My husband Alan is quite bossy in the kitchen and I usually follow his advice since he’s a wonderful and talented chef. However, once in a while, I actually know what I’m doing and have to insist on doing it my way. So here’s what happened with the spinach lasagna.
I was cooking my lasagna for Thanksgiving Eve dinner with the Goldsteins. As I was mixing up the cheeses and getting ready to chop the fresh spinach, Alan said to me, “I strongly recommend that you blanche the spinach and squeeze it very dry before mixing it in.” And I said, “I’m not going to do it.” You should have seen his face. He was incredulous! He repeated to me, “I STRONGLY recommend it.” And I refused, saying: “I’ve made this dish many times before and I’m going to use the fresh spinach, trust me.” Later Alan confessed that he thought “okay, she’s on her own” and that he was very worried about it. But thankfully the lasagna turned out perfect and wasn’t watery at all. In fact, it held together very nicely, with just the right amount of cheese, the spinach was distributed nicely, and the whole grain lasagna noodles gave it a great flavor and made it a healthy meal. I got rave reviews from the both Goldsteins AND the Wilds and Smiths (I traveled to Tampa and made the same dish for my family the following week). Vindication. The sweet smell of success. Happy families all around. And as promised, here’s the recipe, adapted from “The Vegetarian Epicure” by Anna Thomas.
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup red wine
1 big can whole tomatoes
1 big can tomato puree
1 small can tomato paste
Water as necessary for smooth consistency
Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil and sprinkle it with the oregano. When the onions are translucent, stir in the red wine and the basil, oregano and parsley. Then squeeze in the whole tomatoes using your hands. This gives an irregular shape to the tomatoes, which is a good thing, and it’s fun to get your hands dirty. Add the squished tomatoes into the sauce along with the puree and tomato paste. Let this simmer while you’re preparing the rest of the lasagna, stirring occasionally, and if it gets too thick you can add some water to keep it smooth and saucy.
Optional: Thyme mushrooms
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp. dried thyme
Saute the mushrooms and thyme in the olive oil until it gives up its water. Set it aside to cool. Just before you begin assembling the lasagna, stir these into the tomato wine sauce. Waiting helps to keep the flavors separate.
Optional: Italian sausage (adding meat to vegetarian lasagna significantly improves the flavor if you ask me):
3 or 4 links sweet Italian sausage
Pull off the sausage casings and brown the sausage until it’s completely cooked. Drain off all the excess grease and pat the sausage dry with a paper towel. Make sure it’s broken up into small chunks and stir into the tomato wine sauce.
1 ½ qt tomato sauce
1 ½ lbs spinach, chopped
1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 lbs ricotta cheese (reduced fat is okay)
1 lb grated romano cheese
3 eggs beaten
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
10 – 20 fresh basil leaves if you have them, or use 1 tbsp dried basil
1 lb mozzarella
About 20 lasagna noodles, whole grain if you can find them, (figure out how many will fit in your lasagna pan and plan on 3 layers)
Put on a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. While you’re waiting, put the olive oil in a skillet, sautée the onion and garlic, and let it cool. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta and egg. Add the grated romano, parsley, basil and the cooked onion and garlic. Stir in the fresh spinach. You may need to use your hands to get it well-distributed, once again getting your hands dirty, which is just so much fun. Grate or slice the mozzarella. Cook the lasagna noodles to al dente being careful not to overcook them — they need to retain some firmness. This will allow them to soak up the liquid from the fresh spinach and prevent the lasagna from being too watery.
Now you’re ready to assemble.
Grease two lasagna pans with olive oil. Put a small amount of sauce on the bottom, then layer noodles, a large layer of the spinach/cheese mixture, a light amount of mozzarella and then the sauce. Repeat until you’re just below the top of the pan, making sure you always end with sauce on top. Spread the sauce around so it seals the top – you don’t want any noodle to be exposed, it will dry out when it bakes.
Cover with tin foil, poke holes in it so the steam vents. Bake on 350 for 30 minutes. Then remove the tin foil and bake it uncovered for another 10 to 20 minutes or until it’s bubbly and the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let it stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. Add a salad and some garlic bread and you’ve got a killer delicious meal. This lasagna actually tastes even better the next day or reheated from the freezer, so that’s why I like to make two lasagnas and freeze the leftovers for later.