Problem: Winter. Boredom. Hunger.
Solution: Two hours spent puttering in the kitchen, which totally counts as a workout. A mess of of dirty dishes to wash. Lasagna in the oven. Naps.
I love lasagna of any sort, and this one is rich and full of wintery vegetable flavor. Not using tomatoes just seemed right this time, but I've got nothing against them. Basically, I wanted the flavor of kale to be featured, so I gave tomatoes the boot till next time.
I used freshly made Italian sausage from my favorite corner store of all time, Terranova's. If you don't have any in the house and you're snowed in, though, no big deal. Lasagna is basically a layering of pasta, some sort of sauce/stew, and cheese. So for the stew, I can see a melange of onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms--basically any good veggies you have in the fridge, or even in cans. Use any kind of cheese. If you don't have lasagna noodles, cook any shape of pasta and use a third of it to make the pasta layer...or use rice, polenta, or bread. You really can't go wrong.
A word about the sauce: it's basically a bechamel (white sauce made from butter, flour, and milk), lightened a little with chicken broth. Out of 5 cups of liquid, 2 cups are broth, and 3 cups are 2% milk. Now, this sauce was still very rich. I think you could even go with 3 or 4 cups of broth instead. If you try that, let me know how it goes. I use a bit of nutmeg in any pasta with greens, and it also highlights the nuttiness of quality Parmigiano.
winter white lasagna with italian sausage
meat and vegetable mixture:
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 large onion, diced
- 12 oz. mushrooms, diced (a mixture of cremini and white button is nice)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups chopped kale or other greens
- optional: herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) or spices (fennel seed, red pepper flakes) if your sausage isn't super tasty
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or red wine
- about 1 cup chicken broth
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cups lowfat milk, at room temperature
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese (the real deal)
- salt and pepper to taste
- about 12 oz. no-boil lasagna noodles (or use the regular ones and boil them for about 10 minutes)--basically, enough for 3 layers of noodles in a 9 x 13" pan
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus about 1/4 cup for the top
- 16 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Heat the oven to 350.
- In a large skillet with high sides, saute the sausage until browned, breaking it up into small pieces. You may need to use oil, depending on the fat content of the sausage. Drain and set aside.
- In the same skillet, adding a little oil if necessary, saute the onion for a few minutes over medium heat, until turning soft.
- Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute for about 5 more minutes. If there's a lot of sausage brownness on the skillet bottom that's starting to burn, add wine vinegar to loosen up the brown bits and stir them into the onion mixture.
- Add the kale and the reserved sausage to the pan. Stir until the kale wilts, adding a little broth to moisten and steam the kale. Taste for seasoning. The sausage I buy has a lot of garlic and herb flavor, so I don't really add anything at this point other than salt and pepper. Cover and set aside while you make the sauce.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Sprinkle in the flour and cook, constantly stirring with a whisk, for two minutes, to cook out the raw flour taste.
- Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth. The flour might be lumpy at first, but keep whisking and it will thin out. Cook over medium to medium-high heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a creamy soup. You'll need to stir almost constantly to prevent the flour from sticking and burning to the bottom. The thickening will take about 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the heat and the thickness of your pot.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the nutmeg, cayenne, and Parmigiano. Taste for seasoning; I usually add about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a good deal of pepper.
- Combine the ricotta, egg, and 1/2 cup Parmigiano in a bowl. Stir in about 1 teaspoon salt.
- To assemble, spread a little of the sausage mixture in the bottom of a 10 x 14 or 9 x 13" baking dish (glass or ceramic if possible). Place a layer of noodles on top (use 1/3 of them). Cover with 1/2 the remaining sausage mixture, 1/2 the ricotta mixture (just dollop it around), 1/2 the mozzarella, and 1/3 of the white sauce. Repeat that exact layer again, using the rest of the sausage mixture, ricotta, and mozzarella. For the final layer, cover everything with the last 1/3 of the noodles and top with the last 1/3 of the sauce.
- Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour, until bubbly and oozy.
- Remove the cover, sprinkle with about 1/4 cup grated Parm, and bake uncovered for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the top cheese melts.
- Let stand at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares. It's hot!!
- For the love of God, serve with a side salad of lots of greens and raw veggies, dressed with a little oil and vinegar.
Makes 9 rich servings, fantastic leftovers, and at least 2 good naps.