Extra Pesto Boosts Green Lasagna Flavor

Lots of spinach and arugula on hand in my garden hoop house out behind the barn moved my green lasagna project into high gear recently. I’d thought about making it for a long time and never seemed to get to it. Must have been the winter doldrums. Now I think that I prefer it over the classic red sauce lasagna, partly because I like garlic and pesto – the primary flavorings – a lot.

I ‘m pretty sure I made green lasagna a very long time ago when I was still a vegetarian, possibly in the late ‘80s, then never tried it again. Odd how a recipe can appeal, then disappear from our repertoire for a while. So I had to renew my familiarity and read through the green lasagna recipe in one of the Silver Palate cookbooks.

I had completely forgotten about the cream sauce that I needed to put over the bottom of the pan and subsequent layers. One thing I did that the recipe didn’t mention was to add pesto to the cream sauce, and that kept it from diluting the overall flavor.

Then there are the ricotta layers with all the chopped spinach; but I couldn’t remember whether I had to cook it in advance, or what. I ended up picking over the raw spinach, taking out the stems, shredding it, and then I cooked chopped onion and more garlic and added the spinach to it to wilt. I also had a great deal of arugula, and I incorporated that into the spinach, which sharpened up the flavor. All the spinach and arugula made the ricotta very green. Of course, you can use frozen spinach, and because my spinach was bolting, I put enough spinach away in the freezer for another batch. When I do use it, I will lay the frozen spinach slab on a cutting board and run a chef knife through it a few times to chop it more finely.

I didn’t have basil large enough to harvest yet, but I still had lots of pesto that I froze last fall, and I used that. The mozzarella on top gave it a nice golden color.

Gosh, it was good. I made it twice for company dinners and everyone loved it, served with garlic sausage on the side and a salad.

Green Lasagna
For the ricotta filling
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cups of steamed and drained spinach
2 cups or 1 pint of ricotta cheese
½ cup of pesto, or more to taste
2 eggs, slightly beaten
For the cream sauce
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1 ½ cup of milk
¼ cup pesto, to taste

9 lasagna noodles
1 to 2 cups shredded mozzarella
To make the filling, chop the onion and garlic and sauté in olive oil until the onion softens, then add the spinach and cook until you no longer see liquid. Add to the ricotta with pesto and beaten eggs. Set aside.
To make the cream sauce, melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan, stir in the flour and cook until flour bubbles. Gradually whisk in the milk, and cook until it thickens, then add the pesto.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To assemble, boil the lasagna noodles according to the directions. Remove from the water and set aside. Put a quarter of the cream sauce on the bottom of a nine-by-thirteen-inch baking pan, and lay a third of the noodles on it, top with a third of the ricotta mixture, and another quarter of the cream sauce. Sprinkle on mozzarella. Repeat twice more, with plenty of mozzarella on top. Bake about thirty minutes or until the top is golden and you can see bubbles around the edge. Allow to set for ten minutes before cutting it up for serving.
Makes eight to twelve servings.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.