Why should a man die who has sage in his garden?
-ancient Latin proverb
Sage. The earthy herb that sends brilliant white stalks of sweet flowers heavenward in the springtime. The herb whose purifying, alabaster smoke chases the ghosts from musty, old rooms. The herb that was so prized by the Romans, they wore ceremonial robes at harvest time and refused to let iron tools mar the delicate, velvet leaves. The herb that has long been touted by the Chinese as the secret fountain of youth. Is it any wonder why sage is my favourite herb? I just can't get enough of it.
I often marvel how something can be both fresh and enticingly musty at the same time. That seems like a contradiction of terms. A miracle of nature, I suppose. A miracle in my garden that I love to share. So when we had company last weekend, I wanted to make something bursting with garden vegetables and radiant with the essence of sage. Something that could be assembled ahead of time and pulled from the oven just before dinner to a chorus of hungry Ooohs and Ahhhs from my dinner guests. This is what I made.
I roasted the peppers the day before and stored them in the refrigerator. The morning of the party I made a creamy béchamel sauce full of sage and with just a hint of nutmeg, and I assembled the lasagna. Covered with foil, the whole thing went into the refrigerator until I was ready to bake it off. Talk about an easy, elegant, stressful-free main course for a simple get together -- just the kind of dinner parties I love to throw.
Sage and Garden Vegetable Lasagna
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 - 1 tsp salt (to taste)
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 large sage leaves (mince 2 leaves and reserve the remaining 10 for garnish)
9 oven ready lasagna sheets (I like Barilla)
2 roasted red or yellow bell peppers (see recipe below) cut into strips
2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
to roast the bell peppers:
Place your top oven rack 6 - 8 inches from the broiler and line the bottom rack with foil. Preheat the broiler on high. Wash the peppers and place them (on their sides) directly on the top rack. Broil the peppers, turning occasionally, until the skins are completely charred and black. Place the peppers in a glass bowl with a tight fitting lid (or cover with cling wrap), and allow the peppers to cool. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, cut in half to remove the seeds and peel off all the charred skin (it will come off very easily). Slice into strips to use in the lasagna or store in the fridge for 3-4 days.
to assemble the lasagna:
Oil a 9x13 inch baking dish and preheat your oven to 375 F (190 C). In a large sauce pan heat the oil and butter. Add the onions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds longer. Season the onions with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Stir in the minced sage.
Spread approx. 1/3 cup sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Layer in 3 lasagna noodles (they will expand so the edges don't need to touch), the sliced zucchini, more sauce, 3 more noodles, the sliced eggplant, the pepper slices, more sauce, the last 3 noodles, and the remaining sauce. Top with the grated Parmesan and arrange the remaining 10 sage leaves neatly on top. Cover with foil that has been oiled or sprayed with cooking spray on one side. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer.
For more zucchini recipes, try:
Shredded Zucchini & Beef Burritos
Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread
Pasta Primavera with Brown Butter & Grilled Chicken