I'm still waiting to meet a person who doesn't enjoy Italian food. And for those of us who like to fix some meatless meals, whether during Lent or anytime of the year, the Italian palate of recipes provides endless possibilities. Spinach lasagna is a dish that my mom, who was Maltese, made with some regularity. Over the years, she stopped making meat lasagna altogether, as everyone loved the spinach version.
For a number of years, there was a small pasta shop in my neighborhood where they made all kinds of things. Every day they made fresh pasta and I would go there and buy the flat sheets of pasta for lasagna or manicotti. It was light, delicate and so tender. Aside from making it myself, this was about the best I could find. Then one day, the people who ran the store retired, moved away and that was the end of my convenient fresh pasta supply.
I went back to the dried lasagna noodles, and found that they were causing me all kinds of problems. I found it hard to get them out of the pot of boiling water without tearing them, or splashing myself with scalding hot water. I also didn't care for the curled edges. Then one day I spotted a box of Barilla brand no-boil lasagna noodles. They were little flat sheets (no curls) that you just took right out of the box and into your lasagna pan. I was intrigued but very skeptical. After the first use, they performed so beautifully that I haven't used anything else. The key is to have a good amount of moisture - sauce - in your lasagna.
Speaking of sauce, I'm including the sauce that I use for this recipe, but if you have a great tomato sauce recipe, by all means use it. Or, if you don't like to make sauce and have a favorite brand of ready-made tomato sauce, that would be fine. Just make sure you have enough to use in the making of the lasagna and then extra to put on top of the finished pasta.
2 TBSP olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 - 28oz can tomato puree
1 - 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes
1 - 6oz can tomato paste
1 - 8oz can tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
3 TBSP dried chopped onion
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
2 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and garlic until garlic become very fragrant but not brown. Reduce heat to simmer and add tomato puree, tomatoes, paste, sauce and water. Add all other ingredients, cover pot and allow to simmer for an hour or so. Every 15 minutes give it a stir, and press the whole tomatoes against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon. This will break the tomatoes down, but still leave a little texture.
2 boxes no-boil lasagna noodles (I use Barilla)
1 - 12oz bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 - 15oz ricotta cheese
1 - 16oz mozzarella cheese
1 - 5oz or 6oz freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
This recipe works for a 9x13 baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 350. Make sure your spinach is totally thawed out. If not, put it in a bowl and microwave it until just thawed - it doesn't need to be hot. I then transfer the spinach to a clean dish towel and give it a good squeeze over the sink to extract as much water as possible from the spinach. Return the spinach to the bowl and add ricotta cheese, eggs and salt and pepper. Mix well to incorporate everything together.
Spray the sides and bottom of your baking dish with non-stick spray. Put a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom of the pan. Put your first layer of noodles in the pan over the sauce. The no-boil noodles can be broken into pieces that will fit - if they overlap here in there that is no problem. Using a spatula, spread a layer of the spinach-ricotta mixture over the noodles (use about a quarter of the mixture), then put a good handful of mozzarella cheese over that, then sprinkle with the Parmesan. Finally, put some sauce over the cheeses, and lay down your next layer of noodles. This will repeat three more times. After your final layer of cheeses and sauce, put a top layer of noodles down, cover well with sauce and any left over mozzarella and Parmesan cheese (you should have used all the ricotta-spinach mixture on the inner layers).
Cover baking dish with foil and put in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, take off foil and allow to sit for about 10 or 15 minutes. This will allow the cheeses to solidify a little and make it much easier to cut and serve. This is great with a nice salad, garlic bread and a glass of vino! Enjoy!