Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: The Lasagna Craves
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
There are times when it feels like the brain is working independently [and against management!] when it comes to that strange phenomena called appetite . More specifically, cravings. Once a dish or type of cuisine gets on the brain serendipitously — a picture in a magazine can trigger it, maybe an aroma from a restaurant or bakery; worse, the remembrance of a flavor or favorite dish that just pops into the head and refuses to leave until it has been fed! Recently, the word Italian was uttered on a news broadcast having nothing to do with food at all, but as soon as I heard the word, I craved something/anything in that culinary genre that had to do with tomato sauce, cheeses, garlic, oregano, etc. Unfortunately for this carb-counter, those flavor memories were always wrapped around some sort of pasta. I even used to make my own every Saturday!
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Admittedly, at first, pasta was very hard to give up. While the incentive to stay alive as a diagnosed diabetic should be enough to quit this very high carb, old palate habits are tough to break and take a bit of mental trickery. Firstly, one needs to stop “giving up” pasta. Thinking about its loss does not help the matter. If your carb counting is due to a diagnosis, all pasta is now off the menu – get over it. The mindset has to be that pasta is not missing from your plate—a plate half-full attitude; instead, since it is no longer allowed, stop wishing it were and move on. There is life after pasta!
Anyway, back to craving. This particular yearning matured from generally wanting anything Italian into a more focused desire to taste Lasagna again – also something I used to prepare regularly. So, the thought of Italian sausage smothered in a creamy ricotta-mozzarella-parmesan-marinara sauce mixture just had to be satisfied. There were two hurdles to overcome. First, the dish is layered with a type of wide flat pasta variety so specifically designed for this dish that they are called Lasagna Noodles. Second, my craving for a rich marinara sauce did not come with the patience to spend hours tending to the slow simmer it takes to develop my own sauce. That’s the thing about a craving, it’s a want-it-now thing.
Those obstacles were accomplished in the tasty solution recipe below with the help of some fresh zucchini and a famous actor. That layered texture that lasagna noodles provide needed to be there somehow. The pasta itself was easily replaced with strips of fresh zucchini, thin-sliced with a mandolin. By September, anyone tending a summer garden has zucchini aplenty and will appreciate this repurposing – there is a limit to how much zucchini bread one can consume! However, during the baking process, these thin strips would not hold shape well enough to provide the clear separating role like traditional noodles do in a layered lasagna casserole. Since I was looking to replicate the taste of lasagna, I decided that the form did not have to match; it was my palate, not my vision, which needed to be fed! So, instead of laying the strips flat, these zucchini roll ups held up nicely during the bake and deliver a layered bite of lasagna-on-a-fork! The marinara sauce came out of a jar -- first simmered and then marketed by a well-known actor’s family. It’s actually quite authentic tasting, especially considering the very impatient mindset of a chef with the craves! Most importantly, my thirst for Italian was quenched and without the aid of a pasta’s empty calories and high carbs. Life after pasta.
Zucchini Lasagna Roll Ups
3 large zucchinis; trimmed, mandolin-sliced lengthwise into ⅛-inch-thick strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ pound ground Italian sausage, casing removed
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 large egg
¼ cup dried oregano
1 tablespoon Melissa’s Minced Garlic
1 ½ cups marinara sauce, divided
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Sprinkle each side of zucchini slices with salt, lay them flat in a single layer onto the baking sheet, and let stand 15 minutes.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add Italian sausage and cook until browned, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat and cool. Then, in a medium bowl, combine sausage, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, basil and garlic; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Spread 1 cup marinara sauce onto the bottom of a 10-inch oven-proof skillet; set aside. Now spread 1 tablespoon ricotta mixture evenly along each zucchini slice; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon mozzarella cheese. Roll up and place each roll up in the prepared skillet.
Top with remaining ½ cup marinara sauce and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake for 25-30 minutes @ 400°F until lasagna rolls are heated through and the cheese is beginning to brown. Serve immediately.