“The New Essentials Cookbook, A Modern Guide to Better Cooking,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen. $40.

Lasagna. It seems so simple.

So why does mine always seem to disappoint? It’s not bad, per se, just a little … soggy, or bland. Swapping out which veggies I use, mixing it up with the spices – not matter what I try, it never quite hits the mark.

So I was delighted when I came across a lasagna recipe in “The New Essentials Cookbook, A Modern Guide to Better Cooking,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen. Surely the experts there, and their diligent testing of all the moving parts of a recipe, will help me solve the Mystery of the Meh Lasagna.

Before the big reveal – did the recipe work? what was I doing wrong? – a word about the cookbook, the latest in a steady stream of comprehensive ATK cookbook titles that manages to cover new territory with each addition, yet avoid repetition. Physically sturdy and at almost 500 pages long, “The New Essentials” is comprehensive.

There’s a whole section on how to prep certain foods – trimming snow peas, cutting hearty greens, and preparing herbs, ginger and leeks. Advice on what tools you need for a “starter” kitchen, and the best “upgrades,” such as a springform pan and a dedicated spice grinder. It walks readers through the basic contents of a well-stocked pantry, and “secret ingredients” to take recipes to the next level, including smoked paprika, tahini and fish sauce. Food safety, knife tips, how to season food, and 100 pages on “the simplest way to cook everything” make this the perfect resource cookbook in any kitchen, and probably an excellent graduation gift.


Like the other titles from America’s Test Kitchen, it pulls together not just recipes, but also explains why a certain combination works, or which brand of – in my case, no-boil noodles – works best. These “think like a cook” sections, paired with each recipe, were my favorite parts of the cookbook. The drilled-down descriptions cover everything from how to broil, why to overcook chicken thighs (it’s about breaking down the collagen,) how to “bloom” spices to amp up their flavor and directions for making the perfect glaze.

As for that lasagna: success! The recipe upended all my preconceived notions of a basic lasagna – No ricotta! Forget the meat! Broil the moisture out of the veggies! – and it totally worked.

The texture was firm, almost like a torta, instead of goopy spoonfuls. The vegetables – spiced and then roasted – stood out on their own, and the eggplant in particular was a nice touch. I’d never tried eggplant in lasagna before, concerned it would be too strong or bitter.

Swapping out the ricotta for Parmesan and mozzarella was also a key improvement – a sharper, tangier bite with great texture.

Mystery solved!

Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant Lasagna


Recipe from “The New Essentials Cookbook, A Modern Guide to Better Cooking,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen.

Serves 8. Total time 2 hours.


1 ½ pounds zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 ½ pounds eggplant, cut into ½-inch pieces

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


9 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper

1 onion, chopped fine

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil



12 no-boil lasagna noodles

12 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (3 cups)

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)

FOR THE SAUCE: Adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss zucchini and eggplant with 3 tablespoons oil, two-thirds of garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Spread vegetables in single layer on 2 greased rimmed baking sheets and roast, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes later.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes and their juice, bringing to simmer, and cook until flavors meld, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. (You should have 7 cups sauce. Add water as needed to reach 7 cups.)

FOR THE LASAGNA: Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Lay 3 noodles in dish, spread one-quarter of vegetables over noodles, then top with 1 cup sauce, 2/3 cup mozzarella, and 1/2 cup Parmesan (in that order). Repeat layering process 2 more times. Top with remaining 1 cup mozzarella, and remaining ½ cup Parmesan.

Cover dish tightly with greased aluminum foil, place on foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover, and continue to bake until spotty brown and bubbling around edges, 25 to 35 minutes. Let casserole cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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