The Daily Beet

15 Nov Saving Time with Char: Italian Style

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I grew up living atop my grandparents’  Italian restaurant.  It was my sandbox, it is where I learned to cook and play.  When I became plant-strong, I wasn’t quite sure I could cook the Italian foods I grew up with, especially without using oils and cheeses.  But you know what?  It has been easy…and delicious

Dairy and oil behind me, I have conquered the plant-strong Italian food thing, from broccoli-rabe, to pizza, to Raise the Roof Lasagna, I have this all down to a science.  And, because I am always looking for extra time, these are some of the shortcuts I use to “save time” in the kitchen.  I cannot stress enough how easy it is to cook plant-strong.  Fresh, or frozen delicious vegetables are your new bounty.  All along, I thought that cheese and oil were flavor enhancers, utd now that I am plant-strong, I can honestly say that they are flavor distracters!  Because the flavor of green vegetables, fresh or frozen, well?  There isn’t anything better!

While Rip has perfected his lasagna recipe, here are some time saving tips to create an equally as delicious dish, just as it was served at Rip and Jill’s wedding.

Short Cuts for Raise the Roof Lasagna

-You do not need to boil your lasagna noodles.  If you’ve ever wanted to be a brick layer, you will feel as though you are constructing something.  The sauce and moisture from vegetables will moisten the noodles.  The noodles are less tough, and frankly, taste homemade (like my Nonna used to make).

-Use frozen vegetables.  I use “Italian Vegetables” and frozen kale.

-Canned pumpkin is the new sweet potato.  Works fine for that top layer.

-Jarred pasta sauce.  Make sure it is fat free, and the sodium isn’t crazy (365 WFM Brand, Fat Free)

-Almond meal  makes a great substitute for cashew “parmesano.”  You can get it in  bulk.  No grinding necessary, and much easier.

Assemble the lasagna as you would.  I use two jars of sauce for one, 9/12 pan. Cover and wrap tightly with foil wrap.  After you assemble it, let it sit on the counter for about an hour.  Place in the oven and follow the directions that are in the Engine 2 Diet.

Not asking you to get out a stop watch, but I have assembled the lasagna in as little as ten minutes.  This is my family’s favorite dish.  And the leftovers, if there are any, are sooooo good.

A Few Other Time Saving Tips for Italian Cooking 

-Garlic is sacred, in my opinion.  And if you are using the granulated kind, well, there is no reason to  because  here is a failsafe method for peeling garlic that is more than 2000 years old.   Before you get to the video, all you need are two metals bowls.  One is the top, the other the bottom.  Put garlic in the bowl, cover with the other.  Now shake.  Magically, after a few seconds, when you finish “shaking,” the garlic will be stripped of its outer skin!  Really!

-Invest in a garlic press.  This way, you can press the garlic you need and it is perfect for sauté, salads, and other.  I couldn’t live without my garlic press.  No chopping required.

-Buy crushed, canned tomatoes.  They are ready to use, no need to mash or puree.

-Salads don’t have to be a big production.  You’ll always hear me talk about heading to the salad bar for salad items.  Grab some beans, tomatoes, peas, etc.  And then, grab a bag of salad from produce.  Your salad  will be ready in a New York Minute.

These quick tips will save you time in the kitchen.  Preparing plant-strong foods isn’t time consuming and complicated.  My grandmother spent all day in the kitchen preparing bountiful dishes.  We ate lots of peasant foods, beans, greens, and little or no meat.  Lentil pasta has to be one of my all time favorites.  Lasagne was always a very special meal for our family.  And Raise the Roof Lasagne, today, is also a special meal for my family and friends.

I think my grandmother would have been very happy to taste this delicious dish.

Going to kick up my feet…dinner is ready, and I have loads of time for myself!

 

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Char Nolan
Char Nolan

Char Nolan is a blog contributor and Engine 2 Extra Coach. She's been plant-strong for almost five years. From Philadelphia, she works in the plant-based whole foods arena, and is also the "vegan features writer," for the "Town Dish." She's lost a great deal of weight from being plant-strong, practices yoga, and is always dabbling in her kitchen to create new, plant-strong recipes. Armed with a degree in public health, Char also holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from e-Cornell.

  • Suzy W

    Great ideas!!! Thank you so much, Char!

  • Pediatric Nurse

    Oh my word! What a fabulous tip for the garlic! You are amazing. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • Char Nolan

    I love, and use, the garlic tip…everyday!