Saturday, October 30, 2010

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

Growing up, there were few things in the world I loved more than my mother's lasagna. Meaty, cheesy, and hearty, I have fond memories of eating a big ol' slab of that delectable dish and washing it down with a giant glass of 2% milk. I believe there may have also been white bread and pats of butter involved.

Years later, I still love lasagna, but I tend to make a vegetarian version that includes tofu in the ricotta mixture, and I've traded in the 2% for fat free milk. This is still quite the feast, but the focus is on the light and bright flavors of mushrooms and baby spinach instead of heavy ground beef.

My only regret is that Ian the Husband Unit doesn't seem to hold the same reverence I do for lasagna, so I don't make it too often. But when I do, at least I get to eat the leftovers!

Baby Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

For the marinara:
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely*
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1/2 tbsp. dried basil
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 tsp. sugar
Fresh ground pepper

For the ricotta mixture:
1/2 15 0z. container fat free ricotta
6 oz. firm tofu
1 egg
4 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

For the mushroom mixture:
1 tbsp. olive oil
16 oz. baby bella mushrooms

Other ingredients:
6-7 sheets whole wheat lasagna
2 1/2 cups baby spinach
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. To make the marinara, heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onions, and cook until onions are soft. At this point, I add the spices so they fill the kitchen up with aroma, and I've noticed that oregano especially benefits from being added first. After basil and oregano are added, pour crushed tomatoes into saucepan, followed by tomato paste. Once tomato paste has smoothed into mixture, add sugar and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings to taste--I often add a bit more oregano. Let the mixture simmer for around 40 minutes--the flavor will deepen.

*Note: I sometimes chop up 3 or 4 baby carrots very finely and add it along with the onions. It sometimes allows me to cut down on the sugar in the sauce.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together ricotta with crumbled tofu (you can just dump it in and crumble by hand). Add egg, salt and pepper, and parsley and mix together. Set aside.

3. Cook pasta sheets about three minutes less than package directions. I also add a bit of olive oil to the salted pasta water so the sheets won't stick when drained.

4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add mushrooms. Be careful not to overcrowd pan. Cook until soft, darker, and reduced in size. Remove from heat.

5. To assemble lasagna, spread a bit of sauce on the bottom of a 8x8 Pyrex pan (or equivalent). Cover bottom with pasta sheets, tearing or cutting where necessary to fit pan size. Spoon some of ricotta tofu mixture onto pasta sheets, layer with a sprinkling of mozzarella, cover with a couple handfuls of baby spinach and mushrooms (fresh, uncooked spinach first, then mushrooms on top), marinara sauce, and repeat the layers. Once assembled, make sure pasta sheets cover the whole mess, and add a generous layer of mozzarella.

6. Cover and bake for around 40 mins. at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake an additional 5-8 minutes, or until mozzarella is just slightly browned.

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