Friday, June 3, 2011

Spinach-Artichoke Béchamel Lasagna

I love lasagna. There’s just something comforting about digging into layer after layer of pasta, meat, cheese, and sauce. However, frequent lasagna consumption tends to become quite unhealthy, and truth be told, rather mundane after a while. As someone who is constantly trying to think outside the box, I decided to cut out the meat and replace it with veggies to add a little healthiness to the dish.

Meet the Spinach-Artichoke Béchamel Lasagna.
It looks similar to the usual type of lasagna, except for the fact that there is no red sauce, no meat, and no extra cheeses like mozzarella or parmesan. One might be thinking right now, “What? That’s not lasagna!” Okay, that’s somewhat true. It’s more of a cross between a Greek Spanakopita, Egyptian Macaroni Béchamel, and Italian Lasagna. As a result, it seems fancier than the usual type of lasagna but it is actually quite simple to make.

1 package of frozen spinach*
1 can of artichoke hearts
1 medium onion
Lasagna noodles*
Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese*
6 cups of milk
1 ¾ cup of all-purpose flour
Half a stick of butter
Salt and Pepper
Garlic Powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Defrost the spinach by placing the frozen block into a small cooking pot on high heat. Once the ice has melted and all of the water has evaporated, take it off the heat and set aside to cool.
3. Chop the onions into small pieces and add to the spinach, along with the artichoke hearts and ricotta cheese. Mix thoroughly. Once everything is evenly incorporated, add salt, black pepper, and garlic powder to taste.

Now it is time to make your béchamel sauce.

4. Heat the butter on medium heat until it is completely melted.
5. Slowly whisk in the flour. Once all of the flour has been added, slowly whisk in the milk. Continue to whisk on medium heat until the mixture has thickened and looks smooth (the texture should be similar to pancake batter).
6. At this point, take the sauce off heat and sprinkle in salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley, and nutmeg to taste.

Now you’re ready to assemble your lasagna.

7. Grease or spray your baking dish with nonstick spray. Spread a thick layer of béchamel sauce across the bottom of the dish. Then place one layer of lasagna noodles on top of that, followed by the spinach-artichoke mixture. Then more béchamel sauce, then another layer of lasagna noodles, then the spinach-artichoke mixture. You get the idea. When you’re about ¾ of the way to the top of the baking dish, top with the remaining béchamel sauce (my friends’ favorite part of the lasagna!). If you still have some of the spinach-artichoke mixture left, do not worry. You can eat it as it is (it’s delicious!) or freeze it for later use.
8. Place your lasagna in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top is evenly golden brown.

That’s all there is to it!

-Frozen spinach works better than fresh spinach. I don’t know why this is but two friends tried my recipe with fresh instead of frozen and it did not turn out so well. The same friends later tried it with frozen, and they loved it!
-I use the no-boil lasagna noodles because they’re hassle-free. If you cannot find them in your grocery store, feel free to use the regular lasagna noodles. Just make sure that you cook them until al-dente before you start layering them in your baking dish. If you’re using the no-boil kind, wet the noodles with hot water, then place in the baking dish.
-Whole milk ricotta is a necessity! My health-conscious sister tried this recipe with Fat-free ricotta and it did not taste good at all. I’m still cringing from the taste.
-You can do without the nutmeg if you want. However, I feel that it makes the béchamel sauce taste that much better with it.

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