Thursday, April 21, 2011


We don’t eat much lasagna at Chez Bookcook; A likes the traditional meaty-cheesy variety, whereas I prefer something lighter, more vegetably, and more interesting, so we’re forced to make do with the other 3.7 billion (er, 51 at last count, to be precise) pasta recipes in my repertoire. I’ve only dabbled in making it a few times (my only recorded effort is here) and have never hit upon a recipe I found particularly noteworthy…until now (cue trumpet fanfare).

This iteration from Baking Bites isn’t wildly exotic, but it strikes a perfect balance between the traditional tomato-beef lasagna and my vegetal cravings by adding mushrooms to the sauce and spinach to the ricotta, and it contains just enough cheese to be comforting without being greasy or heavy. It’s kind of like a cross between my spaghetti sauce and stuffed shells recipes, and it pleased both factions in our home equally well. A even got excited over eating the leftovers, which is high praise indeed from him. Plus, it’s fairly easy to make and used up some of the ancient no-boil noodles I had in the cupboard (I know some people don’t care for them, and granted it’s not difficult to boil noodles, but in addition to their convenience I actually like their more al-dente texture). I’m tossing out my old recipes and sticking to this one from now on.

Aside from adding basil to the sauce, the only changes I made to the recipe were by necessity: since my tomato sauce came in 15-ounce cans and my ricotta in a 15-ounce tub, I was a few ounces short on liquids, and my lasagna came out a tad on the dryer side. I may have exacerbated this by squeezing the liquid out of my thawed spinach—the recipe didn’t specify this, but every other recipe I’ve seen that uses frozen spinach calls for it, so I did it as a matter of course. It made for a rather crumbly ricotta mixture; instead of “spreading it into an even layer” on the lasagna, I found myself dabbing it in dollops. So I think I’ll experiment with not squeezing the spinach next time, or at least squeezing it less enthusiastically. For now, I’ve just put “drained” in the recipe, because I don’t think it should be swimming in liquid.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups cremini mushrooms, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 pound lean ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
32 ounces tomato sauce
10 ounces chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
16 ounces ricotta cheese
⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
9 no-boil lasagna noodles

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 2–3 minutes, until just beginning to soften. Add mushrooms, garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil and cook for an additional 3–4 minutes, until mushrooms are softened. Add ground beef and cook just until meat is no longer pink, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks. Add tomato sauce, turn heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

2. While the sauce simmers, combine spinach, ricotta, and Parmesan in a large bowl and mix well.

3. Cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with about 1½ cups of the tomato-meat sauce. Evenly space three no-boil lasagna noodles on top of the sauce layer. Top noodles with about half of the spinach mixture, spreading it into an even layer. Top with about half of the remaining sauce. Top this sauce layer with three more noodles, followed by the ricotta spinach mixture, followed by the remaining noodles. Pour all of the remaining sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, then uncover the lasagna and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until sauce is slightly bubbly. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves: 8
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good.

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