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MICROWAVE : Pesto Presto

July 08, 1993|MARCIA CONE and THELMA SNYDER

While we have known for a long time that dark-green vegetables are high in iron, nutritionists also had a hunch that fresh, dark-green herbs such as basil and parsley would provide substantial amounts too. Mary McCarthy of the United States Department of Agriculture has done nutritional counts on fresh herbs. She found that there are 1.6 milligrams of iron in two cups of loosely packed basil leaves, about one-half milligram per tablespoon.

In a recipe such as Low-Fat Pesto, there is .4 milligram of iron in one serving. When figuring the iron content of the Vegetarian Pesto Lasagna, that .4 milligram of iron is added to the iron in the tomatoes (which also have Vitamin C to help the body absorb the iron), the iron in the Tomato-Parsley Sauce and the iron in the zucchini or asparagus. The total iron available per serving in the Vegetarian Pesto Lasagna will either be 1.7 milligrams for the version made with zucchini or two milligrams for the asparagus variation. This surpasses the 1.8 milligrams iron found in three ounces of lean ground beef.

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Here's a pesto with all that vibrant garlic-basil flavor, but made with only one tablespoon of oil.

LOW-FAT PESTO

2 cloves garlic

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, washed and dried

4 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/3 cup water

Start food processor, drop garlic cloves into feed tube and process until chopped.

Add basil, green onions, Parmesan cheese and pepper. Pulse on and off until finely chopped. Pour in oil and water and process until mixed well, scraping down sides with spatula once or twice. Makes about 3/4 cup.

TOMATO-PARSLEY SAUCE

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine oil and garlic in 2 1/2-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper.

Cover with lid or with plastic wrap, turned back slightly on 1 side. Microwave on HIGH until heated through, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes. Makes about 2 cups.

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Won ton skins are one of the fresh pastas of the Orient. Rolled thinly, they need no precooking for this layered casserole. Because the won tons are fresh, the remaining portions should be frozen for later use.

VEGETARIAN PESTO LASAGNA

Tomato-Parsley Sauce

1 pound small young zucchini, cut into 2x1/4-inch-thick pieces

1 (16-ounce) container nonfat cottage cheese

4 ounces nonfat mozzarella cheese, shredded

Low-Fat Pesto

1/4 pound won ton skins

Pour 1 cup Tomato-Parsley Sauce into 2-cup glass measure or similar size microwave-safe container. Set aside to be heated later and served at table.

Place zucchini into 2-quart microwave-safe casserole and cover with lid or plastic wrap, turned back slightly on 1 side. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) until tender-crisp, 4 to 6 minutes, stirring once.

Combine cottage cheese, mozzarella and pesto in bowl. Spoon 1/2 cup Tomato-Parsley Sauce into bottom of 8-inch-square microwave-safe dish. Place 4 won ton skins in single layer on top of sauce. Spoon about 1/3 cheese mixture evenly over won ton skins. Arrange about 1/3 of zucchini on top of cheese and top with layer of 4 won ton skins. Repeat layering 2 more times, ending with won ton skins.

Spoon remaining 1/2 cup sauce evenly over layered stacks of won tons. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH until heated through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Before serving, microwave sauce in 2-cup measure on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes. Spoon into bowl for serving at table along with lasagna. Makes 4 servings.

Note : Won ton skins are generally purchased in 1-pound packages. Divide each package into 4 equal piles. Individually wrap and freeze remaining 3 piles and freeze. When ready to use 1 of them, remove from freezer and microwave on DEFROST 1 minute.

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