I have been making lasagna recently quite a bit. It is not too hot outside yet so I can turn the oven on but we want something on the lighter side too … so this dish seems to fit the bill. Of course, you can make this dish any time of the year. Lasagna is an Italian specialty. Traditionally, it is made with layers of tomato sauce based ragu, cheese and béchamel sauce. In this dish, I replaced the meat with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. I served it with red wine that seemed to compliment it very nicely.
Spinach is a great vegetable for the spring, it is hardy and nourishing for the liver.
Of course, an important part of the lasagna is the pasta. The best is if it is home made but good, high quality packaged pasta will do too.
Also, the cheese is also important. Try to get the best quality you can afford. Honestly, when I was in Italy, the first thing that I noticed was how tasty the cheese was in their dishes. I like to use a mixture of cheeses, here I used fresh mozzarella cheese balls, feta cheese and Parmesan cheese.
I make my own Italian seasoning but of course any store bought mix would work too. I think this is a nicely balanced mixture of spices grown in Italy. They are carefully selected herbs so one herb will not overpower the other. Also, they all are carminative therefore will help with digestion. Historically, we can thank the ancient Greek doctors who added these herbs to dishes so people can get their benefits all year along.
The warming, aromatic oregano is the key ingredient in pasta dishes. I like to use it because it gives a nice, distinctive flavor to Italian dishes. The sweet fennel seeds are acrid and compliment the strong aromatic oregano in the dish. The delicate basil is probably the most loved and popular spice used in Italian cooking. If you can, try to use the fresh plant instead of the dried. Its aromatic flavor is a nice addition to any Italian dish. The pungent chili pepper is not a big part of the Italian cuisine but Italians enjoy adding a little to their pasta dishes. The oregano and the fennel seeds both can offset the heat of some stronger spices.
2 Tbsp (6 tsp) dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil or handful of fresh basil
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp hot red pepper or to taste (optional)
Serves 6-8 people
- lasagna pasta (I used 10 strips)
- 10-16oz spinach (frozen is fine too)
- 4-8 oz chopped up mushrooms
- olive oil
- 2 slices of bacon (optional)
- 1/2 cup of tomato sauce + (more for the top and the bottom if needed)
- 1 cup of Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup for the filling, 1/2 cup for the Béchamel sauce)
- 4oz (100g) fresh mozzarella balls
- 8 oz (200g) of feta cheese
- 1 Tbsp of Italian seasoning plus more for the top
- handfull of fresh basil leaves (if you have them)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- About 4 oz grated Mozzarella cheese for the top
Bachamel sauce ingredients
- 5 Tbsp of butter
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 2 cups of milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 egg yolks (optional)
- Rosso Piceno wine. Bottled by Saladini Pilastri 2018 (optional) It is the best!
- parsley leaves (chopped)
Start boiling the water for the pasta (omit if your pasta does not need to be boiled).
Preheat the oven to 400F and have the rack in the middle of the oven.
Making the filling: In a pan, sauté bacon (optional) and mushrooms in a little oil for 5-10 minutes. Transfer into a bowl. Meanwhile wash and take stems off the spinach. If using frozen spinach of course no need to do it. Sauté in a little oil and water. Remove and try to drain off water. Chop spinach well and transfer into the bowl. Add mashed feta cheese, tomato sauce, 1 egg, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the Italian seasoning (see recipe above). Mix.
Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard, just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 5 Tbsp of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grate some nutmeg. Add 1/2 cup of Gruyere cheese (optional) and 2 egg yolks. Last time I forgot the eggs and the sauce was still fine. So I will add here that it is optional especially if you are already adding cheese. Mix well. I use a double boiler but is not necessary.
Prepare the lasagna pasta according to its directions. If you need to boil the pasta, put it in the boiling water that was started in the first step. Proceed according to its instructions. When done take out of the water and try to make sure they don’t stick to each other. I like to cook the pasta more at the end to prevent sticking. So try to make sure you have everything ready before the pasta is ready so you can start assembling the lasagna.
Assembling the lasagna: Put a thin layer of the béchamel sauce or tomato sauce on the bottom of a 3 Qt size baking dish. (2Qt size will work ok too). Place 1 layer of the pasta strips on the bottom of the pan. Put the filling on top of the pasta, followed by the fresh mozzarella balls (cut up if using the larger balls), pour the béchamel sauce and top it all with another layer of the pasta. Spread some pasta sauce and the shredded mozzarella cheese on the top. Sprinkle some Italian spice on the top.
Turn the oven heat down to 375F and put the lasagna in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown.
Serve hot with a little grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley on the top. I really enjoyed a glass of red wine with the dish. I felt like I was in Italy! I would recommend this bottle of red wine if you are looking for one to try (please see details above in Ingredients).
- Matthew Wood: Earthwise
- Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods
Photo, recipe, text by twincitiesherbs.com.