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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fresh twist: Cheesy white and green spinach lasagna

By KATIE WORKMAN
The Associated Press

In the quest for big-crowd food, lasagna reigns supreme. And at this time of year, you may find yourself entertaining a big crowd for a football game party, for the Oscars or another awards show, or just because it's cold out and it's nice to put together a cozy gathering.

This lasagna is rich and creamy, absent the tomato sauce that anchors many lasagnas, filled with sauteed spinach folded into fluffy ricotta and a very simple béchamel sauce, rich with melty cheeses. The nutmeg is optional; a little can add a nice flavor, but too much can overpower. ...

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In the quest for big-crowd food, lasagna reigns supreme. And at this time of year, you may find yourself entertaining a big crowd for a football game party, for the Oscars or another awards show, or just because it's cold out and it's nice to put together a cozy gathering.

This lasagna is rich and creamy, absent the tomato sauce that anchors many lasagnas, filled with sauteed spinach folded into fluffy ricotta and a very simple béchamel sauce, rich with melty cheeses. The nutmeg is optional; a little can add a nice flavor, but too much can overpower.

A few more notes on the ingredients: You may think that 2 pounds of spinach looks like an awful lot for one lasagna, but it cooks down to just a few cups. No-boil, or oven-ready, lasagna noodles are a gift to the busy cook, and the reason I make lasagna more often. I have also made this recipe in a super-large lasagna pan and increased the quantities by half again. Then it will serve 12-16.

It is tempting to dig into a bubbling lasagna, but resist the urge. Letting it sit for at least 10 minutes will reward you with slices that hold together, and it will still be perfectly warm - in fact, just the right temperature for you to enjoy the flavors without the pieces sliding apart on the plates.

This can also be assembled a day ahead, held in the fridge and baked before dinner. Or it can be baked up to two days ahead and reheated for about 20 minutes in a 375°F oven.

CHEESY WHITE AND GREEN SPINACH
LASAGNA

Start to finish: 2 hours. Serves 10-12.

For filling:

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

½ cup minced shallots

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

Kosher salt and freshly
ground pepper to taste

2 lbs. baby spinach leaves,
roughly chopped

2 lbs. ricotta, preferably
fresh

2 large eggs

1 cup finely grated Parmesan
cheese, plus 1/3 cup for
sprinkling the top

½ cup chopped fresh basil
leaves

For cheese sauce:

4 Tbsp. (half a stick)
unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups (1 quart) whole milk

Pinch ground nutmeg
(optional)

1 lb. fresh mozzarella,
shredded

8 oz. shredded Monterey
Jack cheese

1 8-oz. package no-boil
lasagna noodles (contain-
ing 12 noodles)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

To make the filling: Heat 1 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add shallots and garlic, season with salt and pepper; saute 2 minutes until tender. Add spinach in batches and saute, adding more spinach as each batch wilts down, about 6 minutes in all, until all is added and wilted. Adjust seasoning. Transfer to a strainer over a bowl; press down with a spoon to release excess liquid; set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, eggs, 1 cup Parmesan, and basil. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

To make the béchamel cheese sauce: Heat 4 Tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Whisk in flour until mixture turns a light golden color, about 3 minutes. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in milk. Continue to cook and whisk until mixture thickens and bubbles, about 4 minutes, adding nutmeg, if using. Whisk in mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses until they are melted; season with salt and pepper.

If spinach still seems wet, give it a squeeze with your hands. Stir drained spinach into reserved ricotta mixture.

Lay out all lasagna noodles on a clean countertop. Spread spinach-ricotta filling evenly over noodles, so each is topped with about a ½-inch-thick layer of the mixture.

Pour a small amount of béchamel cheese sauce into bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan and spread it out. Place four ricotta-covered noodles in the bottom of pan to cover it in a single layer. Drizzle 1/3 of the white sauce over noodles. Place another layer of ricotta-covered noodles over the top, drizzle with another third of the sauce; repeat layers once more. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake about 40 minutes until top is golden and lasagna is bubbling. If you want a more browned top, run it under the broiler 1-2 minutes, watching it carefully.

Let lasagna rest at least 10-15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving warm.

Nutrition information per serving: 674 calories; 383 calories from fat; 43 g fat (25 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 174 mg cholesterol; 871 mg sodium; 35 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 38 g protein.

Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman.