Specialty of the House: Zest's veggie lasagna

aweigl@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2013 

SPECIALTY-AL-121713-JEL

The vegetable lasagna at Zest Cafe in North Raleigh is so popular that it has remained on the menu for almost three years.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

  • The restaurant

    Zest Cafe & Home Art

    8831 Six Forks Road, Raleigh

    919-848-4792

    zestcafehomeart.com

I am writing with hopes that you can get me the recipe for the vegetable lasagna from Zest Cafe in Raleigh. It is so delicious and when I asked for the recipe, they suggested that I contact you.

Ruth Brooks

Raleigh

Zest Cafe in North Raleigh touts its healthy fare: no fried foods, no butter, no heavy cream.

Chef James Castellow, a Raleigh native, graduated from Enloe High School and got his culinary degree at Wake Technical Community College. He’s been the executive chef at Zest for the last eight years. He prides himself on serving delicious foods that don’t fall back on those high calorie crutches that are typical in some restaurant kitchens.

“Our whole concept is healthy,” said Castellow, who uses seasonal ingredients, fresh herbs and olive or canola oils to create flavorful dishes.

The vegetable lasagna is so popular that it has remained on the menu for almost three years, Castellow said. The lasagna has two things going for it among health-conscious diners: it’s both gluten-free and low-carb because thinly sliced eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash replace the traditional pasta noodles.

Castellow encourages home cooks to adapt the recipe as he does at the cafe depending upon what is in season. In the winter, sauté peeled, diced butternut squash instead of peppers, use collard greens or kale instead of spinach. Enjoy a healthier, lower calorie version of lasagna.

Zest’s Gluten-Free Vegetable Lasagna

1 1/2 pounds eggplant, about 1 large

1 pound zucchini, about 2 large

1 pound yellow squash, about 3 large

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, more as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large red pepper, diced

1 small red onion, diced

1 (8-ounce) container cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 (10-ounce) bag baby spinach

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 cup ricotta cheese

2 eggs, slightly beaten

3 cups marinara sauce, divided

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella

HEAT oven to 375 degrees.

PEEL eggplant. Use a mandoline or sharp knife to slice eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Working in batches: lay vegetable slices flat on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until soft. Once cooked, set aside.

HEAT 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in large sauté pan or Dutch oven. Add onions and red peppers, cooking for about 4 minutes, stirring once a minute. Add mushrooms; cook an additional 2 minutes. Add spinach, white wine and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted and remove from heat.

MIX ricotta cheese, eggs and 1 cup marinara sauce. Set aside.

ASSEMBLE lasagna: Cover bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 cup marinara sauce. Lay half of the eggplant on top of sauce as you would lasagna noodles. Spread evenly with 1/3 of the egg mixture, then 1/3 of the spinach mixture and finally, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. For next layer, top with zucchini slices, 1/3 egg mixture, 1/3 spinach mixture and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Then top with yellow squash slices, remaining 1/3 egg mixture, remaining 1/3 spinach mixture and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Finally, top with remaining eggplant slices and cover with 1 cup marinara sauce. Cover baking dish with tightly-wrapped aluminum foil.

BAKE for 45 minutes. Remove foil and add mozzarella and bake an additional 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Yield: 10-12 servings.

Specialty of the House gets recipes for local restaurant dishes. Send requests, including your city, to Specialty of the House, The N&O, P.O. Box 191, Raleigh, N.C. 27602; or email aweigl@newsobserver.com.

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