Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Artichoke Spinach Lasagna & Italian Pizza "Cheese"

This was a family favorite, pre-vegan days.

I LOVE taking old vegetarian recipes and making them vegan.

A sister of mine once asked, "Are you SURE?? There is no meat in here?"

Yes, I am sure. And now it has no cheese, no dairy, and no oil.

All of my children gobble this up. Including my little picky Essie. This is one of her absolute favorite dishes.

And, have you had your salad today? Something I am learning with this salad-a-day challenge is that if I don't have my salad for lunch, before I eat my main cooked dish, I have little chance of getting in my salad for the day.

I have now missed two days of eating salad since starting on May 27. Each of those days I waited until after I had eaten a big, late lunch to panic about eating my salad. And each of those times I have been outside my own home -- unable to do anything about it. So, I am learning. Eat salad. Eat it early, and eat it first.

What have you learned about yourself with this salad challenge? I am interested to know.

And, on to the HOW of my favorite plant based lasagna.

Artichokes, onions, and spinach sauteed (in water) with Italian spices (including red pepper flakes) make up the meat replacement.

Mashed potatoes replace the cheese.

I know, it seems like there is no way it would ever work. But it does. Somehow it picks up the flavors, blends well, and adds smooth creaminess that can compete with dairy cheese.

The trick is, the potatoes have got to be really smooth and creamy. How do you get them that way? Cook them in boiling hot water until they fall apart when jabbed with a fork. Strain them immediately, they should be piping hot. AND, most importantly, RESERVE THE HOT POTATO WATER. See how hot this is? Steam coming off while it is being mashed.

Don't add anything to the potatoes until all the lumps are gone. Then, add some hot potato water, and then some soy or coconut milk to make it creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste, and VOILA! Fabulous mashed potatoes. If you add water or milk before the lumps have all been mashed out, you will get lumps in your mashed potatoes.

And if you just can't get past the idea of using mashed potatoes, you can use PIZZA CHEESE! (See below for recipe.)

This stuff is so good. It works well as a dip with crackers or bread, OR a great stuffing for a spinach Calzone.

For this lasagna recipe, I personally strongly prefer to use the mashed potatoes as they are lighter and the textures blend a little better. But use what sounds good to you. Or, if you really just can't make up your mind, you could make this recipe with the mashed potatoes AND the pizza cheese. I have done it before, you just need to increase the baking time by about 10 minutes.

Even if you don't make this as your cheese for the lasagna, I recommend you try it some time. Especially in a spinach calzone. YUMMY! Or even just as a dip.

Layer your ingredients: Marinara sauce, a third of the artichoke and spinach mixture, no-boil lasagna noodles (either white or brown rice noodles), and a third of the creamy mashed potatoes (or pizza cheese). Repeat layers again, until ingredients are used up, ending with spinach and artichoke mixture.

Cover with foil and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Then remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Artichoke Spinach Lasagna
By Ashlee Crozier (with a little help from


1 package uncooked, "no-boil" lasagna noodles
1/4 cup water
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (14.5 ounce) can vegetable broth
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
1 (14 ounce) can marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
10-16 ounce bag or box of frozen, coarsely chopped spinach
1 (28 ounce) jar tomato pasta sauce (marinara)
3-4 cups creamy mashed potatoes, or 2 cups pizza cheese, divided


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Heat a large cooking skillet to medium-high heat. Saute onion and garlic for 3 minutes in 1/4 cup water, or until onion is tender-crisp. Stir in broth and seasonings; bring to a boil. Stir in artichoke hearts and spinach; reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Spread 1/3 of the artichoke mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking dish; and layer a third of the marinara sauce over top of it. Top with 4 or more cooked noodles. Spread 1/3 of the mashed potatoes over the noodles. Don't worry if it gets a little messy and the layers start mixing together. Just do your best to make sure the noodles are completely covered with the wet ingredients so that they cook properly. Repeat layers 2 more times, ending with marinara sauce and artichoke mixture.

4. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover, and bake 15 minutes more, or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve, and Enjoy! I hope you love!

Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil “Cheese” (AKA Italian “Pizza Cheese”)

1 cup raw cashews, soaked for two hours or more
Juice of one lemon
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp white miso (optional)
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup basil

Throw nuts in a food processor and process the heck out of them! Then add salt, lemon juice and miso (if you’re using it). Scrape the sides of bowl and run your processor again, this time drizzling some water in. Keep doing this until the cheese reaches the consistency you like. Think "ricotta-texture." Then throw in your chopped sundried tomatoes and fresh basil and pulse to incorporate. Scrape into a bowl for dipping, spread into a spinach calzone, or layer it into Artichoke Spinach Lasagna.


  1. WHAT!!!!! OH my GOODNESS! This is AMAZING! I just bought sun dried tomatoes yesterday because I have been craving that savory italian taste! Ashlee this recipe looks like it was etched into the recipe books of heaven! Thank you SO much for it!

  2. You are welcome! Awesome! Round here we love Italian food, too.

    Just to clarify, and this may sound like a silly question, but which recipe looks like it is etched into the recipe books of heaven? Cheese, or lasagna??? I wanna' know what types of food everyone likes the most...that way I can try to post more tummy pleasin' recipes.

