Lasagna in Bianco
It’s martedì grasso, or Mardis Gras. Sadly they don’t celebrate around these parts, or if they do it isn’t something that children attend, it’s just another excuse to get crunk. My daughter, of course, is pretty disappointed, carnevale was always a very magical time, going to see the parades in Putignano, seeing children in costume on the streets in the weeks ahead and lots of fun at school with her friends. Not to mention le chiacchere, delicious fried treats sprinkled with powdered sugar that were everywhere.
The Neapolitan tradition on martedì grasso is to eat lasagna, which, in the tradition, is usually made with tiny meatballs in the sauce, a little gluttony before the fast. This lasagna, aside from the decadence of being a lasagna, is magro, which translates as lean, but it is a term that Italians use to say that it is without meat. Magro or not, it was delicious.
Lasagna in Bianco
- 1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 cups grated mozzarella
- 2 cups of spinach, parboiled and drained
- ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
- 1 small onion or shallot, minced
- 7.5 oz of creme fraiche
- 2 heaping teaspoons of prepared pesto
- a few leaves of basil
for the bechamel:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion
- 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- salt and pepper to taste
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil to blanch the spinach, blanche for about 2 minutes, drain and squeeze out all of the excess liquid. In the meantime heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan, add the minced onions, saute until translucent and add the mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to release their liquid, when that liquid has evaporated turn off the heat and remove from the pan to set aside.
Wisk the creme fraiche and the pesto together.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the shallot or onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until smooth and bubbling, but not browned. It should have the texture of wet sand. Whisk in the milk all at once and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while, until the mixture begins to thicken. Turn the heat to very low and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is thick and has lost its raw-flour taste. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread a thin layer of bechamel at the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, preferably glass. Place one layer of noodles on top, covering the entire dish. Spread another dollop of bechamel and put the spinach in the bechamel. Place the second layer of noodles on the spinach and spread on the creme fraiche and the pesto. Place the 3rd layer of noodles on the creme fraiche, and place the mushrooms on that third layer with some bechamel. The final layer of noodles will be topped with bechamel, mozzarella cheese, basil and some parmigiano-reggiano. Cover and let sit until you are ready to bake, it can be made 1 day ahead of time and chilled in the fridge. If you make it a day ahead, allow it to come to room temperature before putting it in the oven.
Preheat oven to 375°. Bake the lasagna, covered with aluminum foil, for 30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and allow to cook for an additional 10 minutes, until it is bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving.
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