The secret to this homemade vegetarian lasagna is the addition of fresh noodles from scratch. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

The secret to this homemade vegetarian lasagna is the addition of fresh noodles from scratch. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

On the strawberry patch: The secret’s in the noodles

Handmade pasta adds layers of flavor to vegetable lasagna

The secret to amazing lasagna is to make the pasta yourself.

I know, I know — lasagna is a ton of work as it is. But for me, using store bought noodles (even the “ready to bake” variety) always results in a disappointing dish with layers that slide around and fall apart. Many layers of paper-thin pasta tend to hold together better and, since you’re making it from scratch, you can get creative and add extra flavor and nutrition to the dish by using unconventional pastas like spinach, roasted red pepper or sweet potato.

My version is vegetarian, but if you want to add some meat, you might brown ½ pound of sweet or spicy Italian sausage and include it in the interior mozzarella/tomato sauce layers. This recipe makes dinner for 4 plus leftovers.

Ingredients:

For the sweet potato pasta

1 cup sweet potato puree

1 egg

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour (more or less)

For the filling

2 cups fresh chopped spinach

1 ½ cups cottage cheese

1 ½ pounds shredded mozzarella

½ cup shredded Parmesan

1 large zucchini

1 large yellow squash

6 large garlic cloves, minced

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

1 tablespoon dry Italian seasoning

Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:

Mix your sweet potato puree, salt and egg.

Add flour in stages and knead until a smooth ball forms. The dough should be tacky but not wet. Dust in flour and wrap tightly in plastic. Allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

While your pasta is resting, slice your squash (use a mandolin, if you have one) lengthwise into very thin strips. Roast at 400°F on parchment lined baking sheets for 5-7 minutes, until the squash is soft. Remove from oven.

Thoroughly mix your spinach and cottage cheese. If you like black pepper, this is where to add it.

Sautee your garlic in olive oil until browned, then pour on your tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Add your Italian seasoning and turn off the heat.

By the time your ingredients are assembled and completely cool, the pasta will be ready to roll.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Knead your dough one more time then divide into 8 equal portions, roll into balls and cover with a towel.

Coat the bottom of your pan (I used a 10-inch, round springform pan) with a thin layer of tomato sauce.

Roll one pasta dough ball out into a very thin round and lay in the bottom of the pan. There will be enough moisture and heat to cook the pasta as it bakes — no need to cook the raw pasta before assembling.

Carefully arrange your roasted zucchini into a thin layer, top with ¼ cup Parmesan, and cover with next pasta layer.

Spread 1⁄3 of the spinach and cottage cheese out in an even layer, top with next pasta layer.

Spread out 1⁄3 of the mozzarella into an even layer then cover with tomato sauce, top with next pasta layer.

Arrange your roasted yellow squash, top with ¼ cup Parmesan, then cover with next pasta layer.

Next is another layer of spinach and cottage cheese.

The next layer is mozzarella and tomato sauce.

The final layer is spinach and cottage cheese again.

Cover with the last round of pasta, then top with the remaining tomato sauce and mozzarella.

Cover the pan tightly in foil and bake at 325°F for 1 hour.

Uncover and bake for another 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 30 more minutes before cutting in.

Tressa Dale is a culinary and pastry school graduate and U.S. Navy veteran from Anchorage. She lives in Nikiski with her husband, 2-year-old son and two black cats.

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