Bright green and orange lasagna can brighten winter with comfort, too

  • Green and Orange Lasagna puts the colors of summer on your winter dinner plate.

    Green and Orange Lasagna puts the colors of summer on your winter dinner plate. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 2/24/2021 6:36 AM

As I look out my window, all I see is white snow and gray skies. Maybe you are like me and are craving some color, especially on your plate. With bright green and vivid orange layers, this dish gives a visual and a nutritional boost right when we need it most. Yet as it comes in the form of lasagna, it also counts as comfort food, something else we need on these dark February days.

Onions sauted with fresh greens add a colorful layer in this Green and Orange Lasagna.
Onions sauted with fresh greens add a colorful layer in this Green and Orange Lasagna. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

This is a good recipe for a family to make together, as it features several discreet jobs that can easily be divvied up at separate workstations. One person can soak the noodles while another makes the ricotta, and a third cooks the greens. Everyone can have a go layering their contribution into the lasagna dish.

Choose whichever greens you like or what looks freshest at the store. Kale, collards, chard or spinach work well here or mix it up. As written, this is a meatless entree. You can sauté mild Italian sausage and add that to the greens if you want to beef it up.

Don't be alarmed by the large amount of greens called for here. It will cook down drastically. For instance, Kale or collards are about 16 cups to a pound and yield two cups once cooked. A pound of spinach, a more delicate green with higher water content, is about 11 cups to a pound when raw and cooks down to just a cup.

You can also get creative with your cheese selection. Swiss, Gruyère, Parmesan or provolone all work well, but you can use any shredded cheese here. While you can buy packaged ricotta at the store, I encourage you to try making it. It's so easy and much tastier. I described how to make your own ricotta at home in July; you can find the recipe at dailyherald.com/entlife/20200730/get-ready-for-a-zucchini-explosion-to-hit-your-garden-and-farmers-markets.

I generally recommend using whole spices where possible for fresher, more intense flavor. Kids enjoy grinding spices, and seeing them in their whole form helps illuminate that spices are actually plants. In this case, the nutmeg and mustard come from seeds and paprika from peppers.

You can cook Green and Orange Lasagna in any type of casserole dish.
You can cook Green and Orange Lasagna in any type of casserole dish. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

I used a zester to grate the nutmeg but did not grind the mustard seed or smoke my own Spanish peppers. Though perhaps that will become a future project, as both mustard greens and hot peppers are easy to grow and tend to produce more than I can eat in one season.

I recommend a couple of deliberate hacks, plus a few unplanned ones I used when making the dish for the photos seen here. Though I try to be precise in my recipes, I encourage improvisation. I use my eyeballs more often than I do measuring cups when I cook. And I will readily substitute ingredients before I make a special trip to the grocery store. This problem-solving on the fly is a good skill to develop generally, especially for kids. The revelation that there is more than one right answer is a big one in a child's life, freeing them to become more engaged learners.

Chopped fresh parsley is added right before serving.
Chopped fresh parsley is added right before serving. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

The first tip is to soak, not boil, the noodles. They don't really need to be cooked before going into the oven. They just need to absorb liquid and be pliable. The soak method minimizes the frustration of sticking and tearing pasta. Or you could use the noodles labeled "no-cook" and skip this step altogether.

The second tip comes in making the white sauce, which the French call béchamel. This brings up bad memories of my chalky failures in home ec class as a teenager. Preheating the milk made all the difference, delivering a smooth and silky sauce.

Pumpkin puree adds a one-two punch of color and nutrition in this Green and Orange Lasagna.
Pumpkin puree adds a one-two punch of color and nutrition in this Green and Orange Lasagna. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

Because I am preparing to move house, much of my kitchen gear is already packed up. That meant no Pyrex baking dish, no thermometer and no cheesecloth. And there was no fresh parsley at the store where I shopped. I did have an oval casserole dish, a flour-sack towel and a parsley "cigar" in the freezer, however, to make it all work. I had washed and dried homegrown parsley this autumn, then rolled it tightly in a freezer bag, secured with rubber bands. I chopped off what I needed and put the rest back in the freezer.

You might want to make a double batch of this multicolored wonder so that you can stash an extra one in your freezer, ready to brighten another day.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and a mother from Arlington Heights. She runs School of Food out of her home. See the school's Facebook page @learngrowcookeat or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.

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Green and Orange Lasagna

1 pound uncooked lasagna noodles

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons salt, divided

1 pound fresh greens, stemmed and roughly chopped (about 12 cups)

2 15-ounce cans pumpkin purée

1½ cups ricotta cheese (can substitute cottage cheese)

¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

¾ cup shredded provolone, Swiss or Gruyere cheese, divided

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2½ cups milk

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup flour

½ teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, to serve (optional)

Place noodles in a baking dish and cover with very hot tap water. Let soak for about 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add onion and cook over medium heat for three minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for two minutes. Add the greens with ½ teaspoon salt to the skillet and cook until wilted, about five minutes more. If you can't fit all of the raw greens in the skillet, add the sturdier ones first and let them cook down a bit before adding the more delicate ones. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin, ricotta, ½ cup each of the shredded cheeses, nutmeg, remaining salt and pepper.

Heat milk in a microwave on HIGH for about 2 minutes until hot. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk in flour. Keep whisking while it cooks for 2 minutes, then gradually add the warm milk and increase the heat to medium. Continue whisking until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and mix in mustard and smoked paprika.

Oil or spray a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread a thin layer of the pumpkin mixture on the bottom. Cover with 3-4 noodles, slightly overlapping them to maintain the separation of layers. Add half of the remaining pumpkin mixture, then half of the greens. Top with 1 cup of sauce. Repeat the noodle/pumpkin/greens/sauce layering. Finish with a final layer of noodles, the remaining sauce and the reserved cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is browned and bubbly and lasagna is heated through. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before topping with parsley and serving.

Serves 8

-- Leslie Meredith

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