Thursday, June 30, 2011

TV Dinner

Sometimes we want to sit down and watch a movie and be lazy, but still have vegetables calling to us from the fridge nagging us about how they are going to go bad and we'll have wasted our money. On those days, we usually do all the chopping work in front of the TV - but this time, we took it to a new level and brought the plug-in pressure cooker out onto the coffee table, and did part of the cooking there too! If we were only making Ratatouille, we could have made the whole thing while watching a movie, but crazy me I wanted to make Ratatouille lasagna. There are a lot of vegetables here, but they do cook down. Even though it went above the recommended fill line, we jammed all the veggies in and it worked out fine. We have the Fagor 3-way 6 qt. pressure cooker/rice cooker/slow cooker. I have only used the pressure cooker feature, but I can't recommend this product highly enough to save time and hassle. We got Lorna Sass' Pressure cooking cookbook so we could take full advantage of it. Pressure cooking allows you to use less oil, and cook your food in half the time. Modern pressure cookers are extremely safe now as they have safety release valves so the pressure can't get too high.

Cooking in front of the TV
Above is our chopping & cooking setup in front of the TV. Note our dog Leeta wondering if that onion is any good to eat :)

This will be an even more ideal recipe for about a month or so from now, when eggplants are widely available from the organic stands at the farmers market. Its a great way to get a variety of vegetables into your meal while not being too "healthy" tasting.


12 Lasagna noodles
3 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

For Ratatouille:
2 1 lb eggplants, peeled, 1/2 inch tall and wide matchsticks, 2-4 inches long
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 red bell peppers, de-seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 lb fresh Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped plus 1/4 cup vegetable broth OR 1 32 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained, but with 1/4 cup of their juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil OR 2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 pinch red pepper flakes
3 gloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
2 tsp olive oil

For the Creamy Cheese Part:

1 TBS capers
1/2 cup pitted black olives (for best flavor, get the pricier brands that come in glass jars, not the canned type)
1 lb firm tofu, pressed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBS lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Lasagne Its no beauty queen, but it sure does taste good!


Place the tofu between two cutting boards, and place a heavy object with a wide bottom (like a cast iron pan) on top for 15-20 minutes. This squeezes any excess water out, so you'll want it to slant slightly towards the sink so the water goes into the sink rather than all over your counter. Chop all veggies for the Ratatouille part - keeping the zucchini separate from the rest. Put your electric pressure cooker on the 'Brown' setting (or if you have a cooktop pressure cooker, put stove on medium), put 2 tsp of oil in your pressure cooker and wait till its hot. Add onions and the dried spices (bay leaf, salt, red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds - if you are using dried basil rather than fresh, add that now as well), and garlic.

While that is sauteing and you are stirring occasionally, put a large bowl of water in the microwave until hot ~5 minutes. Pour the hot water into the lasagna dish, and place lasagna noodles in to soak for 20-25 minutes - no longer! While they are soaking, go back to your onions. Once the onions are translucent, add the other veggies (eggplant, red pepper, tomatoes - not the zucchini) and bring up to high pressure and cook at high pressure for 3 mins. Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Now to prep your "cheese". Break up the tofu into a few pieces, and place into a small food processor (not a large one, otherwise you won't be able to blend properly). Add your cloves of garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Now add the chopped olives and capers, close up the machine, and run until the olives and capers are really well blended and it all looks smooth and uniform.

Drain the water off of your noodles and slide them onto a separate plate, make sure pan doesn't have any remaining water. Place your first layer of noodles into the lasagna pan. Drain your Ratatouille but keep the fluid you drained off*. Find and discard the bay leaf. Then add 1/2 of the Ratatouille, then layer of zucchini. Now add half of the "cheese" and spread around the top till its fairly even. Add the second layer of noodles, and, if using fresh basil, put 1/2 cup chopped basil here. Then add remaining Ratatouille, and remaining "cheese" Then add the final layer of noodles. Then spoon enough of the leftover fluid from the Ratatouille over the lasagna that it comes up to almost the top but not quite. Try to pour along the edges so it goes down rather than sitting on top. You don't want fluid overspilling and messing up your oven, but dry lasagna is bad. You can always put a large jelly roll pan on the shelf below (not the same shelf) the lasagna to catch the drips if you are worried. Make sure the top layer of noodles is wetted down with the leftover Ratatouille fluid to prevent drying out too much. Place the lasagna in the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The top noodles will have dried out some, but I just drizzled a little more Ratatouille water on them at the end and they softened up again.

*To be honest we placed our Ratatouille fluid in a large frying pan and reduced it until it was about 2/3 of what it started out. We were able to add most of the fluid back into the lasagne then - and reducing it concentrated the flavors. However, for ease of preparation, I decided not to put that in the recipe.