In times like these when we are playing catch-up, there is not reason to eat depressing dinners (Ramen anyone?). I made a vow to never feed us junk in place of something delicious and hearty, regardless of lack of funds.
To remedy our temporary situation, I fell back on an absolute classic of lasagna. My method when cooking comfort food is to keep the savory attributes but insert some healthfulness as well. In this instance, I added spinach to the mix and made sure all ingredients were organic.
I also began a habit of using a creamy Bechamel or white sauce instead of the traditional ricotta cheese. I saw Julia Child do this (yes, they are syndicating The French Chef on the Cooking Channel!) and immediately gave it a go. My father-in-law taught me how to make a white sauce with an emphasis on the science behind the process (he's a microbiologist), but I'm cutting it down to a simple explanation, and plan to do a more detailed post about this amazing base sauce at a later date.
Simple Bechamel Instructions:
Start by melting 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup) on medium heat
You want to cook the butter a bit, but don't burn it! Swirl it around with a plastic whisk as you watch it bubble for a few minutes. Then, add in a little at at a time, 1/2 cup of white flour (always use equal parts fats and flour for sauces). The idea is to cook the flour in the butter a bit, so this is why you should go slowly, stirring almost constantly until...
You get a creamy, yellowish base like this! Turn the heat down a bit, and start adding in about a cup of milk, again, a little at a time. It will hiss at you and you will get chunks, but don't worry, it will all turn out fine! Stir, stir, and stir some more as you work it into a velvety texture:
Add more milk if it's a little thick.
Here I added in some pressed garlic, shaved parmegiano reggiano, dried basil and oregano.
So there is your simple tutorial to a lovely Bechamel. I use this as a base for so many things, like yellow curry (add curry powder at the end) or mac & cheese (add shredded cheeses at the end).
Before the Beschemel, I made a meat sauce by chopping and sauteing 1 yellow onion, then browning italian sausage in the same pan. After draining off fat, I put in in a bowl with 1 jar of marinara. I also defrosted and drained 1 bag of organic frozen spinach.
Layer in a 9 X 13 casserole: a little meat sauce, no-boil lasagna noodles, 1/3 of meat sauce, 1/3 of Bechamel, 1/2 spinach,
Then lots of shredded mozzerella and more grated parmegiano reggiano.
Repeat layers, ending with Bechamel and cheeses on top. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Take off foil and bake an additional 15 or 20 minutes until,
it's bubbling and looks like this! Let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into it. Any casserole is better if you let it settle before eating.
Now I realize leftovers is a negative word to most households, and it used to be in my thinking as well! But when you take time once to create a dish of gooey goodness, you actually look forward to the subsequent meals you get from it. Many dishes are better the second or third time around, as some of you know (who really likes spaghetti on the first day?).
Spinach Lasagna with Bechamel
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 cup + more milk
- Parmegiano Reggiano (about 4 tbls.)
- dried oregano and basil
- 1 clove garlic, pressed
Melt the stick of butter in a deep skillet on medium heat. After melted, cook and stir for a few minutes. Start adding in flour, a couple shakes at a time, while you continuously stir and incorporate the two together. When there is a nice yellow base, turn heat down just a bit, and start adding in milk a little at a time, while stirring constantly, until you get a velvety texture. Add in garlic, Parmegiano Regiano, oregano and basil.
- 3 links pork italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 15 oz. jar basic marinara sauce
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 16 oz bag frozen spinach
- 9 no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1 package shredded mozzerella
Saute onion in a deep skillet with extra virgin olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add in sausage and brown, breaking it up as you go. Drain fat. Put sausage mixture in a large bowl along with jar of marinara. Set aside. Defrost and drain frozen spinach*. Set aside. Make Beschamel.
In a 9 X13 in. casserole dish, layer a little meat sauce on the bottom (so it won't stick). Then put 3 noodles across, then 1/3 of meat mixture, 1/3 beschamel, 1/2 spinach, 1/3 mozzerella and some more shaved parmegiano regiano. Repeat layers. On 3rd layer, put only meat sauce, beschamel, cheeses.
Cook covered with foil at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Take off foil, bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until it's bubbling. Let sit for 10 minutes. Enjoy now and later in the week!
*The best tip I have for draining spinach is to defrost it completely, then put into a cheesecloth and squeeze into a bowl or the sink a couple different times.