No Bake Takes the Cake [Lasagna Caprese]
I came home tonight with full intentions of sharing a Frozen Lemon Soufflé with you. But given the circumstances, that can wait. Who cares about delicious light-as-air frozen lemony desserts, anyhow? (I do. A LOT. But it can wait one or two days, can’t it? CANT IT!?)
While I was sitting at my desk this afternoon, day-dreaming as is common after lunch, an idea popped into my head. Lasagna. But not just any lasagna. Caprese lasagna. Say it again with me, Capreeeese lasaaaaagna! Nice. Now if you’re like me, you’ll need to pick your jaw up off the floor before we continue. And I don’t mean to sound as though I’m tooting my own horn. But I totally am. I’m sorry.
(For some reason I have a much easier time copying recipes from my cookbooks to a notebook before cooking. It’s an OCD thing. And one that keeps my cookbooks free of stains)
Caprese salad is an Italian classic from the region of Campania that’s made up of tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and finished with a drizzle of of fruity olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper. That alone is enough to make me and most others weak in the knees, but with the addition of soft lasagna noodles and the ingredients layered between them, it was, in a word, perfect. Fresh, colourful, simple and packed full of flavour. It’s also a wonderful dish to use up all the tomatoes and basil you’ve no doubt planted and are starting to pop up right this second.
The only unauthentic part of this dish is the switch from fresh basil to basil pesto. I was hesitant about adding a sauce or dressing, but was worried the dish might feel a little dry. The pesto is the perfect compromise and helps it feel creamy and smooth. Plus, the look and colour of the pesto make me feel swoony.
(I wasn’t going to post this picture, but I had to because it was so funny. I started pouring the olive oil and taking a photo at the same time and thought I was oh-so-coordinated before I realized I was pouring olive oil everywhere. Turns out I’m not nearly as talented as I seem to think)
Because there are so few ingredients in the dish, it’s important you get the best ones you can find. Ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and high quality cheese and olive oil are all majorly important in making this lasagna as delightful as it is. If you’re ever going to spend a little extra on something, now is the time.
Perfect for an evening thats too hot too turn the oven on, and even better paired with a hunk of grilled meat or tofu on the side.
I assembled this on individual plates the way you would a typical Caprese, but it would be just as lovely served family style from a glass casserole pan. If you’re planning on doing it that way, don’t worry about folding the noodles. Just layer them, add a thin layer of pesto, tomatoes and cheese etc etc.
The pesto recipe here belongs to Marcella Hazan and is from her brilliant book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. She approves of the food processor method, so I feel safe in saying it is absolutely authentically Italian. So there.
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves, plus a few leaves to garnish each plate
3 tablespoons pine nuts, plus 2 tbsp to garnish
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before being added to the processor
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened
12 lasagna noodles, boiled according to package instructions
4 large vine ripened tomatoes
1 1/2lbs fresh mozzarella
the best olive oil you can afford, to garnish
balsamic vinegar to garnish (optional)
fresh cracked pepper
Put first 4 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until creamy. Transfer to bowl (or leave in food processor bowl, but it’s a bit of a pain) and stir in cheese and butter. This gives it a nice rustic texture.
On each serving plate, place two slices of tomato. Top with one lasagna noodle, letting one half of it extend over the tomatoes. Spread 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp pesto over the half of the noodle that tops the tomatoes. Fold the noodle back over itself so it covers the pesto. Place two rounds of mozzarella on top of noodle. Place another noodle on top, spread with pesto and fold over. Repeat steps one more time ending at the mozzarella. (tomato, noodle/pesto, mozza, noodle/pesto, tomato, noodle/pesto, mozza = voila!)
Top each plate with a few basil leaves, a good drizzle of olive oil, some pepper and a little balsamic (if you like balsamic).
See? How easy was that? Almost too easy, am I right?