So today is the fourth Tuesday in a row that I’ve tried to write this entry.  It’s budget season in the City of Dallas and that means I’ve had Budget Town Hall meetings to attend the past three Tuesdays  that have kept me busy and away from Tasty Tuesdays.  S0 without further adieu, this week’s Tasty Tuesday is Turkey and Spinach Lasagna, a Staci Thetford original!

As a kid my only interaction with lasagna was at church functions and was of the frozen variety generally found at Sam’s.  Needless to say I was not a big fan.  So much in fact that I was convinced that all lasagna must be like this and therefore I did not like lasagna.  How tragic.  Fortunately for me, sometime in college a good friend of mine took me to dinner at one of the local Italian establishments and gave me a taste of their non-frozen, made from scratch lasagna.  I was amazed at how different, and wonderful it tasted.  It would take another 3 years before I would start making it myself, but I was no longer afraid.

I’ve mentioned in a previous Tasty Tuesday that my friend Rachel and I used to cook together weekly.  One of the first cooking adventures we had was a version of this turkey and spinach lasagna.  It was delightful!  I don’t remember the exact recipe we used, but here is the one that I use every time I make homemade lasagna.

Ingredients
1 lb ground turkey (or Italian style turkey sausage)
2 garlic cloves
1 lb package of lasagna noodles
2 jars of marinara sauce (I prefer to use sweet ones for this recipe)
1 lb of mozzarella cheese
15 oz ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pkg frozen spinach thawed

Back when I first started making homemade lasagna, I used to make the marinara sauce from scratch.  That process made this already time intensive dish impossible for a weeknight meal so I quickly switched to using store bought sauce.  Initially I used Ragu’s sweet onion and garlic but just recently switched to a more natural brand, Cucina Antica where the ingredient list on the bottle contains only the items I would use if I were making it myself and no additives or preservatives!!  I can’t talk up this sauce company enough.  For this recipe I used their Italian Spinach Marinara as I knew it would compliment the spinach perfectly.

To begin set a large pot of water on the stove top to boil.  When ready add lasagna noodles (about 15 if long style and 20 if short) and boil for as long as the package suggests.  Remember not to over cook the pasta since it will cook longer while in the oven to bake.  Once the pasta is done place immediately in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

In the meantime brown your ground turkey in a large skillet along with the two garlic cloves minced. (Note: if using Italian style turkey sausage be sure to remove the sausage from its casings prior to browning.  Also, the garlic would not be necessary in this instance as there is already a lot of flavor in the sausage.)  Cook until cooked through and no pink exists and drain off fat if necessary.  Pour into the skillet 1 and a half bottles of marinara sauce.  Turn off burner and set aside.

Completed Sauce

Completed Sauce

Take the thawed frozen spinach and drain of most liquid being sure not to drain off too much leaving the leaves too dry which will make mixing difficult.  In a medium sized bowl mix together the spinach and ricotta cheese and set aside.

Spinach/Ricotta mixture

Spinach/Ricotta mixture

If you purchased fresh mozzarella you have the option of shredding or slicing the cheese.  While shredding is more difficult given the softness of the cheese than slicing, it does result in a more even dispersion of the cheese throughout the dish and is recommended. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Now for the assembly of the dish.  First, line the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish (or lasagna pan if you have one, which I don’t) with a little bit of the sauce left over in the jar, just enough to make a thin layer on the bottom of the pan.  This will prevent the lasagna pasta from sticking to the pan. 

 

Sauce lined pan

Sauce lined pan

 

 

Now cover the sauce with 3-4 lasagna noodles slightly overlapping, drying off the pasta with a paper towel before placing in the pan.  The number will depend on the length of the noodles and how many it will take to cover the pan.

On top of the pasta spoon about 1/3 of the spinach ricotta mixture and spread over the pasta.  Note, the pasta will be a little wet/sticky even with drying it which might make spreading the ricotta a little challenging, don’t get frustrated, it doesn’t have to look pretty since it’ll be covered up by the other layers.

