Friday, May 11, 2012

My Birthday Dinner -- The Party of the First Part

So here's the first part of my recent birthday dinner....Lasagna Rollups. Think of it as an easier, somewhat healthier, version of lasagna (since there is no meat). The original recipe called for ricotta and Romano cheeses in the filling, along with a healthy dose of spinach, and I made it that way for a while, but to be honest, it was kind of bland. Then I came up with a cheese blend that I began using with my pizza dough for a white pizza, and decided, in a stroke of genius I think, to add that cheese blend to the basic filling. WOW! What a blast of flavor! Since it is predominantly spinach, I think it is still pretty healthy, and with all that flavor, it's easy to be satisfied with a smaller portion. Two rollups per person and a green salad makes a hearty meal, and comes in at around 600 calories. Just a couple of notes: the easiest way I've found to form these without ending up with either filling or noodles left over at the end is to count the number of lasagna noodles as I add them to the boiling water. I find that a one pound package of lasagna usually contains 20 noodles. In fact, I usually keep an open box of lasagna noodles in my pantry, so if I find a box that has fewer than 20 noodles or where some are broken and not fit for rolling, I pull an extra noodle or two from the open box--that way it's easier to apportion the filling and I know I always end up with 20 rolls. 

To fill the noodles, I lay a couple of sheets of plastic wrap out on my counter and lay out 5 noodles at one time. I divide the filling into quarters in the bowl, then apportion one quarter of the filling among the 5 noodles. After I roll those and place them into a layer of tomato sauce, I repeat with the remaining noodles and filling. Easy!

Lasagna Roll-ups
Serves: 8 to 10
Oven Temperature: 375°

1 lb. lasagna noodles
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 lb. container part skim ricotta cheese
10 Tbs. Romano cheese, grated
10 Tbs. Grana Padano, grated
8 ounces Asiago cheese, grated
2 (10 oz.) or 1 (24 oz.) pkg. chopped spinach, defrosted & squeezed dry
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. pepper
6 to 8 cups tomato sauce
additional Romano, for serving

Cook lasagna noodles in plenty of boiling salted water until not quite done (they'll cook more when the assembled dish is baked). Drain and set aside. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and beginning to brown. In a large bowl, combine the onion/garlic mixture, all the cheeses, spinach, nutmeg and pepper until well mixed. Set aside.

Prepare a large baking pan by pouring about 3/4 to 1 cup tomato sauce in the bottom. Spread some of the filling along each of the noodles to within about an inch of the ends. Roll up like a jellyroll and lay seam side down into the prepared baking pan. When all the noodles have been filled, cover the tops of the rolls with additional sauce. Cover pan with parchment paper (so the tomato sauce doesn't eat through the foil) and aluminum foil and bake at 375° for 25 minutes covered (or until bubbly), then uncover and bake an additional 5 minutes. Serve with additional Romano to sprinkle on top.

Notes & Pointers:
This can easily be prepared a day or two in advance. Refrigerate immediately after the rolls are filled and covered with sauce. When you plan to serve the dish, bake it off but lower the oven temperature to 350° and increase the baking time by about 15 minutes or so to allow for the cold start. Just make sure the center is hot and the sauce is bubbly.

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