How to Make Velvety Rich Spinach Lasagna

3 of 4 in Series: The Essentials of Creating Inexpensive Christmas Meals

You may not think of lasagna for Christmas dinner, but it’s a real crowd pleaser that's inexpensive to make. This meatless recipe for spinach lasagna is a great make-ahead dish that you can freeze and then reheat in the microwave.

This dish is velvety rich and will satisfy both vegetarians and meat eaters. It has a cream sauce enhanced by mascarpone (cheese #1) and sun-dried tomatoes, then layered with pasta, spinach, sautéed onions, red wine, ricotta (#2), mozzarella, (#3), Parmesan (#4), and Romano (#5). The sun-dried tomatoes and spinach give it a delicate red and green Christmas theme. Serve with a big green salad with tangy balsamic vinaigrette and a loaf of crusty bread.

Velvety Rich Spinach Lasagna

Tools: 4-quart baking dish (15 x 10 x 2 inches)

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

1 pound lasagna noodles

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups whole milk, at room temperature

3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (yields 3/4 cup)

1 cup mascarpone

1 pound fresh spinach leaves, stemmed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry red wine

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

1 pound mozzarella, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Boil the lasagna noodles per the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and rinse with water to prevent sticking. You can also use no-boil noodles.

    Boiling lasagna noodles is no big deal, but in some markets you can find no-boil noodles. They are somewhere between fresh pasta and dried and can be layered with the other components of the recipe without being boiled first. They cost more but save you time.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F now if you will be baking the lasagna right away.

  3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the flour. Whisk until smooth and cook for 2 minutes, whisking often, to remove the raw taste from the flour. Slowly whisk in the milk and chopped tomatoes. Cook over medium heat until it comes to a simmer and thickens, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the mascarpone, season liberally with salt and pepper, and set aside.

  4. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they’re very soft; add the garlic and continue to cook until the onions begin to caramelize, about 8 minutes total. Add the red wine and cook for 1 minute until the onions absorb the wine. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Rinse the spinach leaves and shake off the excess water. Place in a large pot, cover, and cook over medium heat until they cook down, about 5 minutes. The water clinging to the spinach leaves is enough to steam them. Drain in a colander and squeeze out excess water. Place in large bowl and stir in ricotta, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses. Season with salt and pepper.

    To use frozen spinach instead of fresh, buy a 1-pound bag or a box of frozen whole leaf spinach, cook it according to the package instructions, and drain well; then proceed with the recipe.

  6. Layer the lasagna in a 4-quart baking dish (15 x 10 x 2 inches): Spread one-third of the cheese/tomato sauce evenly across the bottom of the dish. Top with one-third of the noodles, cutting the noodles to fit, if necessary. Spread half the spinach mixture on top, then half the onion mixture. Sprinkle with one-third of the mozzarella. Repeat. The final layer is made with noodles, sauce, and mozzarella on top.

    You can substitute skim mozzarella and ricotta for the whole milk versions if you like. Any way you make it, however, this dish is rich. If you can’t find mascarpone cheese, substitute an equal amount of ricotta.

  7. Bake immediately for about 45 minutes, or cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to two days.

    You can also freeze the uncooked lasagna for up to a month. (Remove the plastic and bring to room temperature before baking.)

    If your oven is full, you can microwave the lasagna, but you'll probably have to cut it in half and put the halves in smaller pans; measure your microwave! Microwave at full power for about 20 minutes. Regardless of how you cook it, the lasagna should be bubbly and lightly browned on the top. Let rest for 5 minutes after removing from oven and serve.

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The Essentials of Creating Inexpensive Christmas Meals

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