 

Spinach Ricotta layer

Spinach Ricotta layer

Now cover the ricotta cheese with 1/4 of the mozzarella.  If you’re using sliced mozzarella, unless you have a fantastic cheese slicer, it is likely that the slices will be of slightly varying thickness.  The important thing to remember in this layer, is to keep an even distribution of the cheese.  In order to do so, you need to take into consideration how the cheese will melt.  This go-round, I chose to use shredded mozzarella and found that it was so much easier to work with and its next to impossible to not get an even melt.  Once the mozzarella is complete, top with 1/4 of the parmesan.

 

Mozzarella and Parmesan layer

Mozzarella and Parmesan layer

Now top the cheese with the marinara sauce using about 1/4 of the remaining sauce, or just enough to cover the cheese.

 

First complete layer of lasagna

First complete layer of lasagna

Repeat this layering process, starting with pasta, two more times until you have three layers of pasta and three layers of filling.  After completing the third filling layer (spinach ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and sauce) top with a layer of pasta and the remaining sauce (I usually have to dip into the sauce left in the second jar at this point) and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Your completed lasagna should look like this:

 

Completed lasagna pre-cooking

Completed lasagna pre-cooking

Bake the lasagna until the cheese is browned and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  This step is important to allow the layers to set and keep you from burning yourself with hot cheese when dishing out the portions.  Cut into single servings and enjoy.  Serves 6-9

 

The finished product

The finished product

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Making lasagna from scratch is definitely time-consuming, it usually takes me 2-2.5 hours from start to finish, but it is also worth the effort.  If you are pressed for time, or are planning to serve this for a dinner party and you don’t want to risk running behind schedule, this can be assembled the night before, covered tightly and refrigerated and put into the oven 1 hour prior to serving.  I’ve had to do that a few times when I didn’t get started early enough with assembly and it’s turned out just fine.  Enjoy.

My Husband, My Sous Chef

September 8, 2009

This Labor Day weekend, Robert and I decided to take advantage of the “free” day of no work and no class and cook two large meals and an order of salsa (recipe to come) to last us the rest of the week.  The idea here was that taking care of the cooking in one fell swoop would provide me with more time during the week to take care of some other chores around the house, to go to the gym and work out and simply to enjoy our evenings at home with limited dishes to clean.

I got started at around 5:45pm Monday evening beginning with my Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos (a double order) while Robert worked on cleaning some dishes that our dishwasher refused to clean.  When the tacos were done, we sat down and enjoyed the first fruits of our evening labor before getting back up to continue the cooking and cleaning parade.  The second recipe of the evening was Rachel Ray’s Ancho Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Everything started out smoothly, in the beginning, I had soaked my dried ancho chilis during dinner so they were ready for pureeing, the corn was cut off the cob and was ready for sauteeing, I was in business.

However, just as soon as I put the corn into the pot to saute, I realized that I still needed to chop the onion and jalapeno for the saute and the corn was not easily left alone while I accomplished this task.  It was then that I called upon my trusted sous chef husband.  Robert took over saute duty while I finished chopping and pureeing the upcoming ingredients to be added to the pot.  I was soon prepared to relieve Robert of his station when I realized that I still had not skinned and shredded the rotisserie chicken purchased at the store previously.  

No problem, I pulled the chicken from the fridge and grabbed a knife before realizing that I didn’t know a thing about pulling a whole chicken apart.  I’m sure some of you will be surprised to read that with all my fancy cooking, I do not know how to carve a chicken.  My family, I’m sure, is the least surprised knowing that I do not enjoy eating meat off the bone and always steer clear from cooking recipes that require me to deal with bones.  I guess today marks a new day, but I digress.  I now turn to Robert wielding a large Santoku knife and ask him how to go about dealing with the bird.

It was about this time that Robert, turning to address my question, realized the reason why I try to always wear an apron while cooking.  (The collateral damage to his clothes can be seen in the photo below.)  We determined that the soup was in a good place to be left alone to simmer and Robert came to my rescue to show me how dismembering a rotisserie chicken is done.

Sous Chef Robert hard at work

Sous Chef Robert hard at work

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Problem solved!  The chicken was shredded and added to the soup along with the final touches of honey and lime.  I can’t wait to try it for lunch today, it looks fantastic.  All in all, it was a successful cooking evening, so much so that we’ve decided to make “tag team cooking” a new addition to our Save Sunday activities.
Obviously I do not know what I'm doing..

Obviously I do not know what I'm doing..