Tasty Tuesday: Turkey and Spinach Lasagna

September 8, 2009

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

DSC00594

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.

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