December 26, 2013 |

Transform Traditional Lasagna with Updated Ingredients

By Jeffrey Freehof

Chicken Enchilada Lasagna Photo by Josh Keown

Chicken Enchilada Lasagna
Photo by Josh Keown

Lasagna is such a staple in the landscape of Italian restaurants and in many pizzerias across our great land. We traditionally see lasagna offered one of two ways –– cheese lasagna or meat lasagna, both layered with noodles, sauce and a blend of cheeses. Let’s explore the different styles of preparation and flavor profiles we can conjure up so we can take “lasagna” on a journey of delectable proportions.

Let’s start with noodles.
Lasagna is almost always going to have noodles in it, but there are a few exceptions to that rule. To be honest, I think it’s a real pain in the neck to cook off dry lasagna noodles and then have to cool and handle them. It’s too tedious and time consuming –– not to mention, the noodles break or rip and they also stick together too often. Fresh/frozen pasta sheets may seem a little bit more expensive than dry noodles but when you consider the labor dollars you’ll spend cooking, cooling, separating and the more time it takes to assemble a lasagna, it really averages out to be about the same cost. Assembling lasagna with sheets makes the whole process very quick. Something else that can be done with sheets is to cut them down to make individual lasagnas in a casserole or rolling them up filled with cheese for manicotti or filled with meat for cannelloni.

Let’s get back to some creative lasagna that your customers will be excited to try.

We all know how popular buffalo chicken has become with wings, boneless wings and even on pizza. In lasagna form, it’s sure to be a zesty crowd pleaser.

For the last few years, gluten-free pizza and pasta have really moved into the spotlight due to the higher number of people realizing that they are gluten intolerant. Remember, gluten free is not a diet fad since it’s a lifestyle mostly due to allergies, so know that the search for great gluten-free choices will only continue to rise. That’s where this next lasagna comes in.

Let’s replace our pasta altogether with grilled planks of seasoned eggplant. Obviously you don’t want to use breaded eggplant if you want to make it gluten free, but not to worry –– breaded eggplant or floured eggplant is not necessary for this lasagna. Simply grill planks of eggplant on the flat top or on the char-grill. I’d use the same cheese blend I gave you in the last recipe with a little bit of Italian seasoning added to it. I’d use a nice marinara for the sauce, but I’d love for you to layer in some roasted red peppers, sautéed spinach, caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms. Bake it the same way and now you have an amazing lasagna that you can market as vegetarian and/or gluten free!

Mexican food is popular almost everywhere and I’ve got two Mexican lasagnas that I have served for catered events that were huge hits. First up is a chicken enchilada lasagna. I make enchilada sauce by mixing tomato sauce and chicken broth in equal measurements. I then add chili powder, garlic, cumin, onion powder, salt and pepper. Bring it to a simmer and add a small amount of roux (flour and butter) to thicken it slightly.

Now layer your lasagna with enchilada sauce, soft corn tortillas instead of pasta and shredded or diced chicken meat and crumbled Queso Fresco with some shredded cheddar cheese. Keep the layers going and bake like a traditional lasagna.

A beef burrito lasagna is the second and very popular lasagna that I’ve made.

For the sauce, you’re simply going to use tomato sauce with the same spices I used in the enchilada sauce, but no need to add broth or cook it, adding roux.

I layer this burrito lasagna with the sauce, soft flour tortillas, ground taco seasoned beef, a small amount of frijoles (refried beans) and crumbled Queso Fresco cheese with shredded cheddar. Layer it all the way up and bake it like any other lasagna.

If you want to take this lasagna to a higher level, use shredded beef, add some sautéed pepper and onion and call it steak fajita lasagna.

Don’t underestimate the power of lasagna and the many directions you can take it. Your customers will love the layers!

Let’s build this in a two-inch deep half pan. Since we sell our buffalo wings with different levels of heat and we won’t be able to do that with this lasagna, I would suggest using a milder version of buffalo sauce.

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

You’ll need:
6 pasta sheets
1 pound of cooked chicken breast marinated in mild buffalo sauce

Make a cheese blend of:
3 pounds ricotta
4 eggs
2 pounds of diced or shredded mozzarella/provolone blend
1 cup Parmesan
Salt, pepper, garlic to taste

You’ll also need:
1½ cups of mild buffalo sauce to use between layers while assembling

Let’s assemble. Start by spraying your pan with non-stick spray. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with buffalo sauce. Place a pasta sheet in the bottom of the pan. Spread a thin layer of your cheese blend over the noodle. Sprinkle some buffalo chicken over the cheese with a drizzle of buffalo sauce. Now repeat the steps starting with the pasta sheet until your lasagna is assembled.

You want to finish the top of the lasagna with a pasta sheet topped with buffalo sauce. Now cover the sauce with parchment paper or a deli sheet then cover with foil. Bake at 325 for approximately 50 to 60 minutes or until you reach an internal temperature of 165 F. Let it set for at least 30 minutes before attempting to cut it and serve it.

Top each piece before serving with mozzarella/provolone cheese blend and bake for a couple of minutes. (Note: adding caramelized onions and sautéed peppers would be an excellent addition to the layers of this lasagna as an option.) Enjoy!

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.