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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?).
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.
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.
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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|Measure 5 cups of pureed homemade marinara sauce.|
|Combine the ricotta, spinach, grated mozzarella, one large egg, 4 ounces of grated parmesan cheese and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.|
|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.|
|Add a layer of the cheese/spinach mixture on top of the pasta. Repeat 2 more layers of sauce, pasta and cheese.|
|Spread remaining 1/4 of pasta sauce over the final layer of cheese, then sprinkle with reserved grated parmesan cheese.|
|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.|
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Vegetarian Three Cheese Spinach and Leek Lasagna
Prep Time: 60 min
Cook Time: 70 min
Ingredients (serves 8)
- 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
- 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
- 2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
- 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, shredded
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Preheat the oven to 375℉
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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