Sunday is my favorite day of the week and having friends over for dinner is one of my favorite ways to spend the day. I love to make easy, laid back food to mirror the easy, laid back feel of a Sunday. Slow-braised meats and baked pastas to take the chill off of a winter afternoon, grilled meats and chopped salads to enjoy outdoors in the summer. Throw in a few bottles of wine, some simple snacks and a well stocked iPod and you have my picture of heaven. So when my friends Jenn and Jamie asked for a lasagna lesson, I knew the perfect day to have them over.
Lasagnas are easy once you understand their construction: alternating layers of sauce, noodles and filling. Once you have the method down, the types of lasagna you can create are endless. Tomato sauce with a sausage filling. White sauce with a spinach mushroom filling. Pesto with a ricotta cheese filling. Jenn is a vegetarian, so no meat for this lasagna. Having been a vegetarian when I was younger, I immediately thought about a white lasagna layered with vegetables I used to make for family get-togethers when everyone else was having turkey or brisket. I found the recipe in an issue of Vegetarian Times years ago and have been making it ever since for both my meat and non-meat eating friends to rave reviews.
The sauce for this lasagna is a béchamel, a creamy white sauce made from butter, flour and milk. Our filling: separate layers of sautéed red Swiss chard with its jewel toned stems turning its layers pink and caramelized sweet onions creating a rich and decadent center layer. Wine poured and pre-lasagna snacks laid out, I put Jamie to work slicing onions, Jenn wilting the chard, while showing them both how to craft the perfect roux for the béchamel. Once all of our components were ready, we christened my new lasagna pan with layers of creamy goodness, tender vegetables and no-cook noodles. Wrapped in foil, it was off to the oven for 45 minutes while we sipped our wine, swapped stories and played DJ with the iPod.
Having removed the foil for another 15 minutes of baking, our lasagna was golden and crunchy on top, soft and velvety in the middle. We patiently waited for the lasagna to cool and settle before slicing into our shared effort and enjoying the square fruits of our labor. It was a perfect Sunday entertaining friends with good food, good wine and maybe a little dance party.
Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onion Lasagna (adapted from Vegetarian Times)
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
Very large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large bunches red Swiss chard, well rinsed, stems removed and chopped, leaves shredded
Fresh grated nutmeg
¼ cup white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups of low fat milk
1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese, separated
One box of no-cook lasagna noodles ( I like Barilla and Whole Foods brands)
2 cups of grated mozzarella
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Over a medium-low light, gently sauté onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, stirring occasionally, until soft and evenly browned (about 30-40 minutes). Add sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, cook another 5 minutes and transfer to a separate bowl.
In same pan, sauté chard stems for 5 minutes, then add the chard leaves, a sprinkle of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste and sauté until wilted. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Transfer to a separate bowl.
In a pot over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Add milk and slowly bring up to a boil, stirring frequently. Sauce will not thicken until it boils. Remove from heat and add a sprinkle of nutmeg, 1 cup of parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Spread ½ cup of sauce in the bottom of the pan. Layer uncooked noodles on top of sauce, overlapping slightly. Spread half of chard on top of noodles, sprinkle with 1/3 mozzarella and cover with 1 cup of sauce. Layer uncooked noodles on top of sauce. Spread all of onions on top of noodles, sprinkle with 1/3 of mozzarella and 1 cup of sauce. Layer uncooked noodles on top of sauce. Spread remaining chard on top of noodles, sprinkle remaining 1/3 of mozzarella and cover with1 cup of sauce. Place final layer of noodles on top of sauce. Pour remaining sauce ove noodles and sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese. Cover in greased foil (greased side down) and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes until top is crispy and brown. Allow lasagna to rest 15 minutes before cutting into it.
Want to learn how to make lasagna? Contact me!