Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spinach Lasagna

Rebecca has been begging me for weeks to make lasagna, ever since we ate some at the volunteer dinner our church hosts for all the youth every spring.  That lasagna was so good, I ate the last bit of Rebecca's portion, and half of Christina's, rejoicing with every bite, because I really don't make it but once or twice a year.  The kids like pasta, but like their Dad, they will only eat certain kinds (penne, linguini, etc).  I could eat it every day...but it would affect my waistline...big time. 

I told Rebecca we'd make lasagna over Spring Break when we'd have time...and not rush some good mommy-daughter time in the kitchen.  I so wish we could put some Italian sausage in it...but it's Lent, so we are going with spinach and finely chopped mushrooms instead.  Hopefully the kids won't see 'em!  But I'm thinking about cooking up some sausage for the next day and adding it to any leftover sauce...then we could serve it over the top.  Yum!

You can use fresh spinach if you'd like...I chose frozen to save the blanching step.  And I used part skim ricotta...fat free anything never tastes quite right to me.  And if you want to make homemade pasta sauce...go right ahead.  I just used what was on special at the store this week, but do yourself a favor and don't buy the cheap stuff.  I like Barilla or Classico, but you use your favorite brand. 

Spinach Lasagna

20 lasagna noodles (1 box)
2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces finely chopped fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 cups fresh spinach, blanched and drained well
OR 1, (10 ounce boxes frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed very dry)
3 cups part skim ricotta cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 egg
3-4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3 cups homemade or jarred tomato pasta sauce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

* A note of interest before we proceed with this recipe, which was brought to my attention today.    Canon law 1251 states says abstaining from meat on Fridays of Lent is not required if it falls on a Solemnity.  Since tomorrow is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, you are not bound to abstain from meat.  I have chosen to stick with my original plan of making meatless lasagna, but I imagine the addition of some browned, sweet/spicy Italian sausage to the tomato pasta sauce would be delicious.  Here's a good article if you are interested in learning more-- In the Light of the Law.

Now that's settled ;-).  Let's make lasagna people!

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Swirl in a teaspoon of olive oil--this will keep the noodles from sticking together.  Add the lasagna noodles and cook just shy of al dente.  (Honestly, I cook 'em only about 2/3rds through...they'll finish later on in the oven).  Drain the noodles and lay out on a baking sheet to cool.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and saute until tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and drain well (I used a colander lined with several layers of paper towels). 

Put the mixture into a large bowl.  Add the ricotta, spinach, nutmeg, Pecorino Romano cheese, salt, oregano, basil, and egg.  (I used Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle in place of the basil and oregano).  I confess, my pictures are not in the same order as the directions...I put everything for the filling in the bowl, and almost forgot about the onion/mushroom mixture. happens!

One little secret to a good lasagna is to make sure your filling isn't too watery or loose.  That's why we drained the onion/mushroom mixture and squeezed the spinach dry.  A wet lasagna will slip and slide all over the place when you cut into it. 

It's time to assemble!  Make sure all your little helpers are ready, and line up the noodles, filling, tomato sauce, and cheeses out on your work surface. 

Spread about 1/2 cup of the pasta sauce on the bottom of a lightly greased, 9x13 baking dish. 

Lay 3-4 lasagna noodles over the sauce. 

Spread over 1/3 of the ricotta/spinach mixture...

followed by 1 cup of shredded mozzarella...
(You'll notice I used pre-sliced was cheaper that week than the bags of shredded cheese)

1/3 cup of parmesan cheese...

and 1 cup of the tomato pasta sauce. 

Repeat the layering process 2-3 more times.  We had enough noodles, filling and tomato sauce to make 4 layers total. 

On top of the last layer of noodles, spread a little bit of tomato sauce and sprinkle on some more mozzarella cheese.  (I added a little more parmesan and a little pasta sprinkle too). 

Cover the pan with some foil (if you lightly grease the underside of the foil, the melting cheese won't stick).  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Uncover the lasagna and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. 

Mama Mia!  Ain't she a beaut? (what a combination...Italian and East Texas twang...LOL!)

Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving so it has time to set up...and it will be easier to cut into.  This goes great with a green salad or roasted vegetable on the side...the more veggies the better, right? 

Our Joshua would say, "This is Garfield's favorite meal Mom!"  (He loves the Garfield comic strip, and has half a dozen of the comic books).  Thank goodness he behaves better than that cat. 

Enjoy, and God bless your table tonight!

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