October 2016

The year of 2016 has been zipping by.  I just realized there are only three more months left for My Year Of Italy, and I have yet to write a column on lasagna.

We can trace the origins of lasagna back to the Middle Ages to Naples, Italy.  Traditional Neapolitan lasagna is made with layers of pasta, ragu (meat-based tomato sauce) béchamel (white sauce), Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped hard-boiled eggs.  In other regions of Italy, as well as here in the U.S. we make lasagna with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, marinara sauce (tomato sauce), various chopped meats, and vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.

My recipe for lasagna is vegetarian. I use spinach and mushrooms and part skim ricotta and mozzarella to make a lighter, healthier dish. With a rather lengthy list of ingredients and several components to the instructions, this is not a quick and easy recipe. Yet, no intricate techniques are required, and there is nothing inherently difficult about this recipe.  I suggest breaking the recipe down into its components and preparing some steps in advance.  The mushroom and spinach mixtures can be made up to two days ahead of time; the lasagna noodles can be cooked a day ahead and refreshed with hot water before using in the recipe.

This enlightened version of the traditional lasagna is the perfect dish to serve when cooler brisker weather calls for comfort foods that are filling, yet healthy. Golden brown and bubbling, the finished casserole yields a heavenly commingling of alternating layers of pasta, tomato sauce, sautéed vegetables and melted cheeses. Get ready for kudos when you serve your culinary masterpiece with a fresh salad and some crusty garlic bread.

Buon appetito!

Vegetarian Lasagne

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces lasagna noodles* (about 12 noodles), slightly undercooked and spread on foil or wax paper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • ½ cup shallots, chopped
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound fresh baby spinach
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 16 ounces part skim ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounces part skim mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups tomato sauce (homemade or store bought)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the onions and shallots for 5 to 10 minutes or until they are translucent.  Add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Add the balsamic vinegar and cook until most of it has evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse the spinach in cold water.  Place in a large pot with ¼ teaspoon salt and only the water still clinging to the leaves, and cook over moderate heat for about 5 to 6 minutes until the spinach is wilted and soft.  Place in a colander and press the spinach to drain the liquid.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic until golden on both sides.  Remove the garlic and chop. Add the drained spinach to the skillet with the garlic flavored olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and sauté several minutes until the spinach is wilted and has lost most of its moisture.  Remove from the heat, add the chopped garlic and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, mozzarella (reserve two tablespoons to sprinkle on top), Parmesan cheese (reserve two tablespoons to sprinkle on top), parsley, eggs and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread about ½ cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 13” by 9” baking pan and layer the ingredients in the following manner: Place three to 4 strips of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan.  Spread half of the cheese mixture on top of the noodles.  Now place half of the spinach mixture on top of the cheese, and then spread half of the mushroom mixture on top of the spinach.  Pour about 1 and ½ cups of tomato sauce on top of the layers and spread evenly.  Repeat the layering starting with the noodles and ending with a layer of noodles.  Spread about 1 cup of tomato sauce on top of the final noodle layer, then sprinkle with the reserved mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until the cheeses are golden brown and bubbly.  Allow the lasagna to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Notes: *I like to use whole wheat lasagna noodles if available