Mine May Not Be The Best Spinach Lasagna, But Does Come In Second!
Several years ago, my beautiful friend and co-worker became engaged to an incredible chef, Charlie Ayers. Because Kim knew that I was an avid home chef and Italian, she brought me some of her fiance’s spinach lasagna. It was the best spinach lasagna I have ever had or will ever hope to have! Every time I make my own spinach lasagna, people love it, but I am secretly craving Charlie’s! There is no comparison, but I will humbly offer you my best recipe for spinach lasagna, even though it may finish in second place. Charlie, who used to be the chef for Google, now has a successful restaurant in Northern California, but since I live in Southern California, doubt I will be dining there anytime soon. I am sure it is wonderful, as he is truly talented!
Spinach is rarely a favorite of children, but spinach lasagna never tells them that the secret ingredient is the dreaded spinach! The kids will love it because it is pasta with a marinara sauce and the adults will love it just because it tastes so good! No one will ever miss the meat!
The Marinara Sauce Is Quick And Easy!
Before you can make spinach lasagna, you will need to make a basic marinara sauce. While it can be cooked quickly, within 30 minutes, I like it better when it has simmered for at least an hour. The flavors have time to really come together and the aroma lets you know when it is finished.
Basic Marinara Sauce Recipe:
- 3 Tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 cloves of garlic, diced
- 1 Tablespoon of Italian seasoning
- 1 Tablespoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 1 29 ounce can of tomato puree
- 8 – 10 plum (roma) tomatoes, pureed in the food processor
- a couple of pinches of sugar
- 3 to 4 Tablespoons of fresh, flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
- 3 to 4 basil leaves, torn into small pieces(optional, some people do not like basil. I love it!)
Heat the oil in a 4 – 6 quart stockpot. Drop the garlic and onions, as well as half the salt, the red pepper flakes and the Italian seasoning. Saute over a medium heat, stirring so that the garlic does not burn. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the canned puree and the fresh puree, as well as the remaining salt and the sugar. Heat to boiling and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and make sure it is slightly tilted. The sauce should simmer under a low heat. The sauce is finished after about 30 minutes, but for a fuller, more developed flavor, you may cook it longer. Test the sauce after 30 minutes for salt and if it seems a little too acidic, add another pinch of sugar. After removing the sauce from the heat, I stir in the fresh parsley and the basil. This recipe will make enough sauce for a 9 X 13 inch baking pan of lasagna. You will have enough remaining sauce to place in a bowl so that if anyone wants to, they can spoon some additional sauce over the top.
Spinach, Fresh Or Frozen?
I love fresh spinach and prefer it to frozen. For this recipe, I recommend using fresh, but you can buy 2 pounds of chopped, frozen spinach and use it instead. For the money, frozen spinach is still a deal. If using fresh, buy at least 2 bunches or 2 bags of pre-washed baby spinach (the bagged baby spinach is what I use). If you choose fresh spinach, make sure that you clean it well and cut off any tough stems. Chop it up prior to cooking. Bagged baby spinach has tender stems and I keep those on. Chop it also. For the spinach lasagna that I make, I cook up the fresh baby spinach in some hot olive oil and steam it with a lid on the pan until it is done. I then try to remove as much liquid from the spinach by first draining it and then wringing it out using paper towels. With chopped, frozen spinach, defrost it and wring it dry using paper towels or a clean dish towel.
The Second Best Spinach Lasagna!
Spinach lasagna recipe:
- 1 pound box of lasagna noodles, plus another 6 noodles from a second box, cooked as directed and drained in a colander. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. (I recommend Barilla lasagna and after I use 6 noodles from the second box, I tape up the box and I use it for the next pan.)
- 1 pound of whole milk mozzarella cheese, sliced or grated (you may use the part skim for this recipe)
- 2 pounds of whole milk ricotta cheese (you may use the part skim for this recipe)
- 2 pounds of chopped, cooked and drained spinach
- marinara sauce
- grated parmesan cheese, enough to sprinkle over just the top layer
Ladle some marinara sauce across the bottom of the pan so that the noodles don’t stick. Then start your first layer. Place the noodles across the pan and spoon some sauce and ricotta across the noodles. Using a spoon and your other hand to hold the noodles in place, spread the ricotta and sauce evenly. The two will mix together. Put some mozarella over those ingredients and then sprinkle spinach evenly across the first layer. Begin the second layer with noodles and repeat the steps you used for the first layer. Don’t worry if you run out of mozzarella before all of the layers are finished. One pound is enough for this size pan. I usually end up with 4 full layers and then a top layer made with just noodles, sauce and parmesan cheese. Two pounds of cooked, chopped spinach goes fast. You may want to use three if you really like spinach.
Put the pan into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Do NOT cover the pan with foil!
Don’t Use Too Much Sauce!
One of the secrets to a good lasagna is too hold back a little on the sauce. Use too much and your layers will spread all over the plate. Your squares will not hold together. After placing that square of lasagna on your plate, ladle some of the extra sauce over the top.
Whole milk cheese products vs. part skim: using whole milk products will create a much richer lasagna. Alot of people like less richness, so prefer to use part skim products.
This lasagna can be frozen. If the pan size is too much for your family, allow it to cool and then put half of it in the freezer for the next time. Put a little bit of sauce away with it, too.