I’m always looking for the ultimate lasagna recipe. This one comes close—it’s a combo of my favorite lasagna filling, spinach pesto, layered with a sweet, roasted tomato sauce. The basil, herbs, nuts and parmesan of the pesto give the filling a very delicious, green, creamy, dreamy flavor. And of course I Flapperfied the whole recipe by using whole wheat lasagna noodles and part-skim ricotta. The wheat noodles mirror the nuttiness of the pine nuts nicely.
A word on the sauce:
You can use any jar of your favorite sauce, but the one in this recipe, adapted from Alton Brown, is a very unusual and flavorful sauce—it is a sweet sauce due to the roasting of the tomatoes, and the addition of wine vinegar, a little sugar, and caramelized vegetables. Believe me, I was skeptical when I first saw the recipe (I thought, "What kind of proper Italian cook puts CELERY in her sauce?!?) It's unusual but totally worth the time. (It is also HIGHLY recommended for pizza!) I like to make a big batch of this sauce and just keep it in bags in the freezer—that way it’s there whenever I have a hankering for homemade.
PESTO-SPINACH LASAGNA WITH SWEET ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE
40 minutes to prepare
50 minutes to bake
about 16 whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 lb. fresh spinach
(or 2-10 oz. pkgs. of frozen, chopped spinach - defrosted)
2 lbs. (4 cups) ricotta cheese
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. dried sweet basil
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh black pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesean
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or minced walnuts)
1 lbs. mozzarella cheese, grated
1 jar or 4-5 cups of your favorite tomato sauce (sweet roasted tomato sauce recipe below)
1) Preheat oven to 350 F.
2) Bring to a boil a large potful of water. Add the noodles and cook them for 4-5 minutes. (They will be undercooked.) Drain them, and lay them flat and straight on a table, counter or tray.
3) Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry the fresh spinach. Remove and discard the stems; finely mince the leaves. (If using frozen spinach, thoroughly drain and squeeeeeeze out all extra water!)
4) Place the ricotta in a large bowl. Stir in the spinach, garlic, basil, salt, black pepper, 1/2 cup of the parmesan, and nuts. Mix well.
5) Spoon a ½ cup of sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan pan. Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan. Spread about 1/3 of the ricotta filling over the noodles (OK if it's uneven), spoon a cup of sauce on top, and sprinkle about 1/3 of the mozzarella on top. Follow with another layer of noodles, another 1/3 of the filling, 1 cup of sauce, and another 1/3 of the mozzarella. Repeat this pattern one more time with a third layer of everything. Top with one final layer of sauce and the remaining ¼ cup of parmesan on the very top.
Here it is in list form, from the bottom up:
6) Bake for 50 minutes. If the top browns too quickly during baking, cover loosely with foil.
7. Allow the lasagna to sit on the counter for 15 minutes or so to allow the cheeses to set a bit so you can cut nice, square pieces of lasagna, otherwise you will spoon soup onto your plate. ;)
YUMMY! Have a nice salad and some crusty bread on the side, and you are ready for a cozy dinner of comfort food galore. Don’t forget the wine. ;)
SWEET ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE
2 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled tomatoes (San Marzano variety is the best!)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 stalk celery
2 ounces olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1. In a sieve over a medium non-reactive sauce pot, strain the tomatoes of their juice into the sauce pot. Add the sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil to the tomato juice. Stir and cook over high heat. Once bubbles begin to form on the surface, reduce to a simmer. Allow liquid to reduce by 1/2 or until liquid has thickened to a loose syrup consistency.
2. Squeeze each tomato thoroughly to ensure most seeds are removed. Set the tomatoes aside.
3. Cut carrot, onion, and celery into uniform sizes and combine with olive oil and garlic in a cast iron skillet or oven safe roasting pan over low heat. Sweat the veggies until the carrots are tender and the onion becomes translucent, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the roasting pan.
4. Place roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven and broil for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Tomatoes should start to brown slightly on edges with light caramelization. Remove the pan from the broiler. Place the pan on the stove. Add the white wine to the tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes over medium heat.
5. Put the tomatoes into a deep pot or bowl and add the reduced tomato liquid to the tomatoes. Blend to desired consistency with a wooden spoon and adjust seasoning. Allow the sauce to cool a bit if using to assemble a lasagna or pizza. Otherwise, eat it up!