Sunday, August 10, 2008

Love Dish: Lasagna Primavera

While quick dishes are perfect for late nights and lazy days, sometimes you just feel like spending some time in the kitchen. Hence, Love Dishes - dishes that require a little bit of love (because in cooking, time = love. Just ask Grandma).

This lasagna is an excellent way to showcase summer's beautiful vegetables. Baking the cherry tomatoes in the lasagna gives the dish an unexpected, intensely tomato pop, and mixing goat cheese with the traditional ricotta provides a nicely balancing tang. The prep time is only 15-20 minutes, but it does need about 45 minutes in the oven. So toss it together, pour yourself a glass of wine, and get ready to enjoy the labors of your love.

Lasagna Primavera

1 package no-boil lasagna noodles (Trader Joe's has a good version)
1 jar good quality pasta sauce (or go crazy and make your own tomato sauce...but seriously, stick with me on the store-bought noodles)
1 package - about 3-4 loosely packed cups - baby spinach
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 garlic cloves
2 medium zucchinis, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Several handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
6 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 handful basil leaves, chopped
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the bechamel sauce:
1 1/2 cups milk
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the spinach; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the spinach to evenly distribute the garlic. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the sliced mushrooms. Remove and set aside after all leaves are wilted, but not overcooked, about 2 minutes. (The mushrooms will still be very firm). Increase the heat to high, add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and add the zucchini and tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until the zucchini begins to get a little color, about 4 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

For the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk together, cooking about 1-2 minutes. Add the milk, and whisk again to incorporate the butter/flour mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring sauce to a boil, stirring often. (Boiling the flour/butter mixture will thicken it - you'll know the sauce is ready when it can coat the back of a spoon). Let cool slightly.

Spread some of the bechamel sauce on the bottom of a large lasagna dish, enough to fully cover. Place lasagna sheets on the bottom of the pan, overlapping slightly. Top with more bechamel sauce - about 1/2 cup - and some of the pasta sauce - also about 1/2 cup. Add the spinach/mushroom mixture, spreading evenly. Spoon the ricotta sauce in dollops over the vegetables and sprinkle with half the chopped basil. Top with another layer of noodles, pressing down gently. Repeat bechamel and pasta sauce, this time adding the zucchini/tomato mixture and dollops of the goat cheese. Sprinkle with remaining basil and cover with one more layer of lasagna sheets. Pour remaining pasta sauce over the top of the lasagna, coating evenly. Dust with Parmesan cheese.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake on center rack of the oven for 35 minutes. Remove, uncover and baked for another 10 minutes. Serve with basil sprigs.

A great accompaniment for this dish is a fresh, simple salad tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.

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