Saturday, July 18, 2009

Spinach and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Lasagna

When I think of Italian food, carne - the word for meat, immediately springs to mind and I am inundated with the images and flavour of spaghetti bologanise, meatballs, sausages infused with flat-leaf parsley, fennel and red wine, slow braised osso bucco and platters bursting with mortadella, soppressata, pastrami, prosciutto, pepperoni and bresaola carpaccio that leave me salivating and gasping for air.

About two years ago however, I learned this was not the case. While all of the afore mentioned are popular Italian favourites world-wide, the fare enjoyed by Italians on a daily basis revolves around simple, fresh vegetables and herbs strung together with homemade pasta, quality artisan cheeses and tomato sauce made from scratch. I used to teach English to two Italian kids from Turin and given my love for meat and misconception that copious amounts of beef and pork were part of the Italians daily regime, when I was invited over for dinner one night, I prepared myself for the ultimate meat fest. At first I was sadly disappointed by the obvious lack of carne, and then surprised by the simplicity of the meal. We began with slices of toasted baguette and a wonderfully characteristic hard, deep yellow cheese (the name I cannot remember) and a salad of quartered tomatoes doused in olive oil and stuffed with buffalo milk bocconcini. Then we moved on to the pasta course - a gigantic bowl of spaghetti simply tossed in olive oil and Parmesan cheese accompanied by another salad, this one a generously green and leafy with sliced red onions and a light olive oil vinaigrette. To finish a thin crust Margarita pizza smothered in golden-brown mozzarella followed suite.

This tricolour Spinach and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Lasagna is not only patriotically Italian but also captures their innate ability to take fresh, honest, simple ingredients and produce a rustic, sensual symphony for all the senses to savour. Flavoured with a generous handful of torn basil this dish is best bolstered with a glug of deep, bold red wine.


For the lasagna: 250 g dry lasagna sheets; 4 cups tomato sauce*; 250 g fresh spinach, stems removed, washed thoroughly; 225 g roasted red peppers; 110 g cream cheese; 1 ½ cups ricotta cheese; 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated; 1 egg; Salt & pepper; 225 g mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced or grated

*For the sauce: 2 tblsp of virgin olive oil; 1 cup onion, finely chopped; 1 tsp garlic, finely chopped;
handful basil leaves, torn; 4 cups canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped; Pinch of sugar; Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C. Bring a pot of water to boil, add blanch spinach (cook until slightly tender, for only about 2-4 minutes.) Drain, cool, and squeeze out excess moisture. Using a fork beat cream cheese until smooth, mix with ricotta, ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese and egg until well blended. Season with salt and pepper.

For the sauce, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Add basil, tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

To assemble, spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of your 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Cover with a layer of lasagna sheets making sure to overlap the edges a little. Add a little more sauce, some of the cheese mix, spinach, roasted peppers, and mozzarella. Add another layer of lasagna sheets and repeat until no filling ingredients remain. Reserve enough sauce, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella for the top layer. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Add a layer of aluminium foil and bake another 10 minutes. Remove lasagna from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Looking for more veggie Italiano recipes? You might enjoy...

1 comment:

s said...

been looking around for some veggie lasagna..this is perfect...thanks