I love the smell of pesto in the morning…

The original "Vegetarian 4-Cheese Lasagna" before my creativity

Last night, while evaluating the worthiness of a new recipe I was tempted to try (Vegetarian 4-Cheese Lasagna with Pumpkin, Eggplant and Tomatoes), the final decision was made after responding to this question:

Is this something I want to eat for breakfast?

I love to try new recipes (I subscribe to Everyday Food, Eating Well, Saveur, FoodTV Magazine, La Cucina Italiano and Cooking Light) but since most recipes make 6 to 8 servings (and math is hard) I usually freeze half of what I make or creatively make use of the dish for the rest of the week.

This usually means at least two breakfast servings.

My officemates love this. There’s nothing like stumbling into the office kitchen at 8:30 in search of the earthy, roasted scent of a fresh pot of coffee and the neutral bite of bagel and being met by the unexpected fragrance of garlic or even more pungent, leftover tilapia. And the day I brought chicken tikka masala? Yeah, I was popular.

I got into this habit for two reasons: I live alone, so there are only so many servings that can be eaten at night. More importantly, I had gastric bypass surgery 8 years ago (yes, it worked and no, I’m not a size 6) and since then the focus of all my meals is supposed to be protein. In other words, a bagel, a piece of toast or a bowl of cereal is just not going to cut it for me.

At first my breakfasts were very cheese-focused, and then I discovered Greek yogurt, which is what I eat almost every day (with an added scoop of whey protein powder). But some mornings you just want something a bit more…

So tikka masala it is.

I know a lot of people think this is weird. Even my parents found it suspect for awhile, but now when I visit them and get up in the morning, my mom will say, “There’s cereal in the cabinet, or the chicken marsala from last night in the fridge.”

(Please understand, I am NOT suggesting everyone go around eating a 3-course meal for breakfast! When I say I’m eating tikka masala or chicken marsala, I mean I’m eating just the meat part, and usually about 4 ounces that fits into a teeny Gladware with the screw-on lid.)

The point is, after my surgery, it was very difficult to come up with an adequate breakfast meal other than eggs (which were neither convenient nor portable on workdays), and I will never be one of those people that considers a hunk of cheese a meal (although it is definitely a tasty snack!). Peanut butter is delicious but it is super-high in calories, and you pretty much have to pair it with a carb to make it a meal.

The thing is, when I stopped thinking that the morning meal had to mean traditional breakfast food, a whole world of healthy, wholesome, delicious treats opened up to me. In addition to keeping my sweet tooth at bay, it gave me one more meal during which I could try out an exotic spice or weird-shaped vegetable.

I guess this is where the unexpected inspiration comes into play. My goal for 2010 was to be more creative. Note: I didn’t say, write more creatively; I said BE more creative. I wanted to incorporate newness and experimentation into my entire life, every day. For my non-writing friends reading this, this is where I show you that your muse may inspire you to do something other than writing or drawing or dancing or singing.

When that mouthwatering lasagna recipe appeared before me—layers of roasted pumpkin, roasted tomatoes, grilled and charred eggplant, pasta, oozing ricotta, biting feta, mild mozzarella and tangy marinara  sauce with a touch of pesto—I knew it sounded like something I could eat any day of the week, any hour of the day.

And then I went about creatively re-constructing it to fit what I had in my pantry and what I thought would taste better—substituting butternut squash for the pumpkin, adding some sautéed ground beef, frying the eggplant slices instead of grilling them, adding a dash of nutmeg. The worst trap we can fall into is to think we can’t make a dish because we don’t have every single crazy ingredient in stock.

The creativity isn’t just in choosing the recipe but in making it your own and then eating it whenever you want.

And who wouldn’t love the scent of ground beef, eggplant, squash and nutmeg in the morning?

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This post is dedicated to Cris Niessner Grace, due to her LOVE of eggplant. (I kid because I love.)

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Hungry for a taste of my Non-Vegitarian Vegitarian Lasagna with Pumpkin, Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Beef? Here are the basic instructions that you can play with on your own! Thanks to BlackCat_52 for the original recipe at: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Vegetarian-Four-Cheese-Lasagna/Detail.aspx

In a 350 degree oven, roast 2 cups of diced pumpkin or butternut squash until brown and tender. Also roast 5 regular tomaotes or 8 Roma tomatoes, halved, until soft and wrinkly.

On top of the stove, over medium heat, brown 1lb. of ground beef until all the pink is gone. Drain any fat.

Mix together 1 pint of part-skim ricotta cheese, 9 ounces of crumbled feta cheese, 2/3 cup of prepared pesto sauce, 2 eggs, and nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste until well-blended. Fold in roasted pumpkin/squash.

Spoon about 7 ounces of prepared marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. Place a layer of no-need-to-boil lasagna sheets (Barilla makes these). Arrange a layer of sliced, breaded, and fried eggplant slices (make your own or buy frozen slices in your freezer section). Top with half of the ricotta mixture. Place another layer of pasta sheets.

Arrange the tomato slices evenly on top of the pasta sheets. Spoon the rest of the ricotta mixture over them. Sprinkle with half a cup of shredded mozzarella (I used fresh). Spoon the ground beef mixture over the mozzarella.  Top with another layer of pasta sheets, then spoon 7 ounces of marinara sauce over the top, sprinkle with another 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella and sprinkle on 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden and bubbly.

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This entry was posted in Cooking, Creativity, Lasagna, Leftovers, Pumpkin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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