Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whole Wheat Spinach Lasagna

This recipe was adapted from a recipe my mother made when I was growing up (though I don't think she makes it anymore). It's a basic recipe that gets lots of help from frozen, canned and boxed products ... perfect for the winter season. Although non-fresh things are not my usual, I do make some exceptions. I don't make my own pasta, so that's from a box. In winter, I often use frozen spinach, so that's the frozen part (just plain, chopped spinach ... don't go for anything that has other ingredients). During tomato season, I will sometimes make my own tomato sauce, but winter is not the time for that, so canned is a perfectly reasonable way to go. These are not highly processed foods, even if they aren't fresh.

One other note about this recipe that might disappoint some: this is not a huge, rich, dripping with cheese kind of lasagna. Remember, we're going for healthy. The whole grain pasta provides some heartiness, but really it is fairly light, and will not leave you needing to unbutton your pants after dinner.

This recipe served us (2.5 people) for 3 dinners.

Whole Wheat Spinach Lasagna
12 sheets of whole wheat lasagna (that's a little more than a box-worth)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup lowfat ricotta
6 oz. lowfat mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
salt & pepper, to taste

Boil the pasta in water, according to package directions. Better to keep them a little extra al dente, since they will cook a bit more in the oven. Drain.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a saucepan, heat the oil, and then add the garlic and onion. Cook over medium heat until the onion is soft. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce over low heat for at least 15 minutes (I don't really think 45 minutes of simmering improves sauce all that much ... overnight refrigeration does a lot more good).

In a bowl, mix together spinach, ricotta, 4 oz. of mozzarella (2/3 of the total), and 2 Tbsp. parmesan (1/2 of the total), nutmeg, salt and pepper.

In a 13x9 glass baking dish, spoon a very thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom. Top with 4 sheets of lasagna, overlapping. Spread half the spinach mixture over the lasagna. Top with a thicker layer of sauce. Repeat lasagna, spinach, sauce. Add a final layer of 4 sheets of lasagna. Top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and parmesan on top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

I don't often make product recommendations, but here I feel I have to. There are not very many organic brands of whole wheat lasagna. There is a spelt lasagna that I like by Vita Spelt, but that's pretty dense and might be off-putting to some. There is a fairly easy to find whole wheat organic lasagna made by Hodgeson Mills. This one, at least for my tastes, is absolutely awful! Regardless of how much or little it is cooked, it always seems to come out gummy, and the taste is not great. I think when people say they don't like whole wheat pasta, this is what they're talking about. The brand we like best is Westbrae. It's a little harder to find, but your health food store should have it. If they don't, ask. They can probably order it (one of the nice things about many health food stores is that they have better customer service than most supermarkets). For those who want a lighter tasting pasta, there are brown rice and quinoa pastas that are also quite good, and quite healthy. I prefer the earthiness of whole wheat, and I even prefer it considerably over white pasta.

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