Lasagna is one of those great comfort foods which are warming and satisfying in winter. However, the dish is often too saucy or too dry, with the pasta remaining uncooked. In northern Italy, where traditional lasagna has its roots, cooks keep things simple, combining layers of home-made pasta, meat sauce or fresh vegetables, béchamel (white sauce) and cheese.
I love spinach lasagna when it is made right. Spinach in India is generally of very good quality but it is essential that you do not overcook it turning it into brown slush. Today, dry pasta sheets make the job easy. You don’t have to search for fresh pasta. These sheets require no pre-boiling and can be added directly to the lasagna. However, you have to make sure that you have enough sauce for them to cook properly. The second problem is a good béchamel sauce. This is really easier than you think. You have to make sure that the roux (flour and butter) is cooked properly, while stirring with a wooden spoon, and that you add the milk slowly to achieve a glossy, heavy creamy consistency without lumps. Make sure you infuse the milk with bay leaf, onion and nutmeg. The resulting sauce is flavourful, not bland and gluey. For the spinach, remember blanching means to dunk into boiling water for 30 seconds only. Remove the blanched spinach, drain out all the water and wrap it in a kitchen towel. If there is any water left, your lasagna will be watery and lifeless. With all these tips, the recipe below should be a cakewalk.
Comfort food: Keep it simple, like they do in northern Italy.
½ cup butter
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, halved
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 litre milk
5 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 sheets lasagna verde
3 cups blanched and chopped spinach
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
Heat half the butter and fry the garlic. Toss in the mushrooms and gently fry them till golden brown. Meanwhile make a béchamel sauce by first heating together the bay leaf, onion, nutmeg and milk just below simmering. Cool and keep aside. Melt the remaining butter, add the flour and cook gently for 1 minute. Keep on a very low flame and add the milk gradually, stirring well after each addition. Stirring continuously, bring the sauce to a boil, then simmer for 1-2 minutes until it has thickened. Stir the mushrooms into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon a layer of the sauce over the base of a lightly greased ovenproof dish. Cover with a layer of lasagne. Continue to layer the sauce, spinach and lasagna. Repeat the process and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 180°C for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve with garlic bread and a crisp green salad.
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