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Kitchen MacGyver: Roasted Vegetable Marathon Lasagna

It's the perfect pre-race meal!

My marathon buddy, Liz, lives in Chicago. While we race at different paces and we’ve never actually trained together to run a marathon, we’ve always been a source of encouragement and inspiration for the other. Although we live in different cities and don’t see each other as often as I would like, running will always be an activity that we can bond over—we’ve tried over the years to run the same fall marathon, which gives us the opportunity to see each other, fret over what we did or didn’t do during training, then eat a nice meal and toast one another with a celebratory drink after the race is over.

I remember one rare year when we, including our husbands, ran the Chicago Marathon. Two nights before the race, Liz and I had a great time catching up in the kitchen as we prepared a new recipe we were excited to sample: pumpkin lasagna. We followed the instructions exactly, but were displeased with the bland result. I still love to eat lasagna two or three days before a marathon, but I created my own concoction that is heavy on antioxidant-rich vegetables and herbs and can be adapted easily to suit your tastes or digestive needs (note: omit meat and use tofu or spinach, or cut back on the amount of cheese and oil) during race week.

For all of you running the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon this weekend, this one’s for you. Good luck!

Roasted Vegetable Marathon Lasagna

8 garlic cloves, separated from stem but not peeled
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1 large yellow onion, chopped into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1 zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. lean ground beef, turkey or chicken (can substitute 1 package
firm tofu or 2 lbs. spinach for the meat)
1 6-ounce tub ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh basil, gently chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
1 package spinach or whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil, or 2 teaspoons butter, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F while preparing vegetables. In a large casserole dish, place garlic cloves, carrots, peppers, onion, zucchini, dried herbs, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper and olive oil and roast in oven until vegetables are soft, approximately 40-45 minutes.

Brown the meat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. If using beef, when meat is browned, drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to remove excess fat. Shake dry and tumble meat into a mixing bowl. Add ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, if desired, plus fresh chopped basil and sage. Mix
together and set aside.

If using tofu, slice tofu block into pieces and place in a food processor with ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and herbs, and blitz on low until combined but still retaining a somewhat rugged texture. If using spinach only, wash and chop spinach leaves and combine with ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and herbs.

In a large saucepan, bring crushed tomatoes to a simmer. Add balsamic vinegar and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat. When vegetables have completed roasting, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove garlic from dish and peel the skins. Add garlic and roasted vegetables to crush tomatoes. Blend (with an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor) vegetables until garlic and vegetables are combined into a thick sauce.

Prepare lasagna noodles according to package directions, ensuring to salt the pasta water. Try to lay out noodles on a flat surface as you are cooking the required amount; if it becomes necessary to stack the noodles, brush noodles with a bit of olive oil to help prevent the noodles from sticking together.

In a large casserole dish, spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Place first layer of noodles, with each noodle slightly overlapping the previous noodle, until the bottom of the dish is covered. Add a layer of tomato sauce (enough to cover but not saturate the noodles) and spoon a thin layer of the ricotta-meat (ricotta-spinach or ricotta-tofu) mixture on top of the sauce.

Sprinkle with parmasean reggiano cheese and repeat layering procedure. When last layer of noodles are placed on top, sprinkle mixure with cheese and add optional butter and olive oil. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 10-15 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and top of lasagna is slightly browned. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 8.