I figured the ground beef was extraneous, so just deleted it. I figured a turkey or chicken based sausage would help get the calorie & fat content down a good bit over the pork sausage. I did add a little bit of fennel to the sauce while simmering it. It gave it that sweetness typical of traditional Italian sausage.

The Cheese: Skim version for the ricotta, a no-brainer. I also deleted the egg I’d always added to the ricotta to help bind it. The skim seemed pretty dense, so I didn’t think we’d  miss the egg. I splurged a bit on the shredded cheese. I got a ‘pizza blend’ with mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan & Romano. I checked the nutritional info, and it had the same amount of fat & calories as the skim mozzarella, so thought the blend would add a nice depth of flavor vs the plain mozz.

Now to put it all together and see how it turns out….

I decided I wouldn’t mention any of these changes to my folks until after they’d tried the lasagna, afraid it would bias their opinion. I let them get about half way through their dinner before asking how they liked it.  Both said it was delicious, although dad did stop with his fork halfway to his mouth when I mentioned that I’d “lightened it up a good bit”. He asked me how I’d done so-probably afraid I’d tell him I’d added tofu & weeds to it.

They seemed OK with the changes, in fact, hadn’t even noticed there was any difference from the original version. I knew they were being honest when dad asked for another slab… and said ‘yes’ immediately after I asked if they wanted the leftovers once I’d packaged & frozen them.

I thought it turned out pretty good too. I’ll absolutely keep the lightened up version as my lasagna recipe of choice. The only thing I’d do differently is roast or sear the squash first. Adding that little extra layer of flavor, and keeping the moisture down will make it so close to the original, I dare anyone to tell the difference!