At the beginning of summer last year our property care taker Rick was telling me about the bad experience that he had with a volunteers that come up each summer from an international volunteer program.  He spoke of young people who were lazy and always partying.  I was worried.  Our summer calendar was full and I did not need to babysit or clean up after some lazy kids.  They were also supposed to use my kitchen on the weekends to cook their meals.  I had visions of a messy kitchen with my lovely equipment broken or missing.  Needless to say I was very concerned.

I can happily say that the group of international volunteers that came last summer proved all of Ricks dire predictions completely wrong.

Last summer we were given a wonderful group of volunteers from all over the world.  One of young people really made an impact on all of the staff at Cal-Wood.  Rocky came to us from London England where he is an engineering student.  Rocky was always in a good mood and always smiling.  If you needed a hand with anything he was there and worked tirelessly the whole time he was with us.  All of the volunteers worked hard and were a joy to have at Cal-Wood.

Sometimes it is hard to get to know people for short periods of time and then they move on and you do not hear from them again.  Not with Rocky!  He keeps in touch with many of the staff members at Cal-Wood and is planning to come back this summer.  He also reads this blog and has cooked some of my recipes at home.  This makes me very happy and is the very reason I write this blog.

Rocky asked me if he could have the recipe for my Roasted Veggie Lasagna.

Here is the recipe for Rocky and we are all looking forward to seeing him and meeting our new volunteers this summer.  No matter what Rick has to say.

Fire Roasted Veggie Lasagna

For the sauce

1 425g (15oz )can of good quality diced tomatoes

1  425g (15oz) can of fire roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen but you can use regular tomatoes)

2 170g (6oz) cans tomato paste

2 garlic cloves minced finely (Here is a good video link from another of my favorite Brits, Jamie Oliver on how to mince garlic)

1/4 cup red wine

2 tbs good olive oil

1 tbs sugar

1/4 tsp chili pepper flakes

1 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

Add olive oil to a large pot and heat at medium high.  Add garlic when oil is hot and cook for 30 seconds or until you can smell the garlic cooking. Cook garlic over medium heat. About thirty seconds will do the trick. This is just enough time to cook off the rawness, allow the flavor to mellow into the dish.  Add tomatoes immediately.  I usually have cans open and ready when I add the garlic.  Add wine, tomato paste, sugar, chili pepper and 1 cup water.

Simmer for 15 minutes and season to taste and set aside.

For the veggie mixture

Cut 2 medium zucchini in half lengthwise.  Cut 1 red onion into thirds lengthwise.  Cut 3 sweet red bell peppers in half and remove seeds.

Marinate veggies in a splash of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 clove garlic minced and salt and pepper.

After marinating veggies for 15-20 minutes heat your grill to hot and add veggies.  Grill veggies until they have good grill marks but they do not need to be fully cooked.  The peppers can be roasted on the stove top directly over your gas flame if needed.  Clean the black bits mostly off the peppers after they have cooled.

Pour marinade back over the cooked veggies.  Never do this with raw meat marinade.

After veggies are cooled cut to desired thickness.  My hubby like the veggies cut finely but I like a medium dice.

The ricotta cheese mixture.

1 2lb tub of whole milk ricotta cheese (or you can make it with this delightful recipe from David Lebovitz via Simply Recipes)

4 large eggs

1/4 cup good quality parmesan cheese grated

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp basil

Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and mix together well with whisk or spoon.  You can also whip the mixture on your stand mixer until light and fluffy.

For the noodles…

I use Barilla no boil lasagna noodles.  If you cannot get these noodles in your area then boil your noodles and drain well before assembling the lasagna.

Many restaurant cooks simply soak the raw lasagna noodles in hot water for about 30 minutes to soften them and then use them in the dish as is. I boil mine,when using traditional lasagna noodles, but the trick to this, and to cooking any pasta, is to use plenty of well salted water, and keep the noodles moving by stirring until it returns to a boil. This keeps water circulating around the full noodle surface so that the starch on the surface of the individual noodles can set, which keeps them from sticking together.  Make sure to rinse in cold water after draining and this will help minimize the stickiness of the noodles.

Ready, Set, Assemble!

Now is the time to assemble all of the lovely ingredients you have worked hard to get together and make yourself a wonderful lasagna.

Get your sauce, ricotta mixture, veggie mixture (diced to taste), cooked or no boil noodles and 1/2 cup heavy cream together as well as a casserole style baking dish.

Add 1/2 cup sauce to the bottom of the pan.  Spread out and lay enough noodles to cover bottom of pan in single layer.

Add ricotta mixture about 2 cups on top of  noodles.

Add another noodle layer.

Now you add 1/2 cup sauce and 2 cups of the veggie mixture as the next layer.

Add the next noodle layer.

Top with 1/2 cup sauce, 1/2 cup heavy cream drizzled over the top and cover tightly with foil.

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the sauce begins to thicken and reduce and the lasagna begins to puff slightly.

Remove the foil layer and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top of the lasagna.  I use about 1 1/2 cups good quality whole milk mozzarella.

Put back in the oven at 450 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes or until cheese begins to brown and set.

Let the lasagna rest for 15-20 minutes before cutting.  Better yet make the lasagna a day ahead and let sit overnight in the fridge and warm in the oven at 350 degrees (covered in foil) for 30 minutes or until internal read thermometer reads 145 degrees in the center.  The flavors of a lasagna are best the next day!

Let rest before cutting.

Uncooked lasagna freezes great so make 2 ro 3 and freeze them for later.  If you are going through all the trouble why not make more than one dinner.

Here is a comprehensive list of what you need to pick up at the store:

1 box of no boil lasagna noodles or traditional lasagna noodles.

1 2lb tub of whole milk ricotta cheese

4 large eggs

Parmesan cheese grated

Mozzarella cheese

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp basil

1 425g (15oz )can of good quality diced tomatoes

1  425g (15oz) can of fire roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen but you can use regular tomatoes)

2 170g (6oz) cans tomato paste

2 garlic cloves

1 tbs sugar

1/4 tsp chili pepper flakes

Olive oil

2 medium zucchini

1 large red onion

3 sweet red bell peppers

heavy whipping cream or double cream

balsamic vinegar or red wine