Summer Vegetable Lasagna (Paleo)

It's August 21st. Not August 1st, August 21st. Even though it still feels quite summery outside, school has started and the apples on our tree outside look juuuust about ready for picking. It's a catch twenty-two, you see. The closer we get to apple season the more homework I get. Is summer really on it's way out already? I, for one, am hanging on to the last few days of summer before they slip away like a soapbar in a bath tub. 

Last days of summer hit list:

1. Water. It doesn't have to be a pool. Sit next to a stream, drink lots of ice water, or sit on your back patio with the misters on while you do your homework. Check.

2. Peach juice. Let it slide down your wrist and sticky your fingers. Get your fill of local peaches from Kokopelli Farm in Palisade. Check.

3. Mountains. It's broiling outside, but get over it: soak up some vitamin D while the grass is green(ish brown). 

4. Vegetables. Bask in the glory of picking your produce straight from your garden, or at least get excited about an extraordinarily stocked produce section at your closest grocery store. It's not just that there are just more vegetables. It's that they're riper, fresher, and sweeter. They're waiting to be eaten. 

Actually, they're waiting to be put in this lasagna:

Already prime eggplant caramelizes into tomato sauce, tomato sauce boasts hints of basil, and hints of basil contrast with spicy grass-fed meat. How so many vegetables come out of the oven tasting completely indulgent is beyond me, but I'm not complaining. 

Two plates later, completely full, I was stuck. What should number 5 be? The End of Summer Hit List need more than 4 items. So I thought. I mulled it over. Nothing worth noting. Nothing worth noting, at least, after this lasagna. The show had officially been stolen by item number 4. 

Summer Vegetable Lasagna

For the Sauce:

1/2 large white onion, diced

1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 16-oz cans diced tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

 

For the “Noodles”

1 eggplant

 

Filling Layers:

2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1/2 large white onion

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1 pound ground beef

15 black peppercorns

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 dried red chili peppers

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/8 teaspoon salt

 

Make the sauce: in a sauce pan, melt the coconut oil. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for a few more minutes. Pour in the canned tomatoes, and stir. Bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, mince the herbs. Add the herbs to the pot, along with the salt, pepper and vinegar. Use an immersion blender to smooth the sauce to your preferred consistency. (I like to leave it a bit chunky. You can also do this in a blender, it just requires more work!) Remove the sauce from the heat and cover. Set aside.

Prepare the rest of the lasagna. Preheat the over to 450°F.

Cut the eggplant in half, the long way and remove the leafy top. Place the two halves flesh side down on your cutting board and them cut long, thin slices.  Set aside.

Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat, using a spatula to break the meat up into small pieces as it cooks. Grind the peppercorns, fennel, chili peppers, rosemary, and salt. Add the spices to the meat mixture. Once meat is cooked through, turn off heat.

Assemble: grease a 9"x13" baking pan with coconut oil. Use 1/3 of the eggplant strips and make an even layer in the bottom of the pan. Use a spatula to spread 1/3 of the sauce over the egg plant. Make an even layer using half of the spinach and then half of the mushrooms. Top with half of the meat mixture. Follow with another layer of eggplant strips (using the second third), and sauce. Layer the remaining spinach, mushrooms, and meat. Finally, top with the last of the sauce and then the egg plant "noodles".  

Cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue to bake for 10. Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. (Lasagna will appear watery when you first remove it from the oven, but after a few minutes the moisture will be absorbed and the casserole will set.)