Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spinach Lasagna

In my last post I mentioned our trip to my friend's cabin.  When we are up there we tend be out during the day and then home in the evenings.  So lunch often finds us grabbing a bite to eat in town (or up at the ski lodge depending on the time of year) but by dinner time everyone is ready to get comfortable for a night of games, movies and stargazing.  I decided to bring up lasagna for the first night so we wouldn't have to go to the store or spend much time in the kitchen.  This recipe is one that has become a favorite.  The original recipe that I work from is one for Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna from Bon Appetit, February 2000.  I have modified it over time to be vegetarian, more spinach than basil but very, very good.  I use finely chopped mushrooms to mimic the sausage flavor - in fact the youngest guest (who hates mushrooms) loved the "sausage lasagna."

Spinach Lasagna

Sauce Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 oz. crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes with added puree 
1 14oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain)

Lasagna ingredients:
18 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese*
5 ounces grated paremsan
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
16 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 15 ounce container, plus one cup, part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
16 no-boil lasagna noodles
non-stick oil spray

First you have to make the "sausage."  Combine the finely chopped mushrooms with the fennel seed, red pepper and sea salt.

Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat and add the mushroom mixture and saute until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the mushrooms are browned and look like crumbled sausage
Transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl.  Add the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and add the onions and garlic.  Cook over medium-high heat until they are soft and start to brown just a little bit.  Add in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, oregano and mushroom mixture.  Bring the sauce to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes to blend the flavors.  Season with salt, pepper and more crushed red pepper to taste.

For the filling put the basil leaves in your food processor and pulse to finely chop basil.  Add ricotta, 6 ounces of the mozzarella (about 1 1/2 cups packed), 2 ounces parmesan (about 3/4 cup), egg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Squeeze out all of the excess liquid from your thawed spinach (I like to put it in a clean cotton dishtowel and wring it out) and put in the processor bowl.  Pulse a few more times to blend the spinach with the cheese but keep it a bit chunky.

Preheat the oven to 375.  To assemble the lasagna spread 1 1/4 cups sauce in a 13x9x2 glass baking dish.  Arrange four of the no-boil noodles across the bottom - they may overlap just slightly but it will be okay.  If they overlap a LOT (if your pan is slightly smaller) then just use three.  Drop 1 1/2 cups (generously filled) over the noodles and spread evenly to cover.  It is easier to use your hands for this so that the noodles don't move around. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Repeat layers of sauce, noodles, filling and cheese 2 more times.
Top with the remaining 4 noodles.  Spoon the remaining sauce on top of the noodles and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Spray a large piece of foil with non-stick spray and cover the lasagna.

Bake lasagna at 375 for 40 minutes.  Carefully uncover.  Increase oven temperature to 400.  Bake until the noodles are tender, the sauce bubbles thickly and the edges of the lasagna are golden and puffed, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to work surface and let it stand 15 minutes before serving.

*Note about the mozzarella.  This recipe calls for 18 oz of shredded mozzarella and most packages of pre-shredded or whole mozzarella are sold in either 8, 12 or 16 oz packages.  I used a 16 oz. package of shredded cheese and then a chunk of mozzarella fresca (not so fresca though - it was in the freezer)  for the top.  I'm sure the recipe would survive with just 16 ounces.

There were eight of us and this served everyone generously for dinner and several of us for lunch.
Happy campers!

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