How does your garden grow? Wow, that is certainly a loaded question this summer. It was difficult to get the vegetable garden in on time due to all the rain this spring. And while we’ve experienced a lot of rain, now comes our heat and humidity.
My chard, kale, spinach and herbs are all doing OK in the wet weather. My okra really wants to grow, while my tomatoes and peppers are starting to take off. Part of our problem is that we’re trying to amend the soil in our 15- by 25-foot garden and make it more productive using compost, because we started out with really bad clay.
That’s part of the fun of gardening, too. You work with nature to help bring along these little seeds into plants that produce food you can actually eat. I really love vegetables, and it’s a good feeling to go out into the garden with a large mixing bowl in the morning and harvest greens that I will use throughout the day.
What are your food roots? I grew up in the area, and my father, Max Rieke, was actually a truck farmer. As a family we grew produce that he would bring down to sell at the City Market in Kansas City. But my dad wasn’t keen on experimenting with vegetables. He wouldn’t try to grow exotic varieties of Asian eggplant or the like.
In some aspects I come by what I do naturally, but I’m more adventurous than my father. Every day I like to make smoothies using two fruits and three kinds of green vegetables, and blend it together using a bit of vanilla protein powder. I call it a green smoothie, and it’s a great way to eat — or should I say drink — your vegetables.
After your retirement, what inspired you to become a master gardener and food volunteer with the Johnson County Extension? Many Americans lead sedentary lives. I enjoy puttering in the garden and tinkering around in the kitchen, and I knew these pursuits would keep me busy.
I actually lived in Lawrence for a while and was a master gardener with the Douglas County Extension, and so that got me started on this gardening path. Lou is also a master gardener, but he likes to do landscaping, and I like to do edibles. I appreciate a beautiful yard, and he also has an appreciation for food, so it all works out.
Why did you choose a microwave veggie lasagna recipe to share? This is an homage to Lou, or Luciano, which is his given name, as he was born near Trieste, Italy. Did I mention I’m a veggie person? I’m also a microwave-cooking, recipe-altering, whole-grains person.
I love microwaving my greens, as opposed to steaming them, because they’re quick to cook and you don’t throw any of the nutrients out with the water, as you do when you steam them.
Since I’m basically just making food for Lou and I, we don’t need a huge pan of lasagna, and our preference is to have more vegetables than pasta. I have a keen interest in gardening and food, and as I harvest my own greens, this recipe combines those two loves.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
As a master gardener and master food volunteer with the Johnson County Extension, Deanne Bacco not only eats her vegetables, she encourages others to do the same.
Occupation: Retired executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care
Special cooking interest: Cooking with organic edibles she grows.
Family: Married to Lou Bacco with a blended family of four children and three granddaughters.
For more information on how to become a Johnson County Extension master food volunteer and/or master gardener, go to Johnson.KSU.edu.
Makes 6 servings
1 pound fresh spinach, Swiss chard, kale or collard greens, washed and spun dry
1 (16-ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 (15-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano cheese blend
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 whole-wheat lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded Italian-style cheese blend
Pack greens into a microwave-safe bowl and cover with the lid. Microwave about 3 minutes or until greens wilt. Remove from microwave and allow to cool.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk ricotta and egg together until well combined. Set aside. Roughly chop cooled greens and stir into ricotta mixture. Set aside.
In the mixing bowl used for greens, stir tomatoes, grated cheese, oregano, basil, garlic, salt and pepper together.
Spread 1/4 tomato mixture over the bottom of an oval (or rectangular) glass dish (must have lid) that measures approximately 11 by 8 inches. Place 2 sheets of pasta over tomatoes, trimming and placing noodles as necessary to fit into pan.
Spread half of ricotta mixture over noodles and sprinkle with 2/3 cup shredded cheese.
Repeat layering by spreading same amount of tomato mixture, 2 lasagna noodles, remaining ricotta mixture and 2/3 cup shredded cheese.
Finish layering by spreading the same amount of tomato mixture, 2 lasagna noodles and remaining tomato mixture into pan.
Place lid slightly ajar on dish. Place into microwave and cook on full power for 6 minutes. Turn dish and microwave another 6 minutes. Continue this process another time, and with a tip of a knife check for soft noodles. Continue to microwave 2 more minutes at a time until noodles are soft and lasagna is set.
Depending on the microwave, cooking time can range between 20 to 25 minutes. If microwave is self-rotating, set time for 18 minutes and then check for doneness.
When noodles are soft, sprinkle remaining shredded cheese over the top and cover tightly with the lid. Place back in microwave — without running it — to allow cheese to melt and the lasagna to set.
Note: A vintage Pyrex dish with lid is the ideal pan for this recipe. No-boil sheets of whole-wheat or multigrain lasagna noodles can also be used, but cooking time may be shorter.
Per serving: 652 calories (31 percent from fat), 23 grams total fat (13 grams saturated), 110 milligrams cholesterol, 80 grams carbohydrates, 35 grams protein, 725 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.