Nap-Time Cooking: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Infants take a lot of naps. They may not be regular, but odds are a baby’s going to nod off three or four times a day. All the books tell us to sleep when the baby sleeps, but 99% of new parents know that’s a load of hooey—there’s too much else to do. When Harry was a baby, I only managed to pull off that particular feat when my exhausted body made the decision for me. If my brain was awake enough to race through the endless list of Things To Be Accomplished, I was up and working. Once I gave up on the idea of catching forty winks, or even ten winks, Nap-Time Cooking was born.

The basic idea here is to take a recipe that has multiple steps and divide the steps up so you’re only doing one portion of the recipe during each nap. This frees you up to do something else—like, say, catnap—while still getting a rewarding dinner on the table. For example, Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: During junior’s first morning nap, you’d wash and chop zucchini, eggplant, and red peppers, and set them aside. (Skip the salting & rinsing of eggplant—new moms don’t have time for such luxuries!) Second nap: roast those veggies, and don’t forget to set a loud timer just in case a mom-nap happens. Third nap: Assemble, using top-quality jarred pasta sauce, shredded cheese, and no-boil lasagna noodles. Pop it in the fridge, and an hour before dinner it goes in the oven. Little steps spread throughout the day yield a comforting, nutritious, and plate-licking meal. With leftovers!

Of course, not all of us have infants in our lives. Harry’s a very active and sometimes, let’s say, not-so-charming toddler and I still use this technique several times a week. Really, it’s about time management: We’ve got so little of it, grabbing a few minutes here and there is the best we can hope for most days.

Many of the recipes on Words to Eat By’s index adapt beautifully to the Nap-Time Cooking method: Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint, Baked Whole Wheat Penne and Roasted Eggplant, and Chicken a la Cono are just three. If you need advice on how best to break up the steps, leave a question here in Comments—I’ll respond quickly, I promise, and that way others will benefit from your interest too.

When I taught this method—and this recipe—to my Parents Need to Eat, TooSM class, Sam from Kid City stopped by and observed. She tells me she’ll be posting a writeup any day now, so watch for an update about it. My current class is almost over, so if you’d like info on the next round now’s a good time to let me know.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Serves 6

Cooking spray
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/2” thick
1 medium eggplant, skin on, cut into 1/2” dice
Either or both of the following (optional):
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced thick
1 red pepper, cut into 1/2” dice
salt & pepper
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 jar top-quality prepared pasta sauce
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Stage 1:
Preheat oven to 425, and set racks to upper and lower levels. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Chop vegetables and spread on trays in a single layer—you can mix the vegs together or keep them segregated, totally your choice. Spray with more cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake 12 minutes, take the trays out & stir things around, switch placement in the oven, and bake another 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let come to room temp before stowing in the fridge. (If you’ve got several short naps in your day, you could divide this further: Do all the chopping during one nap, and the roasting during the next—just don’t forget to preheat the oven before nap #2.)

While vegetables are roasting, combine ricotta cheese, egg, and oregano in bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Stage 2:
Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray. Pour in about a cup of sauce and spread it around. Top with four noodles straight from the box—overlap them slightly, but don’t position them all the way to the edges since they’ll expand during baking. Top with 1/2 of ricotta mixture, 1/2 of vegetables, 1/2 of spinach, and some more sauce—you won’t need too much sauce, since the vegs are carrying most of the load here. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella. Repeat with the next layer. For the final layer, top noodles with remaining sauce and remaining 1 cup of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate.

Stage 3: (about 90 mins before you want to eat)
Preheat oven to 375 (check the package on your noodles—it varies by manufacturer). Remove tray from fridge and let it sit on the counter while the oven heats. Bake, covered, for 50-55 minutes, until lasagna starts to bubble (again, check the instructions on your noodles). Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, until cheese browns lightly. Remove from oven and let sit 15 minutes before serving.