At the risk of sounding somewhat “Scrooge-like” I am going to say that I’ve had enough of the holidays. Let me explain…what I really mean is I’ve had enough of the constant preamble to the holidays. I am already weary of the turkey, gravy, stuffing, side dish recipes, the “how to decorate your mantelpiece” articles, and the relentless advertising of sales and specials for “stuff”. What I’m longing for is Boxing Day. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. I have written here previously about Boxing Day. It is truly the day when every busy person finally gets to exhale and relax. Baked pasta was a traditional Boxing Day dish in our family. This is my version of a favorite: lasagna. I have made this one with fresh pasta. This is what qualifies the dish as a weekend project. Fresh pasta is not difficult, but it can be time-consuming. You can make and roll the pasta sheets a day ahead, layering them on a baking sheet between pieces of parchment paper. Make and refrigerate the vegetable fillings in advance as well. On the day you wish to assemble your lasagna, make the bechamel, cook the pasta, and there you go.
Choose an attractive oven to table baking dish for the lasagna. It should be about nine by twelve inches and deep, so that you avoid spill-overs in the oven.
The lasagna will emerge from the oven golden and bubbly, with crispy, browned corners. You may want to prepare some Italian sausage or a simple grilled steak to satisfy the meat-eaters in your group, but this assertively flavored pasta can stand alone quite nicely.
Serve this with your favorite wine, garlic bread, and a salad. It’s the perfect antidote to this frantic time of year.
This recipe is adapted from a favorite David Tanis cookbook “A Platter of Figs”. I chose not to make green pasta, and I added a mushroom layer to the dish. You will need a large quantity of greens, don’t be alarmed. They wilt down to just the right amount. Cook your pasta sheets very briefly. Keep the bechamel warm while you assemble the dish, so that it doesn’t thicken too much. You can assemble the entire dish a day ahead, just remember to bring it to room temperature before baking. Freeze any leftovers in tightly covered containers and you will have an easy dinner another day. Maybe even on Boxing Day?
The Weekend Kitchen: Lasagna with Greens and Mushrooms
- For the pasta:
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 eggs , lightly beaten
- For the Filling:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 pounds chopped , washed greens-a mixture of chard, spinach, kale, and rapini
- 1 pound of mushrooms , cleaned and chopped
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- A few drops of fresh lemon juice
- 1 pound of best-quality ricotta cheese
- Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
- For the Bechamel
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 5 cups whole milk , or a little more
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 thyme sprig
- Salt and pepper
- Nutmeg , for grating
- 2 cups grated fresh Parmesan cheese
To make the pasta dough: Place the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and stir together. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the eggs and oil. Stir the mixture until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth. Add a little more flour if the dough seems very sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
For the filling: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large deep skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let it sizzle, without browning. Add the red pepper flakes, then add the greens (you may have to add them in increments). Let the greens wilt, stirring all the while. When all the greens have been added to the pan and wilted, season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the greens to a colander to drain and wipe the skillet clean. Replace the skillet on the heat and add the last tablespoon of oil. Cook the mushrooms until they are tender and all the liquid has evaporated. Season the mushrooms with salt, pepper, thyme, and the lemon juice. Set aside to cool. Check the greens in the colander and when cool, squeeze all the excess liquid out with your hands.
Put the ricotta in a small bowl and stir to loosen. Season with salt, pepper, and the lemon zest.
For the bechamel: Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add the bay leaf and thyme and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook the bechamel gently for 10 minutes. Thin, if necessary, with a little more milk. Grate in some nutmeg. Re-adjust the seasoning. Strain the sauce into a double boiler and keep warm.
Butter a large baking dish, about 9x12 inches. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove and have a large bowl of ice water nearby.
If you are making fresh pasta, divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a thin sheet with a pasta machine to the next-to-thinnest setting, placing the finished pieces on a floured surface as you work. Cut the sheets into approximately 9-inch lengths. Leave them, uncovered, on your work surface.
To assemble the lasagna: Boil 2 sheets of pasta at a time, so they cook evenly and don't stick together. Cook the sheets as you go, for 1 minute or less, then plunge them immediately into the ice water to stop the cooking. Blot dry on a kitchen towel or with paper towels. For the first layer, place 2 pasta sheets side by side in the bottom of the baking dish, trimming them to fit as necessary. Arrange 1/3 of the cooked greens over the pasta. Dot the greens with 1/4 of the ricotta. Spoon a generous 1/2 cup bechamel sauce over the ricotta, and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Repeat the process to make a second layer with the greens. With the third layer, cover the pasta with the mushrooms. Then finish the final layer with the remaining greens. Coat the top of the pasta with the remaining bechamel, and sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan. Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the baking dish to allow some the bechamel to flow down the sides of the dish. Refrigerate the assembled lasagna for several hours or overnight to marry the flavors. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the lasagna for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbling and lightly browned. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.