Spinach and ricotta lasagna

Posted by on Mar 6, 2012 | 0 comments

Although we prefer to post only the most traditional recipes, this dish combines the best elements of traditional meat and vegetable lasagnas, and we couldn’t resist. This is guaranteed to satisfy even the most die-hard carnivore.

Serves 4-6

1 generous pound of fresh spinach, about 3 bunches
8 oz fresh ricotta
4 tbs. butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk
roughly 1 pound of fresh egg lasagna noodles, either store-bought or made from scratch (with 3 large eggs and about 2 cups flour)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
a little more butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Thoroughly rinse and drain the spinach. Steam it over medium-low heat, covered, in a large dutch oven. (If your pan is large enough, the spinach should steam in its own juices without adding extra liquid.) This recipe is very forgiving–spinach lovers can double the amount of spinach without changing the rest of the recipe.
  3. When the spinach is wilted but not mushy, drain it and let it cool. Squeeze out the remaining water until it is no longer dripping, then chop it thoroughly. Put it in a mixing bowl and stir in the ricotta, mixing well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Make a medium-thick béchamel sauce as follows. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and then add the flour. Toast the flour in the butter until it develops a nutty aroma and any foam from the butter subsides entirely. Now carefully pour in about one half of the milk and whisk the mixture thoroughly. As it comes back to a boil, the mixture will thicken. Keep whisking! Once it is boiling, add the rest of the milk and return to a boil. At this point, the sauce should be fairly thick but not gluey (in which case, add more milk and keep whisking). Add salt and pepper to taste, along with a generous pinch of nutmeg.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water well and add the pasta. When the noodles are still very firm to the bite, drain and cool under cold running water. As you cool them, separate the individual noodles gently to prevent them from sticking.
  6. Layer the lasagna as follows, planning for roughly three layers. In a 9-inch square pan, spread a thin layer of the spinach-ricotta mixture (using about 1/4 of the mixture) over the bottom. Carefully position a layer of egg noodles over the top of it. If the noodles are very thick, one layer should suffice; for homemade noodles, you will probably want to double up. Spread another layer of the spinach-ricotta mixture as evenly as possible over the noodles (again about 1/4 of it). Top this with a layer of béchamel sauce (about 1/3). Sprinkle parmesan cheese (again, about 1/3) generously over the top. Now repeat, starting with the noodles, then another 1/4 of the spinach-ricotta mixture, then another third of the béchamel, then another third of the parmesan. Finish the same way, with noodles, the rest of the spinach-ricotta, the rest of the béchamel, and the rest of the parmesan.
  7. Top the dish with a few very thin shavings of butter, which will help the top to brown.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is brown and crispy. Let it sit for at least five minutes before serving.

Notes:

  • Please try not to eat the entire pan. That may be difficult, and I speak from experience. This recipe theoretically serves six, but in my house, it serves three plus me.
  • By its nature, lasagna is a very forgiving dish. That said, the better the pasta, the better the final product will be. Most commercial dried pasta won’t work as well as fresh egg pasta–it simply doesn’t have enough egg in it. (That said, if you have to use dried pasta, use Barilla lasagna noodles, which aren’t bad.)
  • If you roll your own pasta and use it very fresh, you can actually make this dish without boiling the noodles first, though you should make the béchamel a little runnier (as the pasta will need some extra moisture). If you use raw pasta, be careful not to bunch it against the sides of the pan, or the edges will be crunchy.
  • Be sure to season each portion of the dish before assembly, or you’ll probably find that the final result needs more salt. I tend to be generous with the nutmeg, which works well with the spinach and ricotta, and I usually add just a dash of cayenne pepper to the béchamel to give it a little kick.
  • If you’re a meat eater, try using a traditional bolognese sauce instead of the ricotta and spinach, and use a little extra parmesan cheese.

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