There's something deeply satisfying about making a lasagna. Totally unprepared it can be an afternoon's work, but it's relaxing, stress-free work. There's no bread dough to not rise and no large cut of meat to be perfectly cooked long before the vegetables are finished, rather you can work happily in your kitchen on each part of the lasagna and bring it all together when you're ready. Best of all, fifty minutes later your industrious self is rewarded with the similarly satisfying experience of eating lasagna, to enjoy while wondering why you don't bother making it more often.
You simply can't beat the traditional bolognese & béchamel lasagna, but my chicken & spinach lasagna is formidable competition. The recipe itself is made up of a number of smaller steps. The pasta, the sauce, the ricotta, and the chicken can all be prepared ahead so take your time. Now if you would kindly take your seats, the recipe will begin shortly.
We start with nothing — this recipe is about cooking from scratch. There are no pre-made lasagna sheets (well, if you insist) or jarred sauces in sight as the curtain goes up.
The spinach called for here can be bought frozen, or simply blanch the leaves from one bunch of spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds then refresh in ice water. Drain the spinach, squeezing out as much moisture as possible. If you've made fresh pasta before this will seem like a lot of flour for one egg. The reason for this is the spinach, which despite being well-drained will still contain a fair amount of moisture. You should let the pasta dough rest for at least an hour before rolling it out in order to deepen its colour. I left mine overnight.
Spinach pasta dough
- 1 egg
- 50 g (1/4 bunch) blanched, well-drained spinach
- 200 g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
1. Process the egg and spinach in a food processor until the spinach is finely chopped. Add the salt and about 2/3 of the flour and process for 1 minute. Add the remaining flour and process for 20 seconds until it takes the consistency of coarse bread crumbs. (If you don't have a food processor, blend the spinach in a blender or food mill then whisk with the egg. Mix with the salt and flour in a large bowl, then continue with step 2.)
2. Turn the processed/mixed dough out onto a lightly floured bench and bring it together into one ball. If you have used a processor knead for 1 minute until smooth. If you have made the dough by hand, knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and not sticky.
3. Wrap the dough and rest, refrigerated for at least 1 hour.
The spinach & ricotta mixture is more or less what it sounds like, with some chopped leek thrown in for good measure.
Spinach & ricotta mixture
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small leek, finely chopped
- 150g (3/4 bunch) blanched, well-drained spinach, chopped roughly
- 500g ricotta cheese
- Salt & black pepper, to taste
1. Sauté the leek in the olive oil over a medium heat for 3 minutes until it starts to become translucent.
2. Turn the heat to high and stir in the chopped spinach. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the ricotta. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
A simple tomato sauce, with some roasted capsicum to boost the sweetness of the sauce. What is the point of simmering the sauce to reduce the moisture, only to add back 3/4 of water at the end, you ask? Cooking the sauce will break down the tomatoes and develop the flavour of the sauce, but the added water is necessary to make up for what will be absorbed in to the pasta or evaporate while the lasagna is cooking.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 a carrot, finely diced
- 1 stick of celery, finely diced
- 1/2 an onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
- 1 red capsicum/red pepper (or the equivalent in canned roasted red peppers, diced finely)
- 400g (14 oz) can of chopped tomatoes
- Salt & black pepper to taste
1. If you're using fresh red capsicum, cut it in half and remove the seeds and stem. Drizzle with olive oil and cook under the grill (broiler) skin-side-up for 5 minutes or until the skin is blackened. Allow to cool enough to handle, then peel of the skin and dice finely.
2. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Cook the carrot, celery and onion for 5-10 minutes or until the onion begins to look translucent. Add the diced capsicum and garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
3. Stir in the canned tomatoes and cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes break down and the sauce thickens. When cooked it will have lost a lot of moisture and oil will start to bead on the surface of the sauce.
4. Season to taste with salt & black pepper, then stir in 3/4 cup of water and set aside.
The stage is in darkness except for one spotlight hovering above the rested pasta dough.
Remember the pasta you made in Act I? Well it's Act III now, which means Chekhov's pasta dough has to be rolled out and par-cooked. I use an Atlas Mercato pasta machine to roll the pasta out to setting 6 thickness (of 9, where 9 is the thinnest). Your lasagna dish may differ, but mine is quite small so one batch of pasta dough could be cut into 7 pieces. Par-boil the lasagna sheets for no longer than 1 minute and set aside. Oiling the par-cooked pasta sheets will prevent them sticking together.
The chicken is very straightforward:
Chicken with lemon & herbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 400g chicken (breast or thigh meat, either is fine), cut into small cubes
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
- 2 tbsp lemon grated lemon zest
- 2 tbsp cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly
- Salt & black pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan over high heat. Cook the diced chicken meat, adding the garlic a minute before the chicken is done.
2. When the chicken is cooked, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and parsley. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Least exciting third act ever.
Putting it altogether.
Chicken & spinach lasagna
- 7 spinach lasagna sheets, par-boiled
- Spinach & ricotta mixture
- Tomato sauce
- Lemon & herb chicken
- 1 1/4 cups of mozzarella cheese, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC / 375ºF
2. Spread out 1/5 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a square 18 x 18 cm (or similar volume) oven-proof dish. Layer lasagna sheets and filling on top of this. My 7 sheets made 6 layers, so from bottom to top I had: tomato sauce, ricotta, tomato sauce, chicken, tomato sauce, ricotta.
3. Spread the remaining 1/5 of the tomato sauce on top of the lasagna and distribute the mozzarella over the top. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until the mozzarella is golden brown. Enjoy.