(This recipe is based on a spinach lasagna recipe from Pomodoro’s Restaurant in Boston’s North End. However, I incorporated some techniques learned from Cook’s Illustrated magazine and added some tricks of my own — the addition of tomato sauce to the bechamel sauce and pine nuts to the spinach mixture — to make the perfect lasagna masterpiece.)
When I started this blog nine months ago, I wrote that this wasn’t a site for “those who want to do things perfectly, following a monotonous list of instructions like a passionless Martha Stewart.” However, I have to concede that anal retentives do serve their place in the food world.
Case in point is the most anal of all cooks, Christopher Kimball, and his “Cook’s Illustrated,” magazine. For this recipe, I borrowed a technique that was perfected in his test kitchen to make “no-boil” lasagna noodles taste nearly as perfect as homemade so that the finished lasagna is not soggy and not too dry.
After laboring for days and testing numerous methods for making the perfect lasagna, here’s what they came up with:
- Place the no-boil lasagna noodles in the 13 x 9-inch pan and cover with hot tap water for five minutes (agitating the pan occasionally so they don’t stick).
- When assembling the lasagna, make sure the sauces are not hot; room temperature is best, but warm works too.
Using these techniques, here’s how to create your own masterpiece:
For the white (bechamel) sauce:
- Butter (3 tbsp.)
- All-purpose flour (3 tbsp.)
- Milk, heated (2 1/2 cups)
- Nutmeg (1/8 tsp.)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
For Red Sauce and Spinach Mixture:
- Onions (2 cups diced; about two large onions)
- Carrots (2 cups diced)
- Tomato paste (1/2 can)
- Sun-dried tomato paste (Several squirts from a tube)
- Porcini bullion cube (1)
- Kitchen Ready Tomatoes, chunky-style (1 can)
- Olive oil (2 tbsp.)
- Frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out (2, 10 oz. packages)
- Part-skim ricotta cheese (1 pound)
- Parmesan cheese (8 tbsp.)
- Dried basil (1 tsp.)
- Dried Oregano (1 tsp.)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Pine (pignoli) nuts (2 oz.)
- No-boil lasagna noodles, Barilla works well (12)
- Part-skim, mozarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
What I did:
To make the red sauce, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pot and add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots.
When onions and carrots are tender, add 1/2 can of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water. Add several squirts of the sun-dried tomato paste and the can of kitchen ready tomatoes.
Crumble the porcini bullion cube into the sauce and stir. Add 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper and stir.
Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and then take off the heat.
To make the white sauce, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sauce pan. Add the flour and stir with a wire whisk for about 1 minute. Gradually stir in the hot milk.
Increase the heat to medium-high, cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Lower the heat immediately and cook, whisking occasionally, for five minutes. Whisk in nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
To make the spinach mixture, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots and cook until tender (about four or five minutes).
In a large bowl, mix together the spinach, ricotta, onion/carrot mixture, 1/3 cup of the white sauce, four tbsp. of parmesan cheese, pine nuts, 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper.
To assemble and bake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the no-boil lasagna noodles in the 13 x 9-inch pan and cover with hot tap water for five minutes (agitating the pan occasionally so they don’t stick). Place the noodles on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
Empty water out of the 13 x 9-inch lasagna pan and dry the pan. Drizzle olive oil in the pan and grease the pan using a paper towel. Make sure to coat the sides and top of the pan so nothing will stick.
Spread about 1/2 cup of the white sauce in a thin layer over the bottom of the pan.
Add enough red sauce to the remaining white sauce to make the white sauce turn orange (I used all of the red sauce except for 1 1/3 cups; Put the 1 1/3 cups of red sauce in the refrigerator and save for another day.)
Place three stips of lasagna noodles over the thin layer of white sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan. Cover with about 1/2 of the spinach mixture and three more of the lasagna noodles.
Then cover the lasagna noodles with half of the remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover completely. (Note: The white/red sauce will dribble over the sides.) Cover with three more lasagna noodles. Add remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover.
Top with remaining three lasagna noodles and remaining white/red sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and remaining four tbsp. of parmesan cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.
Remove foil and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the top starts to brown and the lasagna is bubbling hot.
Let stand at least 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serves six or more.
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