I think the Internet is a wonderful thing… I was planning the menu for my nephew’s 2nd birthday and we had decided to make a vegetarian lasagna and a meat lasagna. I wish my sister would have been satisfied with just the vegetarian lasagna, but she insisted to have something for the non-vegetarians – as if they could not eat my vegetarian one. I was not thrilled about the idea, but someone else was in charge of that dish.
Then, my competitive nature kicked in… I am the aunt of this kid. I have a vegetarian blog. I want to ensure that most people on this party prefer the vegetarian lasagna to the non-veggie one. I want my vegetarian lasagna to BLOW THE HEAD OUT OF THE WATER of that meaty lasagna. This is not about converting anyone to becoming vegetarian. This has nothing to do with the person making the other lasagna. This is a statement… a statement that a delicious lasagna does not need to have meat in it. And not only I wanted to make delicious lasagna… but preferred over a meaty one.
So I decided to throw the challenge to my friends on the internet. I posted my challenge on Serious Eats Talk section. I wanted to see if I could get some inspiration from the folks out there… many of them non-vegetarian who might have some pretty awesome ideas on what to serve. My initial idea was my Spinach and Almond Lasagna in a White Sauce, but I was game to making something more complex.
Kenji, one of the editors of Serious Eats rose to the challenge… not only giving me ideas for this mega-lasagna- throw down I had going on in my head, but actually coming up with a recipe and making it in the middle of the night. Literally… he was cooking at 2AM in the morning. He mixed spinach and mushrooms and gave me some pointers on the technique to use no-boil lasagna noodles. I was so excited by all the recommendations… but I was most impressed and baffled by the fact that Kenji thanked me personally for inspiring him to make this lasagna he had never planned on making.
So of course, this is the lasagna I made for my nephew’s birthday. I cooked all the components and assembled the lasagna the night before. We baked it the night of the party. The people were enticed and almost hypnotized by the smells coming out of the kitchen that night. My sister was impressed by the mushroom mixture. The lasagna already had a following even before we hit the oven.
We baked the meaty lasagnas first… because I just did not want my vegetarian lasagna to be “contaminated” by the smells or potential platter of the meaty ones. So my lasagna had little time to rest before we actually served it. This is how it went:
- Someone who’s not vegetarian decided to wait until our lasagna was baked off because they were waiting to try ours. She was hoping everyone would fill up on the meaty one so there would be more of the vegetarian one for her to eat.
- A vegetarian guest was so appreciative that we had something she could eat blindly.
- I was serving my lasagna, mostly to avoid serving utensil cross-contamination… and when people got to my lasagna they were mostly regretting they had served themselves such a large piece of meaty lasagna. Some people divided their meaty lasagna piece with someone else so they could serve themselves also a large piece of our veggie lasagna.
- My intention is not to convert anyone into vegetarianism, but someone told me they would become vegetarian if I would cook for them every day. And they invited me to make this lasagna again at their home… because they could not believe I had tried that recipe for the first time on a house full of guests. I was that confident on Kenji’s recipe and my skills…
Here is a picture of my version of the lasagna… but I rather share with you Kenji’s pictures, as well as his recipe. I made some modifications as he used an egg and my mom and I do not eat eggs. So here is the link to the original recipe and my adapted version.
KENJI’s KICK-BUTT SPINACH AND MUSHROOM LASAGNA
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dish, divided 3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon) 2 pounds washed fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped 1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream, divided 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 pound cottage cheese 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves, divided 1 package (15 sheets) no-boil whole-wheat lasagna noodles 24 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, finely chopped 2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup) 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves 1 tablespoon soy sauce 2 teaspoons fresh juice from 1 lemon 2 tablespoons spelt or whole-wheat flour 2 cups whole milk 1 bag of shredded Italian blend cheeses 12 ounces whole milk mozzarella, grated, divided 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming subsides. Add garlic and 1 shallot and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach in batches, allowing previous batch to wilt before adding next. I saved a handful of fresh spinach on the side. I thought I had read it as part of the recipe, but now I can’t see it anywhere…
- Once the spinach is in the skillet and wilted, add 1 cup heavy cream. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a strong simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thick and reduced, about 15 minutes. Add nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- While spinach is cooking, combine cottage cheese and 6 tablespoons parsley in the bowl of a food processor. I was suppoed to mix this in a food processor, but I totally skipped this step… and just mixed the cottage cheese with chopped parsley by hand in a bowl. I was just not into dirtying something else…
- Combine the cooked spinach and cottage cheese mixture in a large bowl. Also, now add the handful of uncooked chopped spinach. Mix well.
- Meanwhile, place lasagna noodles in a 8- by 13-inch baking dish and cover with warm water. Allow to soak, agitating occasionally to prevent sticking, until lightly softened, about 15 minutes. Transfer in a single layer to a clean kitchen towel to dry.
- While noodles soak, wipe out spinach pot and return to medium-high heat. Add 3 more tablespoons butter and heat until melted. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates and mushrooms start to sizzle, about 10 minutes. Add the other shallot and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and softened, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and stir to combine. Add remaining heavy cream. Bring to a simmer, and cook until lightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to another bowl. It’s amazing how quickly the cream in the mushrooms thicken in comparison to the spinach…
- Wipe out pot and return to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and heat until melted. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk, until light golden blond. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Stir in 2/3rds of the bag of shredded Italian cheese blend and parmesan, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To assemble lasagna, dry the 8- by 13-inch baking dish and grease with butter. Add 1 cup cheese sauce to bottom of dish. Lay three noodles on top of it, spacing them evenly across the bottom of the dish (there will be some gaps between each noodle and the edge of the pan. This is fine). Top noodles with a bit more sauce and add an even layer of half the mushroom mixture, add some of the shredded cheese and parmesan, then top with another three noodles. Add a bit of sauce again, top with half of spinach/cottage cheese mixture, add some of the shredded cheese and parmesan, then top with another three noodles. Repeat layers with remaining mushroom mixture, spinach mixture, and noodles, ending with a layer of noodles. Pour remaining cheese sauce over top and spread evenly. Sprinkle any remaining shredded cheese and parmesan and place slices of fresh mozzarella evenly over top.
- Bake until lasagna is bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes. If you made the lasagna the night before like I did, allow 30 minutes in the oven to make sure the inside is cooked. Switch broiler on and broil until top is lightly browned, and stay close. It’s no fun going thru all this trouble just to scorch the top of your lasagna…
- Let cool for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.
Thanks Kenji for going above and beyond the call of duty on this one… I was expecting just a combination of ingredients/flavors and maybe a link to a past recipe. Instead, you developed something utterly delicious for me and our guests to enjoy. In my eyes… the VEGETARIAN LASAGNA WON!!!! And that’s all thanks to you…