My friend Elsa recently told me her beautiful, sweet and shy daughter Marilyn is a vegetarian, and she asked if I knew any good vegan recipes. Having grown up a “veg head,” I laughed and said, “But of course!” I learned a lot of my many flavor tricks from having to make vegetarian food taste good, since what that’s often about is supplying flavor for something that has none (think: tofu). On the other hand veggies themselves generally have tremendous flavor, but the trick there is to bring that out of them and complement it with other flavor combos. It’s like, knowing me now, you would never guess that as a little one I was SO shy, scared of my own shadow really, but my brothers Bill and Jim and my sister Karen brought out my more daring side as well as the quirky sense of humor I had clearly inherited from my Dad (all of us were fortunate in that way). So to me, seasoning is like bringing out a personality for a dish. And sometimes a very subtle touch can be the tiny addition which makes a dish come to life, just as a brief but resonant instant or influence in our life can bring out a side of us we never knew we had.
This particular dish has a little of both, some bold flavors to set the mood of the meal and the little undertones which make it unique. And you can dress it up any way you like, whether fancy and formal or kinda casual for everyday eating; it’s the same dish wearing different duds — and accessories are everything!!! When I started singing in public at about age 17, I held back on stage at first, but as my stage personality jelled and my confidence built I emerged from my shell, until one day in my 20’s I realized I WAS the lead singer, and I dug it, playing off the audience and the other musicians like I was playing a instrument of my own, meaning not just my voice but my persona!!! Life and food have so much in common, they walk hand in hand, from hard-to-do, obscure and scary to beautiful, kind and soothing.

Veggie Lasagna:

Roast in a 350ºF oven, on cookie sheets with cooking spray
3 lg. Eggplants sliced length wise and ends cut off and discarded, as well as the pieces from the end which are mostly skin, for 10 minutes on each side, remove and set aside to cool.
In a lg bowl mix together well:
1  8 oz. package chopped frozen spinach thawed and wrung out in a kitchen towel to remove all water.
1 lb.Lowfat Ricotta Cheese, drained of any water, just set it in a strainer in the sink while you prep other ingredients.
3 cloves of garlic pressed
Fresh Nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste (some ricotta cheese is very salty, so be careful)
1/2 of 1 lb. Part Skim Mozzarella, shredded, retain the other half for the top.
Meanwhile in a sautee pan or med high heat, w/ olive oil to coat pan sautee,
2 packages Baby Bella Mushrooms, sliced, making sure to cook them hard and release all the water, (adding anything soggy to this dish is no good.) Set aside in a bowl and using the same pan, lightly sautee
2 lg or 3 med Zucchini cubed, until just under cooked about 3-4 minutes, turn off heat, season with 
1 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp Sweet Basil and 
1 tsp Thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
At this point you can put the mushrooms back in the pan with the zuchinni, and give a good stir,
1 jar Marinara of choice, or Homemade
All heat should be off except the oven still at 350ºF
In a 13x9x3 (placed on a cookie sheet in case of bubbling over) , spray pan w/ oil and start to layer with eggplant, sauce, cheese mixture, veggies, repeat, until everything is gone (but the remaining shredded cheese,) make sure you end the layering with sauce, and cover with foil, bake for 40-50 minutes, uncover and add remaining cheese and cook until cheese is nice and toasty brown to golden brown, we love burnt cheese around here so everyone prefers this done darker than lighter.
Remove from oven and let rest for at least 30-40 minutes to “set-up”, this is very important if you want it to cut well and taste right.
Here I served it surrounded by Baby Green, Olives and Tomato w/ just a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon and Truffle Salt, w/ some shaved Parmesan Cheese!

And as always, Enjoy!!!
© Jennifer Green Alger 2010