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Green lasagna recipe needs no ricotta

Rave reviews for every meal obviously is too much to expect from my kids.

But I was shocked by their naked animosity for such an unoffensive ingredient as ricotta cheese. Who knew?

When I was kid, the silky, sweet ricotta layer was my favorite part of my mom’s signature lasagna, heavily larded with Italian-style pork sausage. And whether the recipe has meat, I still consider ricotta an essential component of lasagna.

That goes double for stuffed shells. Instead of layering ingredients for lasagna, just scoop the ricotta into large cooked pasta shells and sprinkle meat, veggies and sauce over the entire surface.

So I’m baffled my kids requested stuffed shells instead of lasagna, which they’d just had with their dad a few nights prior. To appease them, I made each of them a personal-size dish of stuffed shells and a smaller pan of lasagna for me and my partner to share.

In the face of my eagerness to accommodate the kids, they proceeded to decry so much ricotta cheese. What did they think went inside stuffed shells?

The meal left me brainstorming a lasagna lacking ricotta, and the mental wrangling led to this one published late last year in the Los Angeles Times. It ran alongside a Mexican-inspired lasagna previously posted to this blog.

I don’t hold out much hope that the mushrooms, spinach and artichokes in this dish will win over my kids, but at least I can say it doesn’t have ricotta. And if they can’t choke it down, that makes more for me.

Tribune News Service photo

Cafe Roka’s Artichoke and Portobello Mushroom Lasagna

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and cut in medium dice

1 pound portobello mushrooms, cut in medium dice

1 pound coarsely chopped spinach

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 (14-ounce) can artichokes (packed in water), drained and coarsely chopped

Salt and pepper,

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup flour

4 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

Ground nutmeg

1 (9-ounce) box oven-ready lasagna sheets (no-boil style)

1 pound grated whole milk mozzarella

Bring a large pot of water to the boil to blanch the spinach.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet heated over medium-high heat until hot, then add the olive oil and the onion. Cook onion, stirring frequently, until onion starts to soften, for 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high, stir in the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until any liquid released from mushrooms has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

While mushrooms are cooking, blanch spinach: Add spinach, in batches, to boiling water and cook until spinach softens and turns a bright green, for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer spinach in a large bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Repeat until all spinach is blanched. Drain spinach and wrap it in a large kitchen towel, squeezing towel to drain spinach of any excess moisture.

When liquid from mushrooms has evaporated, add the white wine, stirring to scrape any flavoring from bottom of pan. Add the garlic and artichokes, stirring until completely combined. Taste mixture, and add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, or season as desired. Stir in spinach, then taste and season again if needed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make tomato-bechamel sauce: In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When butter is foamy, whisk in the flour. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until mixture begins to thicken and take on a sauce-like consistency, for 10 to 12 minutes. Slowly stir in the Parmesan cheese and, when cheese is melted, stir in the tomatoes. Taste sauce, adding 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, along with a pinch of nutmeg, or season as desired.

Heat oven to 350 F and assemble lasagna: On bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, ladle about 1 cup tomato-bechamel sauce. Cover sauce with a single layer of the lasagna noodles. Sprinkle one-fourth of vegetable mixture over noodles, then ladle over another cup of sauce. Top sauce with one-fourth of grated mozzarella. Repeat with noodles, vegetables, sauce and mozzarella until you have 4 layers (if you have more than one cup of sauce left when assembling fourth layer, go ahead and pour all remaining sauce with that layer before sprinkling over last of the mozzarella cheese). Dish may be assembled up to this point, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to a day before baking; remove plastic wrap and leave lasagna out at room temperature while heating oven before continuing with next step.

Cover baking dish with foil and place dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drippings. Bake lasagna for 45 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 450 F, remove foil from lasagna and continue baking until top is lightly browned, for 8 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool slightly on a rack for 20 minutes before serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from Cafe Roka in Bisbee, Ariz.