This veggie-packed dish offers memory-making flavors with only half the cheese of traditional lasagnas. PHOTO CREDIT: Kellie Hynes

A skinny lasagna for all ages

I’ve been making the same handful of dinner recipes since warm weather hit. It’s like the part of my brain devoted to meals has posted a “gone fishing” sign.

The dishes I cook on autopilot are the old standards my own mother served. That sounds sweet, until I confess that I was raised on Tang, Jell-O molds, and candy cigarettes. Nutritionally speaking, the ’70s are not the decade to fall back on. While it’s easy enough to Google a healthy recipe, it’s hard to turn a critical eye to the ones that are deep in our repertoire. But the twinge of healthy cooking guilt I felt when I watched my kiddos shovel piles of cholesterol-laden lasagna into their gaping maws was enough to send me back to square one, and the grocery store.

When you walk down the pasta aisle, do you automatically reach for the box you always buy? On a recent trip, I paused to read the nutritional information on several new-to-me packages. I was delighted to discover that whole-grain pasta has around 9 grams of protein in a 2-ounce serving. (As if anyone eats only 2 ounces of lasagna.) It allowed me to skip the meat in my family recipe without my football-training boys worrying about a lack of muscle-building protein. If you’re contemplating a stealthy swap, I assure you we found no discernible taste difference between the whole-wheat and enriched white lasagna noodles.

I similarly perused the cheese options in the dairy case, and found a ricotta labeled “light.” It contained significantly less fat and fewer calories than the red container I habitually add to my cart. I used only half of the cheese that’s required in my rote recipe and, instead, bulked up the white layer with savory sauteed cauliflower. If you are so inclined, you can omit both the ricotta and the sprinkle of mozzarella on top to make your lasagna virtually fat-free.

This new recipe calls for more vegetables than anything that ever graced my childhood table, and at first glance, you might think it requires too much chopping. I can cut up all of the vegetables in about 6 minutes, or less if I’m working out some frustration. You can also purchase pre-diced veggies in the produce aisle, advance-chop them on the weekend, or pulse them in the food processor. Make this recipe, or use it as inspiration to reimagine your family’s old standby. It may very well become the recipe your own children carry to the next generation.

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LASAGNA PRIMAVERA

9 (100 percent whole-grain) lasagna noodles

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups diced white onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 cups cauliflower florets, chopped 1/2-inch or smaller

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided

15 ounces light ricotta cheese

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

4 cups broccoli florets, chopped 1/2-inch or smaller

5 ounces baby spinach

2 (10-ounce) containers cherry tomatoes

2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil), julienne cut

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

8 ounces shredded low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Prepare lasagna noodles according to the package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large, cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute an additional minute. Pour the onion and garlic into a large mixing bowl.

Without wiping out the skillet, add the cauliflower and 1 cup of broth. Simmer 5-6 minutes until the florets are soft and the broth evaporates. Add the softened cauliflower, ricotta and red pepper flakes to the onion mixture. Stir well and set aside.

Add the broccoli and 1 cup of broth to the skillet. Simmer 4 minutes. Add the baby spinach and cook 2 minutes more, until the spinach wilts and the broth has evaporated. Pour the broccoli and spinach mixture into a second bowl and set aside.

Add the cherry and sun-dried tomatoes, and 1 cup of broth, to the skillet. Simmer for 4 minutes until the fresh tomato skins wrinkle. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the tomatoes into a separate bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar to the bowl. Stir and set aside. (Vegetables can all be cooked in advance and refrigerated for up to three days before assembling the lasagna.)

Place 3 cooked noodles in the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the broccoli mixture evenly over the noodles. Place 3 more noodles on top and cover them with the cauliflower mixture. Add a layer of basil over the cauliflower and three more noodles. Cover the noodles with the tomato mixture and sprinkle with mozzarella.

Bake, uncovered, 25-35 minutes until the top layer of cheese has melted. Serve hot. Makes 9 servings.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 246 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), 14 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 6 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 236 milligrams sodium.

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