Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Vegetarian Three Cheese Spinach and Leek Lasagna

Spinach and Leek Lasagna



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Fear Conquered: Veggie Lasagna

This was the very first thing I ever made for Boyfriend Javelin. It was Valentine's Day, I was attempting to be romantic and flowers just seemed so...well...not Boyfriend Javelin. I think he was impressed - but it might have just been shock.

Perhaps he was less shocked (and certainly less impressed) when he found out my little secret - I'd been routinely making the exact same lasagna since junior-high for my family. It was the ONE dish I could cobble together with guaranteed approval from the family. So I made it a lot. Until I'm sure they were sick of it.

To be truthful, I didn't make this EXACT version for Boyfriend Javelin (or my family). There were no leeks in the original (because what were those?) and I used cottage cheese instead of ricotta (a family thing). I also used boiled ruffled lasagna pasta instead of no-boil flat pasta (again, a family thing). And I quite naively popped open cans of tomatoes and tomato paste for the sauce (BPA - what's that?).

Frozen Chopped Spinach

But the frozen spinach has remained constant over the years. Although it could just as easily be cooked and drained kale or chard or any other dark leafy green.

I take no credit for the original spinach lasagna I grew up making - it belongs to a spiral-bound church cookbook from somewhere in Iowa. I think. But maybe from Springfield, Illinois. Or someplace else. The point is, I can't take credit for putting spinach into lasagna.

I could take credit for this spinach and leek version - but I won't. Because really, lasagna isn't so much a recipe as a common set of ingredients layered together with pasta - and then baked. Change an ingredient here or there, replace cans with fresh tomatoes, add some leeks - and it's still basically the same thing. Unless you get all radical and ditch the tomatoes. Or the cheese. Or the pasta.

But why?

Spinach and Leek Lasagna

What makes this lasagna so special to me is the technique and final outcome. So many lasagnas suffer from too much or too little moisture. Either there's a puddle of liquid draining out of the lasagna or it's dry and crumbly.

Not so with this lasagna. It's moist yet composed, solidly layered without becoming dry and brick-like. The layers cut like butter yet cling together in a satisfying tower of cheese and pasta. There's plenty of sauce - but not enough to drown the other flavors. And there's cheese. So. Much. Cheese. The leeks and spinach (or kale or chard or whatever healthful green you pick) make it so easy to pretend this lasagna is somehow healthful.

It's not.

But it's exactly what I expect from comforting cheese and pasta. And it's exactly what I'd recommend for any first Valentine (or date night or anniversary or birthday or...that weeknight dinner just because...) - because who doesn't love lasagna?



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Photo Tutorial

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil in Large Saute Pan
Heat oil in a large saute pan.

2 Large Leeks
Trim away dark green portion of 2 large leeks.

Leeks Split and Washed
Slice leeks in half and carefully clean under cold water to remove dirt.

Sliced Leeks Added to Saute Pan
Slice the leeks into 1/2 inch slices and add to hot saute pan.

3 Garlic Cloves with Garlic Press
Mince or press 3 cloves of garlic.

Minced Garlic Added to Sauteed Leeks
Add the minced garlic to the softened leeks.

Ground Fennel Seed
Grind or crush 1 1/2 Tablespoons whole fennel seeds.

Fennel Seed and Dried Oregano Added to Leeks
Add the ground fennel and dried oregano to the leeks.

1/2 Cup White Wine
Add 1/2 cup white wine to the leeks and spices.

5 Cups Homemade Marinara Sauce
Measure 5 cups of pureed homemade marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauced Added to Leeks
Add the marinara sauce to the leeks and spices.

Covered Sauced, Simmering
Cover the sauce and simmer for 30 minutes.

Frozen Chopped Spinach
Defrost 10 ounces of frozen spinach (I use organic).

Frozen Spinach, Drained
Squeeze out the excess liquid from the defrosted spinach.

Ricotta Cheese
Measure 24 ounces (approx 3 cups) of whole milk ricotta cheese.

Part Skim Mozarella Cheese
Grate 16 ounces of part-skim mozzarella cheese.

Grated Cheeses, Egg and Spinach in Large Bowl
Combine the ricotta, spinach, grated mozzarella, one large egg, 4 ounces of grated parmesan cheese and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Spinach and Cheese Filling for Lasagna
Mix the cheese together thoroughly.

Barilla Flat Lasagna Pasta
You will need 18 sheets of no-boil flat lasagna pasta (I prefer Barilla).

Building Lasagna Layers
Spread 1/4 of the marinara sauce mixture on the bottom of a lasagna pan, then layer 6 sheets of lasagna pasta over the sauce, overlapping the pasta as necessary.

Cheese Filling Layer Over Pasta
Add a layer of the cheese/spinach mixture on top of the pasta. Repeat 2 more layers of sauce, pasta and cheese.

Marinara and Grated Parmesan Cheese Final Layer
Spread remaining 1/4 of pasta sauce over the final layer of cheese, then sprinkle with reserved grated parmesan cheese.

Grated Mozzarella Cheese Sprinkled Over Lasagna
Evenly sprinkle reserved 8 ounces of part-skim mozzarella cheese over the lasagna.

Lasagna Covered in Foil for Baking
Cover the lasagna pan with aluminum foil (shiny-side in).

Spinach and Leek Lasagna
Bake the lasagna for 40 minutes at 375F, then shut off oven and open the oven door to the first opening and allow the lasagna to continue to bake for another 30 minutes.

