This springtime lasagna offers warm-weather appeal

<p>You can assemble the lasagna a couple of hours before baking.</p>

JeanMarie Brownson/TNS

You can assemble the lasagna a couple of hours before baking.

Lasagna in the springtime? Oh, yes. Especially when it’s light and fresh with just enough pasta to create pretty layers. Omitting meat and heavy melting cheese, and swapping in roasted vegetables, gives the classic crowd-pleaser some warm weather appeal.

Zucchini gets a bad reputation for its watery profile and blandness. The trick is to select small to medium-size specimens (no larger than about 2 inches in diameter) and roast them in a hot oven. This concentrates their natural sweet flavor and renders the vegetable meltingly soft.

Adding fresh lemon zest, along with a little fruity olive oil and crushed chile, to bottled pasta sauce remarkably lightens the overall dish. Frozen or tinned artichoke hearts add texture and springtime flavors to the lasagna layers.

Save time by purchasing roasted vegetables, such as zucchini, eggplant and/or roasted bell peppers, from the deli counter at large supermarkets; you‘ll need about 4 cups chopped. You can assemble the lasagna a couple of hours before baking. Serve with a salad of hearty greens dressed with a red wine vinaigrette.

Artichoke and Zucchini Lasagna with lemon and basil

Makes 6 servings

Tip: Leftovers are delicious warmed in the microwave.

  • 4 to 5 medium-size zucchini, 2 pounds total (or a combination of zucchini and yellow squash)
  • 1 medium-size red onion, halved, thinly sliced
  • 6 to 8 large garlic cloves
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt
  • 1 bottle (32 ounces) tomato basil pasta sauce (OR one 24-ounce bottle tomato basil sauce plus 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce)
  • Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 carton (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil or chives, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 box (8 to 9 ounces) oven ready lasagna sheets (12 to 15 sheets)
  • 1 package (12 ounces) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, chopped or 1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts packed in water, well drained, chopped
  • Thinly sliced fresh basil

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Trim ends off zucchini. Cut lengthwise into quarters. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Put zucchini in a single, uncrowded layer on an oiled large baking sheet (use 2 sheets if necessary). Sprinkle with onion slices and garlic. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the oil over everything and stir well. Sprinkle with salt. Roast, stirring often, until tender and golden, about 20 minutes. (Refrigerate covered up to several days.) Roughly chop the roasted garlic cloves.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Oil a 13-by 9-inch baking dish.

3. Mix tomato sauce with 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, the lemon rind and the pepper flakes. Mix ricotta with chopped basil.

4. Spoon 1 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Top with 4 or 5 lasagna sheets and 1 cup of sauce. Top with half of the zucchini and onions. Top with half of the artichokes. Sprinkle with all of the chopped garlic. Dollop with half of the ricotta mixture. Top with 4 or 5 more lasagna sheets. Spoon 1 cup of the sauce over all. Top with remaining zucchini and artichokes. Top with remaining 4 or 5 lasagna sheets. Spoon the remaining sauce over all. Top with remaining ricotta in dollops. Use a spoon to swirl the ricotta into the sauce. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over all.

5. Bake until bubbly hot, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve garnished with plenty of fresh basil.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)