Connolly is about as Irish as surnames get, and judging from my fair skin and face full of freckles, I don’t think anyone would argue about my heritage. Oh Ireland, with its vast array of rolling emerald hills in every shade and tint imaginable. It truly is a magical place. A place I one day hope to retire, perhaps with some sheep that will provide me some warm wool I can use to knit up some fuzzy sweaters. I certainly am one proud Irish gal, and the folks in Ireland have done a lot of things right, Irish coffee, the claddaugh ring, wool, and don’t even get me started on Jameson… but the one thing they have yet to perfect is their food… Beef, potatoes, and cabbage is hardly my idea of a delicious dinner. Which is why part of my heart and soul will forever remain in Italy. I might not look Italian, but I did spend a good five months of my life living, breathing, and soaking up all that the Italian culture has to offer, and it was magnificent. The Italians do food better than any other culture. In Italy food is not just about the food, it is about the experience – bringing together the whole family to sit and talk and enjoy one another’s company along with the delicious meal. The Italians cook with love, putting their heart and soul into everything they make, which is exactly why I thought a lasagna would be a perfect entrée to bring to my aunt’s house for dinner.
Let’s grab the ingredients: 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, 6 ounces bufala mozzarella, 1 egg, 1 (32 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, 1 small white onion, 1 clove garlic, 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning (or mix 3 T worth of oregano, roma, and parsley), 3 cups fresh spinach leaves, 1 package mushrooms, 1 package of lasagna noodles, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil for cooking, and a 9 x 9 lasagna pan.
Let’s start cooking! Start boiling a large pot of water to cook the lasagna noodles. In the meantime grab out a nonstick skillet and put a little spray pam or olive oil in there and cook the spinach until it is nice a wilted. You will want to really squeeze out all the excess water from the spinach once it is done cooking. If you forget this step chances are your lasagna will be a tad watery. Set the spinach aside and use the same pan to cook up your mushrooms.
While the mushrooms are cooking, pull out a bowl and mix the ricotta, parmesan, egg, and 1 T. of seasonings. I know raw eggs are bad for you, but I had to taste test! I love loooove ricotta cheese. Making this lasagna made me realize I need to try some more ricotta based recipes, stay tuned because more recipes will be coming…
Make sure you don’t forget about the water. When it comes to a boil toss in the lasagna noodles and cook them 2 minutes short of being done. My package told me to cook for 12 minutes, so I only cooked them for 10. The reason behind this is that when you bake the lasagna noodles will continue to cook, this way they are perfectly al dente instead of mushy when they come out of the oven!
Set the mushrooms aside and mix the cooled spinach into the ricotta mixture. While the noodles are cooking let’s use the same skillet to mix up some sauce. I am all about minimizing the dishes, since lasagna is one of those recipes that can easily lead to a messy kitchen if you are making everything from scratch.
Pour a little olive oil into the skillet and add the finely chopped onion and minced garlic clove. Cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Once you have cooked up the onion and garlic, pour the can of crushed tomatoes (if you prefer a thicker sauce just add a little tomato paste!) and remaining 2 T of seasoning. Heat it up for a min or two over the stove while stirring. Taste it and add a little salt, pepper or additional seasonings.
Layer upon layer upon layer. Once the noodles are done cooking, drain the water and pull out your lasagna pan. Spray the bottom of the pan with a little PAM so the noodles come out easy. You can layer anyway your heart desires, I will usually try new methods each time I make this lasagna. This time I layered: 1) Noodles, ricotta spinach mixture, sauce. 2) Noodles, bufala mozzarella, half as much ricotta spinach as the previous layer, mushrooms, sauce. 3) Noodles, remaining ricotta spinach, sauce and the shredded mozzarella. DONE!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the shredded mozzarella is golden brown. Make some toasty garlic bread and a delicious salad to go with the lasagna and enjoy it with some family or friends, because this meal is meant to be shared. Mangia! (Eat up in Italian).
The best part of this recipe is how easy it is to mix and match cheeses or vegetables with whatever you find in your fridge. I love to do 1/2 cup ricotta and a 1/2 cup marscapone, and substitute the shredded mozzarella for provolone. The smokey provolone is a great compliment to the sweet marscapone. But I don’t like to spend a fortune buying tons of cheese when I can use whatever I have in my fridge, so don’t be afraid to do the same!
Until we meet again, buon appetito!