Saturday, April 14, 2012

Meaty Lasagna with SpinachRicotta and Bechamel Sauce

I believe I can count on one hand how many times I have actually made lasagna, the quintessential Italian dish. I always felt the process of making lasagna tedious, and why bother when we had easy access to my mom’s perfected dish. Well to quote Dylan, "the times, they are a changin". I no longer dread the idea of making it for my family.  By using oven ready lasagna pasta and making the meat sauce a day or two ahead of time, makes for a less daunting recipe. Also by prepping the spinach ricotta mixture and grating the cheese beforehand, transforms it into a carefree recipe.  To my pleasant surprise, my lasagna even got my mom's seal of approval even though the filling is not what she is accustomed to.

Note: As I did not reheat my sauce prior to assembling the lasagna nor use boiling water to cut the sauce, the cooking time for the lasagna was somewhat longer than suggested on the package instructions. By adding water to the sauce, enough moisture is created to cook the uncooked pasta. Midway through the baking process, you might find it necessary to submerge the pasta edges with a fork to ensure that the pasta will be fully cooked.

Ingredients and Preparation

1 package oven ready lasagna pasta (375 grams or 3/4 lb)
1 cup water
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Tomato Meat Sauce
3 tablespoons extra virgin oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb minced veal
1/2 lb. minced pork
1/4 cup tomato paste 
handful chopped Italian parsley
6 cups canned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a skillet; add the chopped onions and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and half of the chopped garlic. Continue to cook until golden. Stir in the minced pork and minced veal. Stir in the parsley and the remaining chopped garlic. Cook the meat until it is no longer pink and the juices are absorbed, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce thickens for 40-60 minutes.

Ricotta Spinach filling:
1 bunch fresh spinach (about 2/3 cup cooked, squeezed spinach)
1 (1 1/2 cup) container low fat or regular ricotta
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook the spinach. Drain and wring out as much moisture as possible( using your hands, or twisting the spinach in a paper towel). Chop the spinach and set aside to cool.
In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, parmesan, and 1 teaspoons salt. Whisk in the chopped spinach and set aside.

Béchamel sauce:
3cups hot milk
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg

In a medium sauce pan melt 6 tablespoons of butter and stir in the flour. Continue to stir and allow the flour to cook for 2 minutes. Gradually pour the hot milk into the butter, flour mixture while continuing to whisk. This will prevent lumps from forming while incorporating the milk.  Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and continue to whisk continuously until the sauce is very smooth. Cook for 3 minutes and remove from the heat.

    Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

    Spread a layer of  meat sauce to cover the surface of the 9x13 inch baking pan or casserole dish. Stir in the 1/2 cup of  water if using the oven ready lasagna. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parmesan. Layer 3 noodles on the sauce to which the water was added, leaving space between the lasagna pieces. Spread tomato sauce to as shown below:

    Sprinkle part of the mozzarella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place a second layer of pasta strips.

    Spread the some of the spinach ricotta mixture on top of the lasagna layer. Gently spread several tablespoons of béchamel sauce on the spinach ricotta mixture, as shown below.

    Continue to layer the lasagna with the meat sauce and finishing with the spinach ricotta mixture. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of water along the edges of the pan. Place a layer of  lasagna pasta on top of the spinach mixture and spread the béchamel on top to cover. Finish by grating fresh  Parmigiano-Reggiano on the béchamel sauce.
    Cover pan with  foil and bake 50-60 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake to allow any excess liquid to be absorbed and the bechemel to become golden.

    Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serves 6-8.


    1. o boy..this looks out of this world DELICIOUS AND COMFORTING!

    2. gorgeous recipe Anna!have a good day, a hug...

    3. Hi Angie and Chiara, thanks to you both for dropping by. It's a real compliment coming from such terrific foodies.

    4. Looks delicious, I love a good lasagna! I'll definitely have to try out this recipe. I am following your blog now!

    5. Wow! Without doubt rich and luscious! One bite can give you a gallop to a different world!

    6. Eric, thanks for the support. I just signed up as a follower on your blog. Your pizza post had my mouth watering...great photo.

      Hi Thoma, thanks for your kind comment. Hope you have a great week-end.

    7. I will definitely try this recipe - looks scrumptious.