| Health |

Lightened Comfort Food: Vegetable Lasagna

Last Christmas, my family and I made a warm, hearty lasagna for Christmas Eve. It was delicious, comforting and perfect for the cooler weather outside. You can't go wrong with a big plate of thick pasta, meaty sauce and creamy ricotta cheese. But there are some vegetarian dishes that are just as good as the original recipes with meat.

In an effort to lighten this classic comfort Italian meal, I've replaced the meat with thick vegetables and a pesto sauce and added a lighter ricotta cheese as well as a lighter pasta sauce.

When deciding which vegetables to use, I considered the texture first. You want the vegetables to hold up while they bake in the lasagna and you want them to contribute to the layered structure. I decided to use three type of vegetables: eggplant, zucchini and portobello mushrooms. When sliced, these vegetables can replace pasta sheets, allowing you to lower the overall carbohydrates and calories in the dish (not to mention the fact you're adding more flavor).

To increase the overall flavor and compensate for the lack of meat, I decided to brush a little bit of pesto on the vegetables. This intensified their natural flavors and gave the overall dish the perfect amount of slick, olive oil flavor.

To assemble, I first poured a thin layer of pasta sauce in an 8 1/2 x 11-inch baking dish. I chose a pasta sauce that was lower in sodium and sugar and had chunks of tomato to give the sauce a little more texture. Next, I placed an even layer of no-boil lasagna sheets on the sauce, and topped them with fat-free ricotta that was mixed with pepper and herbes de provence.

After I sliced the eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms, I spread about 1/2 tablespoon of pesto sauce on each vegetable slice. I chose to make columns of the same vegetable so I would remember which section has which vegetable, but you can most certainly mix and match as you please.

Once the vegetables are placed on the ricotta cheese, I repeated the steps, finishing with the sauce. Top the lasagna with mozzarella cheese or grated Parmesan, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40-45 minutes at 375 degrees.

The layers of vegetables and lasagna ooze ricotta cheese, pesto sauce and pasta sauce. You can use any vegetable you prefer; just make sure they are not starch vegetables if you're trying to reduce overall calories and carbohydrates.

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