In a strange stroke of coincidence, everyone in my family is leaving this week- everyone, that is, except for me! My sister left for Italy yesterday, J leaves for Texas today, and my parents are also traveling to Italy on Wednesday. Basically everyone decided to desert me at the same time! Of course I'll be fine, and my best friend M and I do have some fun plans up our sleeves during the coming two weeks, but it is odd to think that everyone is gone all at once. So, in a nod to the Italian vacations of my sister and parents, plus the fact that I know poor J won't get a decent meal over the next three weeks (he's working on a project that will involve long hours and little free time) I decided to whip up an Italian meal for J's last night at home.
I'd seen a dish on Everyday Italian awhile back that I had wanted to make, but kind of forgot about it. When I discovered a repeat of that episode on my Tivo, it reminded me how appealing the dish seemed and I decided to go ahead and try it. It's a dish called Lasagna Rolls, and I loved the idea of having a small roll or two of lasagna as opposed to a big slab of it. I knew I wanted to play with the recipe a bit to make it lighter- the days of J and I eating giant bowls of pasta and polishing off an entire baguette are long gone- so I printed the recipe and made some changes.
First of all, I left out the prosciutto and replaced it with sliced crimini mushrooms sautéed with garlic, thyme, olive oil and vermouth. I did keep the one box of squeezed-out, thawed spinach but only used 1/2 cup of ricotta, which I combined in the Cuisinart with one ounce of grated parmiggiano reggiano, one egg, salt and pepper. I then mixed the pureed mixture with the sautéed mushrooms. For the béchamel sauce, I used only 1 tablespoon of real butter, then 1 tablespoon of Smart Balance spread with the 4 teaspoons of flour called for in the original recipe. Instead of using whole milk, I used fat free half and half, plus the fresh nutmeg and salt/pepper. I know a lot of cooks insist you don't use fat free replacements in recipes, but the resulting béchamel was smooth, creamy and thick. I wanted to get whole wheat lasagna sheets but couldn't find them (anyone know of any??) after going to three stores, so I bought regular ones which I boiled for eight minutes- which is about two less than called for. You want the pasta to be a bit more al dente than al dente;) since it will finish baking in the oven. After spreading my spinach/mushroom mixture onto each lasagna noodle, I rolled them up, set each seam-side down in a baking dish filled with béchamel, topped each roll with a bit of homemade marinara and grated parmesan, then baked, covered, in the oven for 20 minutes. After another 15 minutes of baking, uncovered, the dish was done. I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into it!!
Hot, bubbling and golden brown........yum
I wanted it to rest for a bit so I roasted some asparagus and zucchini, warmed a mini baguette in the oven and whipped up a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh garlic, honey and black pepper for a mixed green salad. We popped open a bottle of Grand Archer 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and sat down for our meal.
How were the lasagna rolls? They were so good that I'm actually craving one right now as I write this at 9:00 AM in the morning! In all honesty- you do not miss any of the extra cheese or fat in the béchamel. Each roll was crisp on the cheese-coated tops, and the ricotta/spinach/mushroom filling was just creamy enough. The béchamel soaked into the bottom of each roll and the touch of marinara really tied the dish together. Any sauce left on the plate was quickly sopped up with our slices of warm bread. I rarely make baked pastas, but this will definitely be making an appearance on our dinner table often, especially during the cooler months. We really loved it, and I can think of lots of delicious variations (salmon and chive filling w/ béchamel, roasted eggplant instead of mushrooms, etc) that will work with the basic concept of the rolled lasagna.
You can find the original recipe here.