Spinach and Leek Lasagna
Remove the foil and serve immediately.



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Vegetarian Three Cheese Spinach and Leek Lasagna

    by Javelin Warrior
     Prep Time: 60 min
     Cook Time: 70 min

Ingredients (serves 8)
    Sauce
    • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
    • 2 large leeks, halved, cleaned and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 1/2 Tablespoons whole fennel seed, crushed or ground
    • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1/2 cup white wine
    • 5 cups homemade marinara sauce, pureed
    • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
    Cheese Filling
    • 24 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
    • 16 ounces part-skim mozzarella, shredded
    • 4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
    • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 18 sheets no-boil, flat lasagna pasta
    Topping
    • 2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
    • 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, shredded
    Instructions
    1. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; add the leeks to the hot oil and sauté for 5-8 minutes until the leeks begin to brown
    2. Add the minced garlic, oregano, fennel seed and thyme to the pan and sauté for 1 minute; add the white wine and reduce until the wine is mostly absorbed
    3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the marinara sauce, salt and pepper; cover the pan and bring to the boil, then simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally
    4. While the sauce simmers, in a large bowl combine the filling ingredients (excluding the lasagna pasta) and set aside; grate the cheeses for the topping and reserve
    5. Preheat the oven to 375℉
    6. To build lasagna: Use a 10x12x3 inch or 9x13x3 inch non-metal baking dish; spread 1/4 of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, layer 6 lasagna pasta sheets (slightly overlapping) over the sauce, then top with 1/3 of the filling mixture. Repeat two more times with layers of sauce, pasta and cheese filling. Spread the remaining 1/4 of the sauce over the final layer of cheese filling, then sprinkle the top with the reserved parmesan and mozzarella topping cheeses
    7. Cover the lasagna with foil (shiny-side in) and bake for 40 minutes; shut off the oven and open the oven door to the first opening and let the lasagna rest for 30 minutes; remove the foil and serve immediately
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    Hungry for Tips?
    • Foil: Covering the lasagna with foil before baking ensures two things: 1) prevents the cheese from over-browning and 2) the lasagna cooks more evenly without drying out. Because the lasagna remains in the oven for a total of 70 minutes, the foil is essential to a beautiful final result.

      Lasagna Covered in Foil for Baking
       
    • Bake Time: Growing up, I'd bake my lasagna for about 50 minutes at 375F. But the lasagna would either dry out or fall apart when I cut into it. Eventually, I realized the lasagna's structure set up best when I allowed it to gradually begin to cool in the partially open oven before serving. Covering with foil helps to ensure the lasagna doesn't dry out while it begins to cool.
       
    • Pasta Sauce: My homemade marinara sauce is fairly thick which is exactly what you want for this lasagna. The leeks and spinach will add some additional liquid as they cook down, so it's important that the pasta sauce doesn't start out as thin or watery. If you're starting with a bottled marinara sauce, I recommend simmering the sauce with the leeks mostly uncovered to boil-off some of the water too tighten up the sauce.

      Marinara Sauced Added to Leeks
       
    • Ruffled vs. Flat: I prefer the flat no-boil lasagna pasta - it's creates beautiful layers and it's easy to work with. However, I've also had success with traditional ruffled lasagna pasta - and no need to boil it in advance, just layer it in (and you won't need as many sheets of pasta for each layer, either). You could make this even healthier with whole wheat pasta - I'm just not a fan of the texture or flavor.

      Barilla Flat Lasagna Pasta



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    9 comments:

    1. Great looking lasagna! I often use mushrooms in my veggie lasagna -- they add so much flavor. I kind like the ruffled lasagna strips, although when I have time I make my own pasta (the difference in texture is incredible). It's also fun to substitute spinach for some of the egg in pasta, turning it green -- an interesting way to put the spinach in lasagna. Fun post -- thanks.

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    2. I've never added mushrooms, mostly because of the texture. But I'd imagine if they where chopped fine and added to the sauce, they wouldn't noticeably affect texture. And the spinach replacing egg in homemade pasta sounds like a great idea - boosts the nutritional value, too...

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    3. There isn't much better than a great lasagne and this one looks fabulous! I very seldom make one because, as you've probably noticed, I'm a pretty lazy cook. :) Love all of the spinach you used!

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    4. Thanks so much for the kind words, MJ - and I'm so glad you approve :) And I would hardly call you a lazy cook!

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    5. Kayle (The Cooking Actress)February 28, 2014 at 4:35 PM

      I ADORE THIS!!! I loooove leeks--and I'm glad you saw the error of your cottage cheese ways ;P

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    6. I'm so glad you approve, Kayle :) And I still use cottage cheese on occasion, but I've been biased towards ricotta...

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    7. What a coincidence, I used to make a lasagna very similar to your original recipe, yes even down to the cottage cheese (I've never admitted this to my Italian partner, it would be too shocking for him)! A vegetarian friend introduced me to the recipe back in high school and like you, it became the dish I always cooked. Anyway, I love your updated version and I love how it shows that even people growing up and living on different continents can have such a similar culinary history!

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    8. And yes, the consistency of your lasagna is perfect - the layers should always be quite compact like in your photo; I loathe the ones that I usually see here in the UK where there are only about three layers of pasta floating around in a sea of sauce - it's so wrong!

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    9. That is funny! And I suspect the idea of spinach in lasagna is quite common. I really do want to try this with something like chard or kale. And cottage cheese - I still eat it from time to time. But ricotta is just so much better...

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