When it comes to pasta, lasagna has always been a personal favorite. I am very particular about what I want in my lasagna, including a light sauce, delicate egg noodles, and either a combination of fresh seasonal vegetables or some tender melt in your mouth meat. As much as I love this traditional pasta dish, it is one I almost never order when dining out in North America. Unfortunately, it seems restaurants often think bigger is better and folks try and add everything but the kitchen sink in between pasta sheets. Any good recipe builds on basics, and for lasagna, the noodles play an integral part in creating a memorable dish. I will admit that I am a lasagna snob and have made my lasagna noodles for the past twenty years or more. I honestly can’t even remember the last time I used a boxed lasagna noodle!
I am constantly asked my opinion on oven ready or no boil lasagna noodles, and having never tried them, I never felt comfortable giving my opinion. When making lasagna recently, I did decide to try Barilla oven ready noodles out of curiosity. I honestly wasn’t expecting much, having made my noodles myself for years, but I must admit they were better than I expected. Were these boxed no boil noodles as good as my delicate homage egg sheets? I can’t say that, but I am sure they can hold themselves in a test between other regular boxed noodles. After baking my lasagna, my husband in particular was not pleased with the initial texture. The noodles felt a little gummy, and you could certainly tell the difference between my usual homemade noodles and these. Surprisingly though, the next day when we reheated the lasagna, the noodles firmed up a bit and were very similar in texture to my usual egg noodles. The trick to using these no boil noodles is to add extra sauce as the noodles will absorb the sauce as they cook. I also found their crisp hardness a tad tricky to work around when layering my lasagna since I am used to soft, pliable ones.
Would I use these noodles again? Probably not, simply because I prefer my homemade ones, but for someone used to the regular boxed lasagna noodles that require boiling I think these are a great alternative. The box states that one box will make one regular sized lasagna, but I found that I needed more than one package to complete my dish since I was using an extra large baking dish.
Now that I have discussed the lasagna noodles in detail, we need to discuss the filling and sauces used in this lasagna. I wanted to create a vegetarian pasta that combined butternut squash and spinach. I also used two different sauces, a simple, fresh lasting tomato sauce and a creamy béchamel sauce. All that was needed to complete this dish was some shredded mozzarella and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. I saw a trick on a cooking show that I was watching on television recently where they simply used fresh baby spinach leaves, uncooked in the lasagna. I decided to give it a try thinking that any liquid that the spinach releases as it cooks will be absorbed by the noodles. This worked out just fine, and I would certainly recommend this method.
Deborah Mele 2015
For The Tomato Sauce:
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
- 1 (28 Ounce) Can Crushed Tomatoes
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Fresh Basil
For The Béchamel Sauce:
- 5 Tablespoons Of Butter
- 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 2 1/2 Cups Milk
- White Pepper
- 6 Cups Peeled, Diced Butternut Squash
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- 4 Cups Baby Spinach Leaves
- 2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella
- 1 1/2 Cups Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
- 1 Box Oven Ready Lasagna Noodles
- For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, and add the garlic.
- As soon as the garlic begins to sizzle, but before it takes on color, add the tomatoes.
- Turn the heat to high, and as soon as the sauce begins to bubble, turn back down to medium low.
- Season with salt and pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes if you are using them, and the basil.
- Cook for another minute of two and remove from the heat.
- For the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat, and once it is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Cook for a minute or two until the flour just begins to take on some color.
- Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often.
- Season with a pinch of salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
- Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl and covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap.
- Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.
- Toss the squash with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Spread the squash onto a baking sheet, and roast until tender, about 30 minutes.
- Remove the squash from the oven, and mash it with a fork while still warm.
- To assemble the lasagna, ladle about a cup of tomato sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch lasagna pan.
- Place noodles to cover the sauce.
- Spoon half the squash over the noodles, spreading to cover, then ladle enough of the béchamel to cover well (about half).
- Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese of the squash.
- Place another layer of noodles on top, then pack the fresh spinach on top.
- Spoon a cup or two of the tomato sauce over the spinach, half the mozzarella, and then top with another layer of noodles.
- Complete another layer of squash, béchamel, grated cheese, and noodles.
- Top this last layer with enough tomato sauce to cover well.
- Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and pecorino cheese.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- Uncover, and bake until bubble and golden brown, about another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes before slicing.