A couple of weeks ago I found an Indian-made ricotta by Mooz at my local grocery store. I couldn’t decide how I wanted to use it but knew it had to be something Italian. Locanda Verde (pretty much my all-time favourite restaurant in New York if I had to name just one) makes the best ricotta with grilled farm bread that I have ever tasted. I didn’t bother comparing and trying to make that (that wouldn’t not fair). I made two things – pasta alla norma and a classic whole wheat spinach and ricotta lasagna in tomato sauce. The ricotta held up and tasted better in lasagna form so I’m sharing that recipe.
If you’ve never made lasagna before I have the best news for you – it seems intimidating but it’s so easy! The first time I made lasagna on my own was my senior year in college. The apartment in Ann Arbor that I shared with two friends was fairly spacious and had a decent oven. I used store-bought tomato sauce, sheets and cheese – I think I skipped the spinach (it was college after all). I’m not sure why I did that; if you live in the U.S. you’d know that Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc. sell frozen blanched chopped spinach too.
Flash-forward to today – I make everything fresh (I have time) but it’s still as easy. I have a classic tomato sauce that I make for anything Italian; you can make it in advance and freeze it too. For the filling, it’s just a few ingredients that you’ll probably have laying around in your pantry. And for the lasagna sheets – we make our own fresh at home by binding a mix of whole wheat (atta) flour and white flour (maida) but you can use store-bought sheets or even thin slices of zucchini for a gluten-free option. If you have access to vegan ricotta, you can even make it vegan! Sadly, no such thing in India just yet but you can try to do it yourself. If you can’t find regular dairy ricotta in grocery stores near you, follow the instructions over on my spinach dip recipe for an alternative filling for this lasagna.
- 6 whole wheat lasagna sheets (place in hot water for 2-3 minutes)
- 60gm mozzarella cheese, to top
- 5-6 medium tomatoes, chopped finely
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
- 1 medium piece of carrot (will be discarded later)
- 2 tsp coconut sugar or regular
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp crushed red pepper (or less, or more depending on your taste)
- 8-10 leaves of basil or ½ tsp dried basil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup water
- 2 cup spinach packed, then blanched
- 75gm ricotta cheese
- ⅓ tsp nutmeg
- ½ clove garlic finely chopped
- Salt, to taste
- Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, carrot and coconut sugar. Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The reason I add carrot and coconut sugar is that they neutralize the acidity of the tomatoes.
- If the sauce is very chunky, remove about half the mixture into a bowl, add upto ½ cup water and use an emulsion blender to blend. Add the sauce back to the pan.
- Add the oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to the sauce.
- Tear the basil leaves into the sauce mixture or add the dried basil.
- Cook for another 5-8 minutes until the flavors meld together.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- Chop the blanched spinach finely.
- Add in the chopped garlic, ricotta, nutmeg and garlic and salt.
- Mix well.
- Preheat the oven to 200C.
- Begin with a layer of the tomato sauce.
- Divide the filling into three equal sections.
- Top the layer of sauce with lasagna sheets to cover the layer completely, followed by the layer of the spinach filling and another layer of tomato sauce.
- Repeat until you have layered three layers. Top with mozzarella cheese if you desire.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked and the cheese is slightly browned.
- For this recipe, I chose to speed up the process of cooking by pre-cooking the lasagna sheets. You can skip this and bake it for longer if you prefer.
At-home Italian tends to be much healthier and still as tasty compared to eating at a restaurant or readymade frozen dishes. You know that the ingredients you are using are fresh and you control the butter (or lack of it), cheese, etc. – so it’s always a better option, and you can customize using whole wheat pasta, less cheese, more or less spice, etc. More Italian dinners to come!