    And thank you so much for the positive feedback...means the world to me.


  3. Both recipes look awesome but it was the Lasagna that simply amazed me, I was at work like "WHAT!!!" I need to eat this right now! LOL. Didn't you layer both mashed potatoes and the pizza cheese in the lasagna?Thats what the pictures look like you did... But something that I need in a recipe is how to use it. So for example, if someone posts a "pizza cheese" I want to see how it is used in a tested and tried recipe, just like you did! I think the average person needs a lot of detailed instruction on what to do and how to use new, healthy components and put them all together in a complete delicious meal. Have you made a pizza with the Pizza Cheese? I would LOVE to see your recipe for it if you have. But trust me, the Gods probably will have their personal angel Chef make this Lasagna for them :-). I SO want to make this.

  4. Okay, that is REALLY good feedback. I need to remember that. Sometimes certain things come so naturally to me now, after 9 months of eating like this that I take for granted what I am doing in the kitchen. Believe me, I am still learning a TON and I still have failure recipes.

    I did make an actual spinach Calzone (much like Il Vicino's) using the pizza cheese, and, oh wow! It tastes awesome. Paul LOVES this pizza cheese. I will post detailed instructions as to how to make Spinach Calzones using the pizza cheese.

    On the lasagna, in those pictures I did make it using both mashed potatoes and pizza cheese. It came out too creamy for me, and not as meaty as I am used to, and it needed to have baked for longer. That's why in my post I state that I strongly prefer to just use the mashed potatoes. Perfect blend of creamy combined with meaty. Honestly I haven't tried the lasagna using ONLY pizza cheese but I am quite sure it would work because the spinach calzones taste so fantastic with the pizza cheese and the idea is generally the same: bread/pasta, marinara sauce, veg (spinach) and pizza cheese. Dreena Burton also suggests making lasagna using cashew cheese as layering. Something that sounds fantastic to me is a whole other lasagna made with layered roasted vegetables and pizza cheese, with pasta and marinara sauce. My brain has been working on that one.

    It was a lot more work and time to use both pizza cheese and mashed potatoes so I would just pick one of them to make, unless you make pizza cheese ahead of time, on a previous day. Otherwise you will be in the kitchen for like 2 hours of prep.

    But like I said I will post the calzones so you can see another scrumptious way of using the pizza cheese.

    I also have a FANTASTIC Mexican Lasagna that I am going to post. YUM!

  5. How can I make this gluten free so Mom will be able to eat it too? I havn't been able to find gluten free "no-boil" noodles, only the brown rice lasagna noodles that you have to boil in water first. Suggestions? Also, In you post today (10-2-2012) you said that you used cauliflower to make a pizza cheese, could you update this post to incorporate this new variation of 'cheese'?

    1. Where have you looked? I was able to buy brown rice lasagna noodles that are no boil. I believe at Sunflower Market or Whole Foods Market. At least I know they exist, and are carried in local health food markets. The brown rice noodles taste great -- I didn't notice a big difference. Yes, I will update this recipe to include the cauliflower and cashew pizza cheese. It takes a bit of work to make, do you still think you, and others, would want it? You basically make the italian pizza cheese, and then thin it out with the basic Cauliflower Bechamel sauce in the food processor. But I can post details if you think all would actually use it.

    2. I just want to know exactly how you made the recipe that you have pictured. The picture looks like there is both mashed potatoes and the pizza cheese?

    3. Pictured above is Italian pizza cheese thinned out with mashed potatoes. It was a lot of work to do it that way, as mashed potatoes are a lot of work just by themselves. Then, I had to layer the mashed potatoes, layer pizza cheese, layer "meat", layer sauce, layer noodles, start all over again.

      The guests who tried it loved it with Italian Pizza Cheese, thinned out with 1 cup of blended cauliflower. This method was quite a bit easier as steamed cauliflower can just be thrown directly into the blender. Then added to the Italian pizza cheese while it is still in the food processor.

      Ideally, I would like to be able to make this lasagna with Italian pizza cheese, thinned out with nondairy milk. This will be my next experiment.

      All right, you convinced me! I am making this tonight and I will post exactly exactly exactly what I do. As well as what I did when I had non-vegan guests and they loved it.

    4. Thank you Thank you! I kept coming back to this post wanting to make it but I would get so confused as to exactly how because it seems like there are several variations in one recipe.

    5. Exactly what I did is use the artichoke spinach filling with mashed potatoes. As written. As of this comment, I no longer use the italian pizza cheese, I only use mashed potatoes.

  6. I was going through your recipe index and saw this and was excited. Genius- using mashed potatoes in place of cheese. When it came out of the oven it looked like cheesy bread-like goodness. My husband and I ate it up. My one year old couldn't get enough. I can't say the same for my 6 and 3 year old, however but that's nothing new. Looking forward to trying another oldie but goodie :) thanks again, alicia

    1. Glad it worked out! We all have our picky eaters, tho, huh? You might try the calzones -- I got quite a bit of positive feedback on those, too.

  7. Oh yeah, I've tried those and they were a success with the kids :)