My sister-in-law moved from Shelter Island to Chapel Hill, NC and we had a farewell dinner for her. I wanted to make something in advance that I could throw into the oven when we saw her because I didn’t want to miss any conversation by standing in the kitchen cooking. I usually make a lasagna that’s loaded with meat, but this time wanted to try something a little lighter and I’m glad I did. This was delicious, and it was really incredible as leftovers the next day. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to photograph the lasagna when it was hot out of the oven, so I took a quick shot of a leftover piece that I ate for lunch the next day. Not the best photo, but a really great lasagna that I’ll definitely make again. It’s great for a crowd.
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Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna
Recipe adapted from FineCooking.com
1-1/2 lb. (about 3 cups) whole milk ricotta
2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 oz. (1/4 cup) butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles (I like Barilla noodles)
36 oz. of your favorite tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups basic cream sauce (see recipe below)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes
Basic Cream Sauce
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg
The fist step is to make the filling. Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl for at least 1 hour. Squeeze the frozen spinach until most of the moisture is removed. I wrap mine in a clean dishtowel and squeeze until I can’t get any more water out.
Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion, stirring, until it’s soft and translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and toss it to coat it with the butter. Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well. You should have about 4-1/2 cups.
Next make the cream sauce. In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring until the sauce has thickened to a creamy consistency, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Use immediately or a skin will form on the sauce. If not using it immediately, put a piece of plastic wrap directly on the sauce. This will help prevent a skin from forming.
Now that the filling and cream sauce are made, you can assemble the lasagna. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Choose a baking dish that’s about 9×12 inches and 3 inches deep, or about 10×14 inches and 2 inches deep. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in a sparse layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the sauce with a layer of lasagna noodles. They don’t need to overlap since they will expand when cooked. With a spatula, spread one-third of the spinach and ricotta filling (about 1-1/2 cups) over the first layer of noodles. Then spread one-third of the remaining tomato sauce (about 1-1/3 cups) and one-third (1/2 cup) of the cream sauce over the filling. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano on top. Add a new layer of noodles, and repeat the layers as instructed above, using all of the filling and ending with the Parmigiano, to make a total of three layers (you may not need the entire box of pasta). Dot the top with the butter cubes. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and bubbling at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Cook for an additional 10 minutes uncovered so the cheese can begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Yield: 8 servings