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Healthy Zucchini Lasagna Recipe

October 28, 2011 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

In the Fall of 2008 I adopted a gluten free, low carbohydrate diet in the hope of losing weight and achieving better overall health. The good news is that I’m currently 90 lbs. lighter than I was just three years ago. The hard part is that my journey has involved certain sacrifices. For instance, I haven’t even thought about eating a plate of lasagna since changing my diet and lifestyle. This is no easy feat for a foodie whose parents were both born and raised in Italy. A few months ago, that all changed. Mrs. Healthy Fellow decided to surprise me with lasagna for dinner. But, this wasn’t just any lasagna. My wife’s healthy version transformed traditional, pasta-layered lasagna into a wheat free, vegetable enriched feast for the senses.

Many consumers and some nutritionists still consider wheat-based pasta a health promoting food, especially when made from whole wheat. However, a careful review of the scientific literature reveals that there generally isn’t a major difference between how the body interprets refined and whole grain pastas. In fact, a little known secret is that food manufacturers are well aware that pasta isn’t exactly healthy. That’s why food scientists worldwide are testing all sorts of additives as a way of improving the nutritional profile of pasta. Here’s a partial list of some of the ingredients that you may find in pasta products in the near future: bean flour, Chlorella vulgaris (a microalgae), lupin kernal fiber and unripe banana flour. The goal behind most of these functional ingredients is to minimize the impact of pasta on blood sugar and insulin production. These natural additives also contribute antioxidants and essential nutrients to pasta based meals.

Healthy Fellow Zucchini Lasagna

2 large, organic zucchini
1 small, organic onion
4 hot or mild Italian sausage links
8 oz organic tomato sauce
12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
15 to 20 oz organic ricotta cheese
4 oz shredded asiago and/or parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. organic extra virgin olive oil
several sprigs fresh organic basil
organic salt & pepper to taste
organic red pepper flakes (optional)

Nutritional Content: Calories: 255. Protein: 20 grams. Fat: 17 grams. “Net” Carbohydrates: 5 grams. Fiber: 1 gram. Makes 12 pieces per batch.

Remove the stem from the end of the zucchini. Use a mandolin to thinly slice the zucchini lengthwise. Each slice should be about 1/16 ” thick. Lay slices out on paper towels to allow to dry out as much as possible.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Chop up the onion and remove the sausages from their casing. Pour 2 Tbs of olive oil into a pan over low-medium heat on the stove top. Add the onions and (crumbled) sausage to the heated oil, breaking it up as it cooks. Once cooked, remove sausage and onions from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl to cool.

Chop the fresh basil and mix into the ricotta cheese. Salt and pepper the ricotta to taste.

Coat the bottom of a 11.5″ x 8″ (2 quart) glass baking dish with 2 tablespoons or so of the tomato sauce. Place a layer of the zucchini slices on top of the sauce first vertically, then horizontally, making a criss-cross pattern. Spread the basil-ricotta cheese over of the zucchini slices – an offset spatula helps spread the cheese easily. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the ricotta, followed by a layer of the onion-sausage mixture. Top with half of the mozzarella cheese.

Continue the same process all over again starting with the zucchini, layer by layer, until the dish is filled to top, ending with the mozzarella cheese – usually two layers of each ingredient. Sprinkle the top layer of mozzarella with the 4 oz of asiago and/or parmesan cheese.

Place dish in oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Finish the baking process with a few minutes on the broiler setting to slightly brown the edges of the top layer of cheese. Once you remove the lasagna from the oven, let cool and set for about 15 minutes before cutting your first slice.

*Note: Some brands of ricotta cheese retain more liquid than others. If you have the time, it’s worth straining the liquid (whey) out of the ricotta using cheese cloth or a strainer before mixing with basil, salt and pepper. We use the Polio brand, which is pretty thick and does not require straining. Also, you may find this lasagna once cooked emits some liquid thanks to the high water content of zucchini and the lack of pasta to absorb the liquids. We find whatever liquid is emitted absolutely delicious and we drink it up. The lasagna then has the taste and texture of the classic dish.

I absolutely love this recipe. Since trying it for the first time, I’ve requested it on several occasions. What’s more, my Dad, who’s tasted more than his share of authentic lasagnas, is also a big fan of this low carb reinvention, as are his Italian friends. After tasting it for the first time, he immediately sent a text to Mrs. Healthy Fellow with his rave review. I can’t think of any higher praise than that. Buon appetito!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Wholegrain vs. Refined Wheat Bread and Pasta. Effect on Postprandial (link)

Study 2 – Whole-Grain Foods Do Not Affect Insulin Sensitivity or Markers … (link)

Study 3 – Effect of the Addition of Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) (link)

Study 4 – Incorporation of Chlorella Vulgaris and Spirulina Maxima Biomass (link)

Study 5 – Liking of Health-Functional Foods Containing Lupin Kernel Fibre (link)

Study 6 – Pasta with Unripe Banana Flour: Physical, Texture, … (link)

Study 7 – The Effects of Fiber Enrichment of Pasta and Fat Content (link)

The Current View of Celiac Disease

Source: World J Gastroenterol. 2011 August 28; 17(32): 3665–3671. (link)

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