I am not a very good liar. Many moons ago during a family board game night in which we were playing a Balderdash-like game, I had to think up a fib for how lasagna noodles were invented. Not only that, the primary objective of the game was to get other people to believe that I, in fact, knew the true origins of lasagna noodles (even though I had no clue). My story included something along the lines of a man named Giuseppe Lasagne and how his little Italian village went hungry one year so when they finally got back on their feet Giuseppe made a celebratory wide noodle (since Italians were, by this time, already famous for their other various pasta shapes) on which his villagers could layer the ingredients of that year’s harvest–tomatoes, squashes, etc. His idea was so successful that the villagers began calling the dish lasagna. My dad burst out laughing when I said Mr. Lasagne’s invented name because I had pronounced Giuseppe “gus PEP pee.” I guess I saw his name spelled out in my head and knew it sounded Italian, but had no idea how to pronounce it. Needless to say, after I spelled the name and my dad corrected my pronunciation, I won the round! My family members actually believed that Giuseppe Lasagne was the inventor of the lasagna noodle! Maybe I could tell tall tales after all!
Hey, so in case you zoned out there, Giuseppe Lasagne is fictitious and to my knowledge no such man had anything to do with inventing lasagna noodles. In truth, there appears to be some debate over which nationality actually invented lasagna in the first place. Do a quick google search and see for yourself.
Lasagna is a food I learned to love. We didn’t always have a harmonious relationship, lasagna and me. A number of chemical-laden frozen numbers sprinkled with sausage and trying to pass themselves off as lasagnas quite antagonized me as a child. Admittedly, I was a noodles-only-no-tomato-sauce-please-and-thank-you kind of kid when it came to eating spaghetti with marinara, so it may not be that surprising that lasagna, with all its layers of sauce and cheese, had me believing that this was not, in fact, a recognizable pasta dish.
I was also always amazed that of all the foods he could have chosen, Jim Davis made Garfield’s favorite food lasagna. Really? A cat eating lasagna? It’s such a messy dish in my opinion and cats (well, perhaps with the exception of Garfield) are a bit too fussy and neat to be associated with this food.
In any case, lasagna and I have come to terms with each other. We’ve even experimented a little and branched out beyond the traditional tomato sauce and ground meat. This week I made a spinach, mushroom, and chicken lasagna with white sauce.
And no, it doesn’t bother me that my lasagnas don’t seem to understand the concept of “neat and tidy layers that stay in place when cut.” I just call it rustic.
White Sauce Lasagna with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Chicken (adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe here)
– 2-3 cups chopped frozen spinach
– 8 oz. button mushrooms
– 3 portobello mushroom caps
– 1 boneless/skinless chicken breast
1. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Add to a clean saucepan and add enough chicken broth to cover. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and put lid on pan. Poach 10-12 minutes depending on size of chicken. When finished, shred chicken with two forks. Set aside.
2. Chop your mushrooms into nice slices and sautee lightly in butter. First they will absorb the butter then they will start to brown. When they start giving off liquid and have browned lightly, remove from the pan and set aside.
For the sauce:
This is basically a béchamel sauce. It’s very important that the milk is warm before you add it to the roux, or else you’ll end up with burnt butter on the bottom of your pan like I did. Still salvageable, certainly, but it’s more cooperative if you do it properly. Warm the milk!
– 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 3.5-4 cups whole milk, warm
– half an onion
– 2 cloves
– 1 bay leaf
– pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir to form a golden paste. This is the thickening agent, also called the roux (pronounced roo). Continue to cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the warm milk.
Keep stirring frequently and let the mixture (carefully) come to a boil. As Emeril always says: a roux will never be able to achieve its full thickening potential until the sauce has been allowed to come to a boil. If you’ve ever watched Emeril make a bechamel sauce, you’ll know that he always flavors it with an onion with a sort of bay leaf bandaid secured in place with 2 clove studs.
Since I happened to have those things lying around, I, too, added these flavors to the sauce simply by plopping this adorned onion into the sauce and letting it steep for a few minutes. Also added in a pinch of salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg.
– parmesan cheese
– ricotta cheese
– no-boil lasagna noodles
4. Once your sauce has thickened, you’re pretty much ready to assemble the lasagna. Start by buttering the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Spoon in a little sauce on the bottom and layer with the lasagna noodles. Add mushrooms and spinach, cheese, and sauce. To build the next layer, spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese on one side of the lasagna noodle (a trade secret from mama Elliott). Top with chicken, spinach, cheese, sauce, etc. Keep going until you have used up your spinach, mushrooms, chicken, and sauce.
Top with a final layer of parmesan cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. At this point you can put the whole dish in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. And when you are ready, bake at 375F for about 30-40 minutes. Remove foil and cook another 10-15 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing. Once cooled, you can freeze individual slices for a later time.
I have definitely been enjoying this for lunch every day. Lasagnas are great like that, you know? Give this one a try. Oh, and if lasagna noodles creep you out, you can always make a spaghetti-type pasta and top it with the white sauce with the mushrooms, chicken, and spinach tossed in. Definitely comforting and satisfying.
Are you a lasagna fan? Do you eat it like Garfield? What’s your favorite filling? Something classic and traditional or something unusual? Anybody have an entertaining anecdote involving lasagna? Go ahead and stand up for the fictitious Giuseppe Lasagne by leaving a comment!