Lasagna really is a lot like a dance, there are several steps and really until you learn how to put them in the right order it can be a bit of a mess. For me when I tried to add veggies to my lasagna it always seemed to turn into a soupy mess. So after experimenting with several recipes I finally discovered the right steps and the right order to have my lasagna turn out perfect every time. Now as I have gotten bolder I have tried variations to the recipe but like a dance the essential steps are all there. It is a longer process but the results are worth it.
Beef, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna
1/2 lb of ground beef
2 c. fresh spinach leaves
1 c. mushrooms
1/4 c. minced onion
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 eggs beaten
1 pint of ricotta cheese
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
1 c. mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
salt and pepper to taste
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1-8 oz. pkg of whole wheat lasagna noodles (you can of course use regular pasta if you prefer)
The key in putting together a lasagna with vegetables is making sure you balance the water issues. Drying out each ingredient correctly will help you control the water and allow the flavors to be there without the mess. Spinach is one of the biggest violators of causing too much water in your dish. So prepare it first. Rinse the fresh spinach breaking it up into smaller pieces. Then saute your spinach with 1 of the minced cloves of garlic. Cover the spinach and cook for about 2 minutes until spinach has wilted down and then remove the lid and stir as you saute it for another 2 minutes.
Gently take out the spinach with a fork, making sure to leave as much water behind as possible and place the spinach on a plate that is covered with at least two paper towels. Cover with another paper towel and press down so you squeeze out excess water. Set aside as you prepare the other ingredients.
Another water violator are mushrooms. I love mushrooms but if they aren’t handled well they can be a nightmare to many dishes, my favorite being pizza. So making sure they are properly sauteed and then dried out is very important. I usually use olive oil for all of my cooking, however there is something amazing about the taste of buttered mushrooms so on occasion I splurge. The key to sauteing mushrooms if getting the pan hot. Let the pan heat and then add the 1 tbsp of butter. The butter should sizzle as it starts to melt.
Make sure the butter coats the pan evenly. Once your pan is nice and hot add your mushrooms. Now don’t go crazy stirring the mushrooms. Mushrooms are very delicate and need to maintain the heat so let them be. Because you are cooking them at such a high heat don’t add any other ingredients until they are almost done. For this dish I choose to leave them sauteed in just the butter.
Once they are nice and brown repeat the procedure you did with the spinach and place them on paper towels, set aside.
Now prepare your beef by sauteing it with the onion, garlic, oregano and s&p to taste until beef is brown all the way through. Try to drain as much of the juice from the beef as well. I have a fine strainer that I used, but if you don’t then just drain as best as you can and set aside.
When it comes to the noodles it is important to make sure that you are delicate and don’t over or under cook them. For some people just buying the pre-boiled noodles is the best option if it is too hard to get the noodles right. I prefer whole wheat pasta so this isn’t an option for me. To prepare the noodles first get the water to a boil. Then slowly add each pasta one at a time. As I add the noodle I slowly bend it as the water softens it allowing it to fit in the pan. I let it cook for about 7 minutes, gently rotating the pasta several times. You want the pasta al dente.
Now you are ready to assemble your lasagna. Now for this dish I choose to buy a pre-made spaghetti sauce, for me this takes enough preparation that it is worth skipping this extra step.
Add a small amount of sauce to the bottom of your pan so that the noodles don’t stick. Then add one layer of noodles, 1/3 of your cheese mixture, beef, 1/4 c. of mozzarella and 1/4 of the jar of sauce. I find that it is best to not over lap your noodles because this can cause your noodles to cook unevenly and makes it harder to cut and serve without falling apart.
Add another layer of noodles, cheese mixture, spinach, 1/4 c. of mozzarella and 1/4 of the jar of sauce, then add another noodle layer and repeat with the mushrooms.
Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven and cook for 50-55 minutes. When lasagna is done let is sit for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving.