Italian Flag Lasagne

Friday 11 August 2017

I adore Lasagne. I know you must get tired of me saying that I adore things, but what can I say?  I put my hand up!  I am a foodie through and through and I like and adore lots of things!

Lasagne wasn't something I ever tasted when I was growing up.  It just did not exist in my world.  Spaghetti served with tinned Catelli meat Sauce was as "Italian" as my mother got!   
My ex Sister in Law Linda made fabulous Lasagne.  It was just wonderful and had a delicious filling of cottage cheese.  It was made very much in the North American way, which had layers of meat sauce, cheese, and cottage cheese with a final topping of the meat sauce and some mozzarella.  Not cheap to make by any stretch, but very delicious.

When I moved over here I got to experience a more authentically Italian type of lasagne . . .  one layered with sauce (meat or otherwise), cheese and a rich bechamel sauce. Seriously tasty.

This vesion here today is a totally vegetarian version, consisting of a delicious tomato sauce, a rich bechamel, all layered with thawed frozen leaf spinach and cheese.  Do make sure you squeeze as much water from the spinach as you can so you don't water down your lasagne.

I call it Italian Flag Lasagne because it contains all the colours of the Italian Flag.  White, red and green!  The tomato sauce is a simple one.  Use a good Italian tomato for the best flavour.  There is no meat in this sauce, so you want to use a tomato that will really shine!

I also like to use full fat milk for the bechamel.  It adds a special depth of richness and flavour. This is lasagne and its supposed to be a treat.  You can use whatever cheese you want, but I always use Parmesan and Mozzarella, and today I added feta and some sharp cheddar.  The feta because it needed using up and the cheddar for the flavour. I find while it has great melting properties, Mozzarella doesn't really have much flavour.  But that's just me.  You may think something entirely different!

*Italian Flag Lasagne*
Serves 6 to 8

This is simple, uncomplicated, straightforward and delicious.  A delicious tomato sauce, with some great cheese, spinach, lasagna sheets and a good bechamel.   

For the Tomato Sauce:
2 TBS good quality olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed slightly
3 14-oz tins of chopped tomatoes in their own juice
(I like to use a good Italian brand)
about a dozen or so torn basil leaves
salt and black pepper to taste 

For the Bechamel:
125g butter (1/2 cup)
85g plain flour (1/2 cup plus 2 TBS)
2 pints of whole milk, warmed (5 cups)
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and black pepper to taste 

12 cubes frozen leaf spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
(1 cube is rougly the size of 2 ice cubes)
12 ounces of fresh lasagne sheets
85g freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (3 ounces)
170g grated mozarella or a mixture of mozarella, cheddar, fontina, etc. (6 ounces)
(In other words which cheese you are in the mood to eat, or what you have on hand)
butter to dot or additional Parmesan to sprinkle (optional)

For the sauce, place the oil in a saucepan and heat it til fairly warm.  Add the garlic and cook until it becomes quite fragrant.  Add the tomatoes and a good pinch of salt.  Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook for about 20 minutes or so until it resembled a sauce.  Add the basil and 1 cup of hot water towards the end of the cooking time.  Puree until smooth with a stick blender, or very carefully in a regular blender.  (You can either leave the garlic in, or remove it as you wish.)  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and some pepper if required.

To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a saucepan and then whisk in the flour.  Cook for several minutes over low heat and then slowly whisk in the warm milk.  Cook and stir until the sauce thickens and is smooth.  Season with salt, pepper and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg to taste.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes or so on low heat, until you have a very thick and smooth sauce.  Set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F.  Butter a deep 8 1/2 by 12 inch baking dish.  Drizzle the bottom with some of the bechamel.  Put a slightly overlapping layer of the lasagne sheets over the bechamel.  Dollop with some of the tomato sauce, spreading it out.  Dollop another two hefty spoonfuls of bechamel over top and then a layer of the cheeses. Add a layer of the spinach.  Add another layer of lasagne, and then repeat with the tomato, bechamel, cheese and spinach as before, and then again, repeating the layers one more time, finishing with a final layer of lasagne and a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a good portion of bechamel.  You can sprinkle with some additional parmesan cheese if you desire, or dot with some butter.  Place in the heated oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until it is bubbling and golden brown on top.  Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.

A little more work than you want to put in for a weeknight supper, this is the perfect weekend or entertaining dish!  Add a salad and some crusty bread and you have a meal fit for a King! Buon Appetito!!!


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