In the quest for Big Crowd Food, lasagna reigns supreme. And at this time of year, you may find yourself entertaining a big crowd for a football game party, for the Oscars or another awards show, or just because it’s cold out and it’s nice to put together a cozy gathering.
This lasagna is rich and creamy, absent the tomato sauce that anchors many lasagnas, filled with sauteed spinach folded into fluffy ricotta and a very simple b√©chamel sauce, rich with melty cheeses. The nutmeg is optional ‚Äî a little can add a nice flavour, but too much can overpower.
A few more notes on the ingredients: You may think that 2 pounds of spinach looks like an awful lot for one lasagna, but it cooks down to just a few cups. No-boil, or oven-ready, lasagna noodles are a gift to the busy cook, and the reason I make lasagna more often. I have also made this recipe in a super-large lasagna pan and increased the quantities by half again. Then it will serve 12 to 16.
It is tempting to dig into a bubbling lasagna, but resist the urge. Letting it sit for at least 10 minutes will reward you with slices that hold together, and it will still be perfectly warm ‚Äî in fact, just the right temperature for you to enjoy the flavours without the pieces sliding apart on the plates.
This can also be assembled a day ahead, held in the fridge and baked before dinner. Or it can be baked up to two days ahead and reheated for about 20 minutes in a 375 F oven.
CHEESY WHITE AND GREEN SPINACH LASAGNA
Serves 10 to 12
Start to finish: 2 hours
Spinach-Basil-Ricotta Filling:1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 pounds baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
2 pounds ricotta, preferably fresh
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/3 cup for sprinkling the top
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
B√©chamel-Cheese Sauce:4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 quart) whole milk
Pinch ground nutmeg (optional)
1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 (8 ounce) package no-boil lasagna noodles (containing 12 noodles)
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Make the Spinach-Basil-Ricotta Filling: Heat the tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add the shallots and garlic, season with salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes until tender. Add the spinach in batches and saute, adding more spinach as each batch wilts down, about 6 minutes in all, until all of the spinach is added and wilted. Adjust the seasoning, transfer to a strainer over a bowl, press down with a spoon to release excess liquid, and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl combine the ricotta, eggs, 1 cup Parmesan, and the basil. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Make the B√©chamel-Cheese Sauce: Heat the 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Whisk in the flour until the mixture turns a light golden colour, about 3 minutes. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk. Continue to cook and whisk until the mixture thickens and bubbles, about 4 minutes, adding the nutmeg, if using. Whisk in the mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses until they are melted, and season with salt and pepper.
If the spinach still seems wet, give it a squeeze with your hands. Stir the drained spinach into the reserved ricotta mixture.
Lay out all of the lasagna noodles on a clean counter top. Spread the spinach-ricotta filling evenly over all of the noodles, so that each is topped with about a 1/2-inch-thick layer of the spinach-ricotta mixture.
Pour a small amount of Bechamel Sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan and spread it out. Place four ricotta-covered noodles in the bottom of the pan to cover it in a single layer. Drizzle 1/3 of the white sauce over the noodles. Place another layer of the ricotta-covered noodles over the top, drizzle with another third of the sauce, and then repeat the layers once more. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes until the top is golden and the lasagna is bubbling. If you want a more browned top, run it under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes, watching it carefully.
Let the lasagna rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving warm.