All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2013
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I was inspired to make these because I had a shit-ton of fresh spinach that was about to go bad. Once I was well into the process here – I got the spinach out to steam it & realized some of it had already wilted to the point that I didn’t want to use it but I was able to save enough that I could still pull this recipe off. I added mushrooms to the filling to make up for the lost spinach. I also used some leftover feta because the homemade ricotta quantity was smaller than I felt this dish needed.
This is not a difficult dish to pull off. In fact, I’d call it easy – if you used a jarred sauce & a store-bought ricotta. I have no life & my boyfriend lives in Arkansas – so I have nothing but time. So – I made the ricotta from scratch (which takes about 10 minutes – I swear) and I made the marinara (also pretty easy). I used fresh spinach – not frozen – but frozen would work, too. I would like to have added some sliced, fresh Buffalo mozzarella to the top at the end of the baking process but, alas, all I had was this ghetto pizza cheese.
It seemed a bit of a crime to bother to make the ricotta & then top these guys with processed cheese food. Especially as I had sprung $14 (yes – FOURTEEN DOLLARS!!!) on these two cans of San Marzano tomatoes. WTF? But, shit happens so I just went with it.
As an aside – I have recently discovered the joy of buying whole peeled tomatoes & squishing them by hand. I cannot explain why I find it so satisfying – but I do. Maybe I feel more Italian? Maybe I get out some buried aggression? I don’t know – but I suggest trying it – even though I felt I had to finish this sauce by punishing it with an immersion blender – to break up the bits I’d missed.
But let me promise you – these lasagna rolls are delicious! You could really roll anything up in lasagna noodles – a meat sauce or – you know – anything you would put in a traditional lasagna. Try them. You won’t regret it.
Spinach & Mushroom Lasagna Rolls with Feta & Homemade Ricotta Smothered in Marinara Sauce
For the ricotta
1/2 gallon milk
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp salt
2.5 TBS white vinegar
(or just use about 1 1/2 cups or so of store-bought ricotta)
For the Marinara
2 28 oz cans or tomatoes (crushed – or you crush them by hand)
1 small onion – diced finely
6 cloves garlic – minced
1 packed cup fresh basil – chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley – chopped
1/4 cup fresh oregano – chopped
1 tsp dry oregano
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 TBS good quality balsamic vinegar
For the lasagna rolls
12 (or so) lasagna noodles (more if you fear tearing some)
12-16 oz spinach
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese – grated
1 cup feta cheese – crumbled
1 small onion – diced
1/2 lb mushrooms – sliced
4 cloves garlic
1 TBS crushed red pepper
S&P to taste
Extra Parmesan & basil or parsley as garnish
For the ricotta
Heat the milk & the buttermilk in a pan. When it just begins to bubble in the corners – turn off the heat. Add the salt & the vinegar & stir. With a slotted spoon – scoop out the curds that form until all that is left is the yellowish whey. Alternatively – CAREFULLY pour the curdling milk through a cheesecloth-lined colander. In either case – let it cool a bit & then wrap it up in cheesecloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Unwrap the ricotta from the cheesecloth & put in a bowl & set aside (or chill). There is video of this process in my Lasagna Cupcakes post.
For the marinara
Heat about 1 TBS olive oil in a large stock pot. Saute the onion until it is soft.
Add the chopped herbs, dry oregano & minced garlic & saute another minute or two – or until the spices become aromatic. Add the two cans of tomatoes & the S&P. Simmer a few minutes (or more). Add the balsamic & stir to get it fully incorporated. Allow to simmer on a very low flame until you are ready to assemble the rolls.
For the lasagna rolls
Heat your oven to 350.
Cook at least 12 lasagna noodles (I cooked the whole box & threw away the extra) until just al dente. Rinse in cool water & set out to dry.
Bring some water to a boil. Submerge the spinach until it just wilts. Drain & run under cold water. Squeeze out all the moisture & chop the spinach finely.
Heat 2 TBS olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the chopped onion & the sliced mushrooms. I used a red onion – which is why these images look kind of pink.
When the mushrooms are just about done to your liking – add the garlic & saute another minute or two. In a bowl – mix the mushrooms, egg, ricotta, feta, Parmesan, crushed red pepper, spinach and some S&P.
Spread a bit of the mix on a lasagna noodle. Roll it VERY loosely – applying no pressure – so that the filling doesn’t squeeze out.
Put a thin layer of marinara on the bottom of a baking pan. Then place your lasagna rolls on that – SEAM SIDE DOWN. You might need two pans to fit all your rolls in.
Top with some sauce & a bit of additional cheese. If you are using buffalo mozzarella – add that about 10-15 minutes before the rolls are done cooking.
Wrap tightly in foil & bake for about 40 minutes. Serve with more sauce, additional grated Parmesan & some fresh herbs. Yum!