I am not a fan of American-style lasagna. Heavy, ricotta cheese-laden, huge portions. Not my style. But the Italians? Now that is a different story. Their version (lasagne in Italian) is completely different. Light and delicious. Sauced...but not too much. Less cheese. Maybe some vegetables. This style is the only type I make. BTW, "al forno" means baked in Italian. So when you see al forno pasta dishes on menus it means some type of baked in the oven pasta.
I spent Christmas week at my sister's home in Seal Beach California. 70 degrees on Christmas day with a long walk on the beach was lovely. Then my sister, brother-in-law and twin nephews spent New Year's week at our home in Taos. Cold, snow, skiing, eating, talking, laughing. What a perfect holiday season. My nephews are 18 years old, tall (6'5) and thin. The thin part is surprising because they eat more than the rest of us combined. The night they arrived I wanted delicious food and plenty of it. My menu included a salad, garlic bread, pesto baked chicken and my lasagne recipe. The lasagne included marinara sauce, bechamel, sauteed greens and mushrooms.You wanna know how I know the recipe was a hit? I woke up the next morning to witness one boy eating a big piece of leftover lasagne cold out of the refrigerator. This was his pre-breakfast "snack"! He said, "This is really good Auntie. I don't even need to heat it".
So, I have a confession. Not only did I use packaged dry noodles, I used the "oven-ready" kind. Italian cookbooks state the best lasagne recipes use freshly made noodles. I do not disagree, however, when pressed for time, the oven-ready version made a surprisingly light and airy casserole. The beauty is, of course, that you do not have to precook the noodles. And, while I used some frozen marinara sauce from the freezer that I made last summer, excellent quality jarred sauce works perfectly also. Most purchased jars contain 25 ounces which is a little less than called for, but the final result is just fine. I love it when shortcuts actually work. Enjoy and Happy New Year!
Lasagne al Forno with Chard & Mushrooms
(serves 6 as a main course, 8-10 as a first course)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet white onion, chopped
1 head Swiss chard, center ribs chopped into 1/2 pieces, leaves torn into large pieces
8 oz sliced baby portabello mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
3 1/2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or best quality jarred)
2 1/2 cups bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cups parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
1 package oven-ready lasagne ( I used Barilla n.399)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large skillet, saute onion and chard ribs in olive oil over medium-high heat until soft. Add chard leaves and mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown and chard leaves are wilted. (5-7 minutes) Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for an additional minute. Season with salt & pepper and remove from heat. Set aside.
Oil a 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover the bottom of the pan with 1 cup marinara sauce and 1/2 cup bechamel sauce. Top with 3 sheets of lasagne noodles. (the noodles will expand to the edges during cooking). Spread 1/3 chard mixture over noodles. Cover with 1/2 cup marinara and 1/2 cup bechamel sauce. Sprinkle 1/3 of cheese over sauce. Repeat with 3 additional noodles and the chard, sauce and cheese layers continuing until all ingredients are used ensuring the top is well coated with cheese.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until lasagne is hot and cheese is bubbling and browned. Remove from oven, allow to rest for 10-15 minutes and serve.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
3 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
pepper (white if possible)
Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the shallot and saute over medium heat until soft. Reduce the heat to low. Whisk in flour, stirring until just beginning to turn golden brown. Whisk in milk and a pinch each salt and pepper.
Cook sauce over medium heat, stirring constantly, until beginning to thicken. Season to taste with nutmeg and additional salt and pepper if needed. Continue cooking until it is as thick as you like. I cook until the consistency of heavy cream for the lasagne.
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