Monday, November 23, 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

To be honest, pretty much any lasagne is a good thing. This spinach and ricotta lasagne is beyond good. It's rather sublime. And a big, big bonus is that it's a lighter version of lasagne, not the usual pounds and pounds of heavy cheese.

The recipe is from Fine Cooking magazine. The lasagne has two sauces--a white sauce and a quick tomato sauce. The filling is ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lots of spinach. No mozzarella. It's light, but still full of flavor.

This is a fairly involved recipe with quite a few steps, but none of the steps are very difficult. Plus, you can make the filling and tomato sauce ahead of time, so that you can put the lasagne together on the day you're serving it in about 30 minutes.

I've made many, many versions of lasagne, but this is truly my favorite.

For the filling:
1-1/2 lb. (about 3 cups) whole milk ricotta
2 lb. fresh spinach, or 2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 oz. (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To assemble:
3/4 lb. fresh lasagne noodles, or cooked dried noodles
1 recipe Quick Tomato Sauce
1 recipe Basic Cream Sauce
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 oz. (1 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Make the filling:
Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl for 1 hour, or longer if the ricotta is very wet.

If using fresh spinach, stem and rinse it well; don’t dry the leaves. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, cook the spinach until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the excess moisture, and chop finely. If using thawed frozen spinach, squeeze it dry.

Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the spinach and toss it for 1 or 2 minutes to coat it with the butter. Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well. You should have about 4-1/2 cups.

Cook the fresh noodles:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Slip the noodles, two or three at a time, into the boiling water and cook them until they're tender and pale, 3 to 5 minutes (thinner noodles will cook more quickly). To make sure they're done, taste a small piece. If it's still tough, it needs a little more cooking (fresh pasta should not be cooked al dente like dried pasta).

Carefully scoop the noodles out of the pot with a large wire skimmer and slide them into the ice water to stop the cooking. When they're cool, layer them between clean dish towels until you're ready to assemble the lasagne (The noodles will keep this way for up to 2 hours).

Assemble the lasagna:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Choose a baking dish that’s about 9x12 inches and 3 inches deep, or about 10x14 inches and 2 inches deep. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in a sparse layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill the gaps. With a spatula, spread one-third of the spinach and ricotta filling (about 1-1/2 cups) over the first layer of noodles. Then spread one-third of the remaining tomato sauce (about 1-1/3 cups) and one-third (1/2 cup) of the cream sauce over the filling. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano on top. Add a new layer of noodles, overlapping them slightly, and repeat the layers as instructed above, using all of the filling and ending with the Parmigiano, to make a total of three layers (you may not need all the pasta). Dot the top with the butter cubes.

Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and bubbling at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Quick Tomato Sauce
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
5 large basil leaves, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 28-oz. can plus 1 14-oz. can plum tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped

In a 3- or 4-qt. saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, onion, parsley, basil, a generous pinch of salt, and a couple grinds of pepper. Cook until the vegetables are pale gold, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, stir well, and simmer gently to blend the flavors and reduce the sauce to about 4-1/2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes (adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer). Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want a smoother texture, pass the sauce through a food mill or purée in a food processor.

Basic Cream Sauce
1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg

In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened to a creamy, gravy-like consistency and no longer tastes of raw flour, 6 to 8 minutes for a single batch, 10 to 12 minutes for a double batch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. If not using right away, transfer to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to keep a skin from forming. Plan to use the sauce within 30 minutes because it thickens if it’s left to sit for too long. If that should happen, add a little warm milk and whisk well to thin it.


  1. I love lasagna made with a combination of bechamel and tomato sauce - it does make it much lighter in texture.

  2. This looks delicious! Funny - I have a spinach lasagna post drafted and will post it soon. Mine has mozzarella, but no bechamel sauce. I don't think you can go wrong with spinach lasagna!

  3. that looks delicious! lasagna was one of the first things i ever cooked. when i was 12 or 13, i used to make the recipe from some kids cookbook all the time for my family.

  4. That does look like a sublime lasagna, Michele. I love lasagna, and yours looks like a winner. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  5. This is a lasagne I could never get enough of. I buy a similar option in the grocery store all the time (saddly its a frozen one). Such a delicious meal. May have to brave it out and make one from scratch.