One of my Favourite ways to use spinach is mixed with ricotta cheese as a stuffing for pasta. The first time I tried it was when I stuffed cannelloni with the spinach and ricotta mixture and baked it with tomato sauce. I loved the recipe but as stuffing cannelloni is very time consuming I've converted the recipe into a lasagne, it tastes just as good but takes a fraction of the time to make. By happy coincidence the green spinach, white ricotta and red tomato sauce are the colours of the Italian flag.Recipe:
For the tomato sauce:
A medium onion, finely chopped
Two cloves of garlic finely chopped
Two 400g tins of tomatoes
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar ( you could use balsamic or any other vinegar you have to hand)
salt and pepper
For the ricotta mixture:
500g fresh ricotta cheese
300g fresh spinach (substitute frozen)
A handful of Parmesan cheese (optional)
A grating of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
You will also need:
250g oven ready lasagne sheets or the equivalent of fresh lasgane
1 ball (125g) Mozzarella chopped into large chunks (if you can use buffalo mozzarella otherwise ordinary is fine)
A bunch of fresh basil
A 9x13 inch baking dish
To make the tomato sauce:
- In a large frying pan on a medium heat fry the onion until it begins to soften (around 5 minutes) then add the garlic and fry for a minute more.
- Tip both cans of tomatoes into the pan along with the dried basil.
- Taste the sauce to see how sweet it is, if it isn't sweet enough add the sugar and vinegar. You may not need to use it all, keep tasting the sauce until you get it right.
- Add the salt and pepper to taste and simmer for five minutes more before taking off the heat.
- Set aside while you make the ricotta mixture.
- First prepare the spinach. wash the spinach and put it all into a large pan, add a splash of water (you don't need a lot) and cook on the hob on a medium heat until all the spinach has wilted down, it will shrink a lot.
- Take the spinach off the heat and immediately immerse it in cold water, this will preserve it's bright green colour.
- Drain the spinach way and squeeze through a sieve or between your hands to remove as much water a possible.
- Finely chop the spinach and place in a large bowl along with all the ricotta, the Parmesan (if using) a grating of nutmeg ( use only a very small amount it is strong!) and the salt and pepper.
- Mix everything together well.
- First spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce over the base of the baking dish.
- Cover the sauce with a layer of lasagne sheets then spread over a layer of the ricotta mixture.
- Spread some tomato sauce over the ricotta layer then add more lasgane sheets.
- Continue building up the layers until all the mixture has gone.
- Cover with tin foil and bake at 350f/180c/gas 4 for 25 minutes.
- Remove the foil scatter with the mozzarella and grate over some Parmesan.
- Return the dish to the oven for another 25 minutes.
- Scatter the fresh basil over the top and Serve.