Monday, September 15, 2014

Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Lasagna

I have been cooking and eating low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) for quite a long time now, and for the most part I don't try to recreate low-carb versions of high-carb dishes anymore. I just work with what I've got: vegetables, in all their variety and glory, meat (preferably free-range and organic), nuts, full-fat dairy, and high-quality fats like avocado oil, coconut oil, and grassfed butter. You can do pretty much limitless cooking within those simple boundaries.

But last night I just had a hankering for lasagna. Maybe it's the time of year: leaves are changing, temps dropped precipitously this weekend, and I wanted something substantial, comforting, and hot. I must have heard the zucchini solution before because it came right to me: use thinly-sliced slabs of zucchini in place of the lasagna noodles. It makes perfect sense. The thing that makes lasagna what it is is layers. Noodles are like a floor between the stories of a building. You simply need a different floor. (Eggplant would work, too, and then you have something like moussaka. Plus I'm not keen on eggplant.)

My son, 13, was horrified. "This is a terrible idea," he said, watching my husband slice the zucchs, salt them, and place them over a wire rack to drain. He seems to like most everything we cook, but he's a traditionalist. Lasagna should be made with noodles. Big, flat, carby noodles made of wheat. I could explain to him that noodles don't actually have a flavor element, that they exist for starch and structure. But that's just words to him. He can't hear words. He has earbuds permanently attached to the holes in the side of his head formerly called "ears."

We proceeded apace. I made the sauce, a real bolognese. I hadn't made bolognese in years, because, well, what would I serve it over? I looked at a recipe but it was missing some vital ingredients, so I came up with my own from memory and to taste. Then I made the ricotta-parm mixture, and my husband assembled the whole casserole.

My lasagna
Here it is:

The Lasagna:
1¼ - 1½ pounds of zucchini
salt - enough to lightly salt the zucchini - between ¼ and ½ teaspoon
1 lb. whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. real parmesan cheese, grated (not the powdery kind)
1 tsp. baharat spice mix (or nutmeg/allspice mix)
1 bolognese sauce recipe (see below)
8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded

1. Peel the zucchini (leaving stripes is fine), then slice into strips, length-wise. The strips should be about 1/8 inch thick.

2. Put the zucchini strips into a colander or over a wire rack and sprinkle with salt. Flip and repeat. Put the rack over a tray catch the juice. After 10-15 minutes, flip the strips again.

3. While the zucchini is draining, cook the bolognese. This will take well over an hour (prep and simmer time combined), so budget your time for that. Also while the sauce is cooking, combine the ricotta, eggs, parm and spice mix. Set that aside.

4. After the sauce is ready, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wipe off the zucchini slices.

5. Put a quarter of the bolognese sauce into the bottom of a 9 X 13 pan.

6. Cover the sauce with a layer of zucchini. Then cover the zucchini with another quarter of the sauce. Evenly spread the ricotta filling on top (go ahead and use all of it: it's counterintuitive but it's easier and it works).

7. Add more sauce, the remaining zucchini "noodles," and the rest of the sauce. If you have too much sauce, like I did, just hold some back for another use. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top.

Bake until the cheese is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Remove and let it set up before serving, about 10 minutes.

Bolognese Sauce:
1/4 cup avocado oil (or olive, or ghee)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 pound grassfed beef
1 pound Italian sausage
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
8 fresh basil leaves, slivered into ribbons with clean scissors
1/2 tsp. baharat spice mix
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Tamari sauce to taste (~1/2 Tbsp)
1 c. heavy cream

In a large skillet heat the avocado oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions become very soft, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and saute for 5 minutes. Raise heat to high and add the ground beef and sausage. Cook, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up into bits. Add the tomato paste, basil, and baharat and cook the sauce over medium-low heat for at least an hour. Season with salt, pepper, and tamari (add more of each to taste). Add the cream and stir.

Notes: This is probably the best lasagna I have ever eaten! But it was even better today when I reheated it, plus it came out square-shaped instead of a big meaty blob. When you serve it right from the oven, "blob" is what happens, so consider making it a day ahead, putting it away untouched, and reheating individual portions the next day.

Although I am not someone who eats zucchini for fun, it worked absolutely perfectly as a layering structure. The whole dish, while complicated, is no more work than any other lasagna—slicing and salting the zucchini is roughly the same amount of work as boiling lasagna noodles. Maybe less, because it took hubby about 5 minutes of prep. Maybe 7.

The baharat spice mix is maybe not critical, but makes an enormous impact on the bolognese. I discovered baharat while wandering through an Egyptian grocery, and the fragrance nearly made me swoon. If you don't see it in your area, consider ordering it. It's a wonderful addition to any pantry.

And in case anyone was wondering ... The Son Who Doubts cleaned his plate. It was much better, he said, than he'd feared. Maybe even yummy! But he's thirteen and wouldn't want to gush. Gushing is not cool.

This is a perfect dish for any friends who eat low-carb, or who are gluten intolerant. (Ensure sausage is gluten-free first.) It's also a great way to use up all the zucchini taking over your garden these days.

Buon appetito!


  1. I want to eat at youuuuuuuuuuur house .... !

    1. I want you over for dinner at my houuuuussse!


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