Eric Akis: Lasagna roll-ups a meat-free treat

Eric Akis

If you love lasagna, but want to switch things up, don’t layer the noodles — roll them up. That’s what I did in today’s recipe. As you can see in the step-by-step photos, before rolling the noodles, I spread them with a filling and topped them with grated mozzarella cheese. That filling features two other types of cheese, creamy ricotta and tangy Parmesan, cooked, drained and chopped spinach, egg and flavourings such as herbs and garlic.

After the lasagna noodle roll-ups are made, they are set in a baking dish with a tomatoey sauce and topped with more mozzarella cheese. You could make this pasta casserole to this point many hours in advance. Simply cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. You could also freeze it at this point, to thaw and bake at another time.

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When the roll-ups are baked, covered for the first part of cooking, uncovered for the last part, the noodles and filling deliciously meld together, the sauce bubbles and the mozzarella melts over the noodles. Or, in a word: yum!

The recipe serves four to eight — one to two roll-ups each.

Since they are pretty filling, those with a lighter appetite may just want one roll-up, while hearty eaters will likely want two.

You can serve the lasagna noodle roll-ups with a green or caesar salad and, if really love your carbs, some garlic bread.

Lasagna Noodle Roll-Ups with Ricotta and Spinach

Serve this meat-free, flavourful rolled-up version of lasagna with a green or caesar salad.

Preparation time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: about 60 minutes
Makes: four to eight servings (one to two rolls each)

1 (5 oz./142 g) tub baby spinach

1 (475 or 500 gram) tub ricotta

1 large egg

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• pinch ground nutmeg

• pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

8 dried lasagna noodles (I used Unico brand; see Note 1)

2 cups (about 200 grams) grated mozzarella cheese (divided)

1 1/2 cups strained tomatoes (see Note 2)

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

• chopped freshly parsley, to taste (optional)

Fill a wide pot with 1/2 inch of water and bring to a boil over medium, medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook and stir until it just wilts, about 90 seconds. Drain boiling water from spinach, cool spinach with cold water, and then set in a sieve. Now firmly press on and squeeze out as much moisture as you can from the spinach.

Set spinach on a cutting board, coarsely chop and put in a mixing bowl. Add the ricotta, egg, garlic, basil, oregano, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and red pepper flakes, if using, and mix to combine. Cover and refrigerate ricotta mixture until needed.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook until just tender (check package for suggested cooking time). Gently stir noodles occasionally as they cook to ensure they don’t stick together.

When cooked, drain noodles well and cool a few minutes. Set a large piece of parchment paper on a work surface. Set noodles flat on the paper not touching.

Spread about 1/2 cup of ricotta mixture in a thin layer over each noodle.

Sprinkle the noodles with half the mozzarella cheese. Carefully, and fairly tightly, roll up each lasagna noodle, pushing back in any ricotta mixture that comes out the sides when you do.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the strained tomatoes, water and olive oil in a two-cup measuring cup or bowl.

Spread half the mixture into the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Set the lasagna noodle roll-ups in the dish, seam-side-down with a little space between each one.

Top each roll-up with some of the remaining strained tomato mixture. Now top each roll with some of the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Cover the baking dish with foil, tenting it so it does not touch the cheese on top of the noodles. Bake the roll-ups 30 minutes (see Note 3). Uncover and bake 12 to 15 minutes more, or until the roll-ups are piping hot and the sauce is bubbling.

Plate the lasagna noodle rolls, sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve.

Note 1: You may wish to cook one or two extra lasagna noodles just in case one tears during cooking.

Note 2: Strained tomatoes, also called passata di pomodoro, are sold in tall bottles in the canned tomato product aisle of most supermarkets and at Italian-style food stores. The leftover strained tomatoes could be frozen for another use.

Note 3: If you make the lasagna noodle roll-ups in advance and refrigerate them before baking, add five extra minutes to the covered baking time.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Times Colonist Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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