Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna- A Taste of Florence

Both times that I have been to Florence I was only there for a day. Of all of the places in the world that you want to explore, Florence is in the top 10.

I promise myself that I will go back and I will stay for a few at least a week.

I will return to her open air markets that wind through her streets for miles. I will barter with the vendors over fine leather goods and treasures from local artisans. I will spend at least one day touring the Uffizi Museum to see the amazing sculptures. I will spend hours studying the Florentine architecture.

I will also spend time in the local restaurants and cafes enjoying some of Italy’s best cuisine.This recipe reminds me of Florence and the Florentine style of cooking.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Ingredients

For the filling:
1-1/2 lb. (about 3 cups) whole milk ricotta
2 lb. fresh spinach, or 2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 oz. (1/4 cup) unsalted 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 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To assemble:
3/4 lb. fresh lasagne noodle
1 jar of tomato sauce
1 recipe Basic Cream Sauce (see below)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 oz. (1 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Directions

Make the filling:

Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl for 1 hour, or longer if the ricotta is very wet.

If using fresh spinach, stem and rinse it well; don’t dry the leaves. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, cook the spinach until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the excess moisture, and chop finely. If using thawed frozen spinach, squeeze it dry.

Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the spinach and toss it for 1 or 2 minutes to coat it with the butter. Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well. You should have about 4-1/2 cups.

Cook the noodles:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Slip the noodles, two or three at a time, into the boiling water and cook them until they’re tender and pale, 3 to 5 minutes (thinner noodles will cook more quickly). To make sure they’re done, taste a small piece. If it’s still tough, it needs a little more cooking (fresh pasta should not be cooked al dente like dried pasta).

Carefully scoop the noodles out of the pot with a large wire skimmer and slide them into the ice water to stop the cooking. When they’re cool, layer them between clean dish towels until you’re ready to assemble the lasagne (The noodles will keep this way for up to 2 hours).

Assemble the lasagne:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat 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 slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill the gaps. 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, overlapping them slightly, 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 all the pasta). Dot the top with the butter cubes. Cover with foil.

Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and bubbling at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Basic Cream Sauce (Beciamella)

Ingredients

1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking 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 cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened to a creamy, gravy-like consistency and no longer tastes of raw flour, 6 to 8 minutes for a single batch, 10 to 12 minutes for a double batch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. If not using right away, transfer to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to keep a skin from forming. Plan to use the sauce within 30 minutes because it thickens if it’s left to sit for too long. If that should happen, add a little warm milk and whisk well to thin it.

Recipe from The Best of Fine Cooking- Pasta

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