Spinach Goat Cheese Thing that Everyone Likes: Tossed Spinach Lasagna

Baked Lasagna: Pie in the Woods

As you may have guessed, this dish contains spinach and goat cheese, and everyone likes it – it has become a much-requested birthday food.  This is another recipe adapted from Deborah, as I’ve said, I just love her.

Making Pasta: Pie in the Woods

Someone recently told me that they don’t like lasagna – I know, crazy, right?  Noodles, sauce, cheese – what’s not to like?  But then she explained that it was the texture that she found unappealing, and I totally understood where she was coming from.  The structure of lasagna is interesting, but not very sturdy.  The noodles slide around, causing the layers to separate  leading to less pleasing ascetics, and an inability to take a bite that contains part of each layer.

Knead Dough: Pie in the Woods

This dish is a unique take on lasagna that gets around the layering issue by being “tossed” – the noodles are placed in the pan willy-nilly and smothered in sauce.  I’ve played with this dish a lot; altering the proportions, the herbs, adding a filling, and changing the structure   –  making it a standard layered lasagna.  And while I was happy with most of the experiments, this recipe is just not as good if you remove the free-form structure – I’m not sure if I’ll ever make a standard lasagna again.

Delicious Sauce: Pie in the WoodsCutting Noodles: Pie in the Woods

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Besides the interesting structure this dish is delicious – fusing goat cheese with spinach and herbs – and a lot of fun to make.  Someday I’ll have to make my own fettuccine, so that I can leave pasta drying on the backs of chairs all over the kitchen.  In the mean-time making these lasagna noodles scratches the pasta-making itch.

Plated Tossed Lasagna: Pie in the Woods

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

This is a time-consuming and fiddly dish – about an hour of prep if you give it your full attention.  You can make dinner less chaotic by prepping it a day ahead of time and popping it in the fridge before baking it.  When you put it in the oven add 10 minutes to the baking time. 

I list this as serving 6-8 people.  Sometimes I make it in the biggest dish I have and feed up to 12.  But it’s also been entirely devoured by just four people.  Basically, you won’t have left-overs.

You can skip the milk-steeping step to save some time, but I don’t recommend it. It adds depth to the sauce, and since the milk is warm, it’s easier to whisk into the roux. 

I add the eggs to the pasta in two steps – if I don’t the flour volcano tends to erupt and make a huge mess.  If you’re more accomplished at mixing pasta dough, add the eggs all at once.  

Ingredients:

Pasta
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups lightly packed spinach
3 – 3 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)

Sauce
4 cups milk, divided
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 bay leaf
4 springs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup chopped herbs (I use parsley, thyme, and tarragon.  Savory is also good)
8-10 oz goat cheese (more is better, but 8 oz packages of goat cheese are easier to find)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
salt and fresh ground pepper

Filling
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
4 cups spinach, chopped

1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp cold butter, shaved thin

Directions:

Heat 3 1/2 cups of milk, the onion, bay leaf, parsley and thyme sprigs in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Just before it boils, remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes.

While the milk steeps, make the pasta.  Puree the eggs, spinach and salt.  Mound up 3 cups of flour on your counter and make a well in the center.  Pour half of the spinach mixture in and stir until it is no longer runny.  Fix the integrity of your flour volcano and add the rest of the spinach mixture, stirring until you’ve brought in as much flour as you can.

Take off your rings – dried pasta dough embedded in the settings is no fun.  Knead the dough, adding additional flour if necessary until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4-5 minutes.  I like to pour a small amount of olive oil on my hand and continue kneading for another minute or so – this makes the dough more silky, and easier to handle (this is a matter of personal preference and not a necessary step).  Place the dough in a ziplock bag and set aside to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Continue the sauce: melt the butter in a large sauce-pan over medium heat, add the flour and stir constantly for 3-4 minutes, until the flour loses its raw smell.  Pour the milk through a sieve into the roux and whisk to combine.  Continue stirring until the sauce comes to a boil, then reduce heat to very low (or move to a double boiler). Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 25 to 30 minutes.  Stir in the goat cheese  parmesan, chopped herbs, and nutmeg.  Add up to 1/2 cup milk to thin the sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat.

Make the filling: melt the butter in a medium skillet, add the onion and sauté until translucent   Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until browned.  Add the spinach and wilt briefly, then remove the filling from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375

Bring a pot of water to a boil, and butter a 13″ by 9″ pan.  Roll out half of the pasta dough (pasta rollers are your friend, but a rolling-pin and elbow grease work fine as well), and cut into strips, roughly 8 inches by 2 inches.  Parboil the pasta for 2 minutes and remove to the prepared pan (just plop them in, don’t try to make them look neat).  Cover with slightly less than half of the sauce and all of the filling.  Roll out the rest of the dough,  parboil the noodles,  and place them on top of the filling.  Cover with the rest of the sauce and top the dish with the shaved butter and parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until browned and bubbling.

Serves 6-8

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