Thirty years ago, you might not have been able to get away with serving winter vegetable lasagna at a dinner party. When they got their plates, some of your guests would politely poke around in their noodles looking for pieces of sausage or beef, anything in the way of meat. But starting around 1970, people began to think more about the balance of meat and vegetables in their diets.
It might have been the influence of ethnic foods, which were traditionally vegetarian, or the impact of animal rights movements, or the growing concern about the effect of eating meat on the environment and health. Some jumped right in, ate only grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, and declared themselves vegans. Others took a more modified approach, called themselves semi-vegetarians, and ate chicken and fish but no red meat. In between were pescatarians who ate fish but no chicken or meat and lacto-ovo vegetarians who cut out all meat but ate eggs and dairy.
While all this was going on, vegetarian cookbooks were taking up more space on bookstore shelves, and the image of a vegetarian was changing from scruffy Birkenstocks to polished wing tips. We are now at the point where most people are happy to wolf down a vegetarian entree.
A winter vegetable lasagna, filled with butternut squash, turnip greens and spinach, can be the hit of a meal. When you bring the casserole to the table, we can practically guarantee it will never occur to anyone to start searching for meat.
—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.