In which we turn our homemade ricotta into a spinach-and-ricotta-filled lasagna with ground beef and a homemade tomato sauce. The recipe and method of which was created and carried out by the four kids in our family with some help from their mom.
“A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.”
The beginning of spring marked more than just the vernal equinox in our house. New schedules are passed out during homeroom, and a new trimester calls for a fresh notebook full of warmly-scented pages and a crisp new folder, its edges not yet rounded and rubbed soft by daily use. Nightly swim practice has given way to exploring the leftover mountains of snow after school, clad in long-sleeved thermals, probing at the still frozen gardens with sticks, and waiting patiently for spring to hurry up and burst forth from the dirt.
Small hands are called to the kitchen. Scrubbed under a warm flow of water, rinsing the bits of mud from their pink skin with clear soap, the wafts of heady wet mud being replaced in the space with the crisp essence of ripe grapefruit that will soon be gone from the supermarket stands. A recipe is laid out, the steps divided. A meal is made.
There is something to this relinquished responsibility and turning over the reins to the kids. I stand back and watch and give direction only when necessary, allowing them to call the shots and finish the tasks. As the meat is browned, eggs are cracked and beaten, sauce is stirred, and slowly the layers become parts of a whole as an ownership over the outcome grows.
When the kitchen timer gives a chirping beep, the kids gather to see how dinner turned out, oohing and ahhing over the bubbling layers of sauce and pasta. Plates are set out, napkins folded under the silverware. Glasses are poured full to the brim, the wet liquid kissing the lip.
Each child recounts to their dad the part of the whole they touched, from the bottom up. From oldest to youngest they all had a hand in feeding us, and no part was more significant or important than another.
The air here still has a bit of a bite when the wind picks up, and by nightfall the coats come out again. Mixing a bit of spring spinach within a dish of warm, comforting lasagna seems only right. As the blustery winds whips outside, the kids head in with cold fingers and red little noses and rosy pink cheeks to the room-encompassing aroma of the slightly acerbic tomatoes mixing with creamy cheese and soft pasta layers as it bubbles away in the oven.
- I prefer to use no-boil lasagna sheets for this or to make my own. Lasagna is a process already, and getting a pot of water boiling as I have two other pans on the stove is just not something I enjoy doing in a small kitchen filled with kids. There are several varieties of no-boil lasagna ranging from basic to organic to whole wheat to rice. Try a few, pick a favorite, and let’s start layering.
- Stuffing homemade whole milk ricotta between layers of pasta and sauce is a perfectly acceptable and recommended way to consume both lasagna and the ricotta. Of course, I have a similar soft spot in my heart for ricotta gnocchi, which I’ll be sharing soon.
- I ended up using two 8×8 pans rather than a 9×13 because all four of my 9x13s were otherwise indisposed during the lasagna process. This worked out well. Our layers were a little less thick than they would have been to allow them to stretch across the both pans, but it made leftover storage easy with just a small pan to pop in the refrigerator, and it gave both Lene and Magnus their own lasagna to layer.
- I give a few approximations for the amount of salt I used below. Depending on the type of salt (kosher, sea, iodized) it will vary. Give your sauce and your meat a taste before you call it good.
- Lasagna is one of my favorite things to make ahead. Instead of putting it in the oven, cover and put it in the freezer instead. When it’s time to eat, remove from the freezer and thaw before baking or lower the temperature to 325º F and add an extra 20-25 minutes to the bake time.
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
56 ounces crushed tomatoes
12 ounces tomato paste
4 teaspoons dried basil
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 pound fresh spinach
1 pound ground beef
4 cups ricotta
2 eggs, beaten
10 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
8 ounces fresh grated Parmesan cheese
9 ounces no-boil lasagna sheets
In a medium saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste, and then mix in 2 teaspoons of the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the oregano, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Use a hand blender to break down the sauce if desired.
Preheat your oven to 375º F.
In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the spinach and cook over medium heat until wilted. Remove to a large bowl. Add the ground beef to the same pan, along with the remaining 2 teaspoons basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crumbled. Drain off any excess grease. Remove from heat.
Combine the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. To the spinach add the ricotta, eggs, and 2 cups of the cheese blend. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
To assemble the lasagna, spread 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Layer 4 sheets of lasagna, overlapping slightly. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta and spinach over the lasagna sheets. Sprinkle half of the meat mixture followed by 1 cup of cheese blend, and then 1 cup of sauce over the top.
Add another 4 sheets of lasagna followed by 1/3 of the ricotta and spinach, and 1 cup of sauce. Layer 4 sheets again, the rest of the ricotta and spinach, all the remaining meat, and 1 cup of sauce. For the final layer, layer 4 lasagna sheets, any remaining sauce, and all of the remaining cheese.
Tent a piece of foil over the top of the pan and bake for 55 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting.
Makes 12 servings.