Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Turkey Lasagna with Eggplant and Spinach

Do you think there's a proper way to layer a lasagna? Like if you put the ricotta on before the meat, you've screwed it up? I don't think so. I plan out my layers before I start assembling to create optimum enjoyment of the flavors and textures of the ingredients. But as long as it makes you happy, I think the way you layer is a matter of personal style.

The lasagnas I ate as a kid did not have much variation. There was noodle, red sauce, meat and cheese--and the meat and cheese layers were repeated at least twice. A while ago, I figured out that I don't like that. I like to stuff my lasagna with vegetables, but I want meat too so it's more substantial and doesn't rely on wild amounts of cheese for protein. I use only a moderate amount of meat--about three quarters of a pound--so I put it in a single layer. I do just one layer of vegetables too so I can taste them, and the finished product has distinct components.

This lasagna is my best, and that's why I've waited until now to post a lasagna recipe on the blog. I think turkey has a milder flavor that goes better with vegetables than beef does. The thick slices of roasted eggplant are utterly delicious, and one of my favorite vegetables in any context.

One last thing: Try this homemade sauce! You'll be amazed that a minimal effort on your part yields something with so much home-cooked, deep flavor. You'll never want to use a jar again, and it makes a lasagna (already a bit of a project, I have to admit) that much more special. But put this together on the weekend, and unless you're feeding a crowd, you'll have leftovers that only taste better the next day.

Turkey Lasagna with Eggplant and Spinach

Make the sauce first, early in the day, or a day in advance if that works best for you. Then it is just a matter of prepping the other components—vegetables, meat, and ricotta—and assembling the dish. I love whole wheat lasagna noodles and think they go especially well with veggie lasagnas. Try Gia Russa brand (I find it in the grocery store).

1 large or 2 small to medium eggplant, stem end trimmed, sliced lengthwise 1/2-inch thick (better to have extra eggplant than not enough here)
olive oil
coarse salt and ground black pepper
12-14 oz. baby spinach leaves
3/4 lb. lean ground turkey
red chile flakes, to taste
15 oz. container ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
pinch ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. each dried basil and oregano
Easy Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
1 package “no boil” lasagna noodles
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated (I like Sorrento brand)
16-20 fresh basil leaves
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

1) Prepare the vegetables: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry or grilling brush, coat a large baking sheet with olive oil and arrange the eggplant on the sheet in a single layer (use two baking sheets if necessary). Lightly brush the tops of the eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast 10-15 minutes, or until eggplant slices are soft and lightly browned. Set aside. Adjust oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add a few handfuls of the spinach, season with salt and pepper and cook, turning constantly, about 3-4 minutes. Place cooked spinach in a colander. Repeat with remaining spinach. Gently press the spinach in the colander to release as much liquid as possible. Set aside.

2) Cook the turkey: Heat the same large skillet to medium-high. Add the ground turkey, breaking it up as it cooks. Season with salt, pepper and chile flakes. When turkey is cooked through, remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

3) Prepare the ricotta: In a bowl, mix the ricotta and the eggs. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, basil and oregano.

4) Assemble lasagna: Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Cover the bottom of the dish with a light layer of tomato sauce. Cover with four lasagna noodles. It is okay that the noodles do not fit all the way to the edges of the dish. They expand during baking. Top with half the ricotta mixture, all of the turkey, and one-third of the mozzarella. Cover with a layer of tomato sauce and a layer of noodles. Top with the rest of the ricotta, all the eggplant, and all the spinach. Cover with 1/3 mozzarella cheese and another layer of sauce. Lay the basil leaves evenly over the sauce and top with a final layer of noodles. Cover the noodles with more sauce and the rest of the mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. As soon as you take the lasagna out of the oven, remove the foil and grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top. Let the lasagna rest for about 15 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.

Here is a quick reference for layering the lasagna:

Turkey (all)
Parmigiano (after baking)

Easy Tomato Sauce
You may think one of the nice jars of store-bought sauce is just as good, but it’s not. Go for the convenience if you have to, but if you’ve got the time, this stuff is so delicious and hardly any work at all. It makes your house smell so incredible that you will want to make it all the time. Do not skip the wine; it add great depth of flavor.

Makes about 3 cups (for one lasagna and a bit left over); double the recipe if desired.

1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/3 cup chopped celery
1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
Coarse salt and ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine (an Italian red like Sangiovese is the best)
28-oz. can whole tomatoes (buy a brand imported from Italy; San Marzano tomatoes are the best, and most grocery stores have them)
2 dried bay leaves
1 tsp. sugar

Add the olive oil to a large soup pot or Dutch oven and heat to medium. Add the carrots, celery and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic and stir as you cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until just a little bit of the liquid is left, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the bay leaves.

Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring every so often. Reduce the heat to low, maintaining a simmer, but keeping the sauce from flying out of the pot. Simmer uncovered for 1 hours, stirring occasionally. Add sugar. Taste and season with salt and pepper according to your taste. If you still think the sauce is very acidic, add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. I found that 1 teaspoon made enough difference to round out the acidity, but taste for yourself.

Remove the bay leaves, let the sauce cool, and puree in batches in a blender. Or use a hand blender and puree right in the pot.

And Bonus! As if this post wasn't long enough...more fabulous, creative lasagna recipes from around the blogosphere:

1) Bea's gorgeous (as always) Untraditional Green Lasagna from La Tartine Gourmande
2) Polenta Lasagna with Portabellas and Kale from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen--I love polenta, I love mushrooms, I love kale--this looks awesome!
3) My Mother's Lasagna from Cream Puffs in Venice--When Ivonne writes about lasagna, you pay attention!
4) Spinach and Chicken Lasagna from What's For Lunch Honey--You have to see these layers--that is one gorgeous and substantial lasagna!
5) A beautiful and indulgent Vegetarian Lasagna from The Passionate Cook, complete with bechamel sauce.
6) Kevin's Basic Lasagna from Seriously Good uses Italian sausage, is fast to prepare and--I'm just guessing here--tastes anything but basic.

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Kevin said...

Next time, at a couple of tablespoons of anchovy paste to your sauce. I guarantee you won't taste the anchovies and I guarantee the sauce will be twice as deeply flavored.

Lydia said...

I've never met a turkey lasagna I could fall in love with, though I've searched (and tried my own) for years. I hope this will be the one for me!

ann said...

my favorite "strange" thing to put in lasagna is roasted spaghetti squash. It adds so much texture because it holds up so well in the heat and adds lovely sweetness to boot. Now, if it would only get cold enough for me to make it again!

Julie said...

Kevin: I love anchovies, but haven't used them in tomato sauce--good idea!
Lydia: I've found good ground turkey to be as good as beef in almost anything. Sometimes (as in this recipe) the turkey flavor just tastes "right" to me. Why don't you like it, I'm curious:)
Ann: that sounds so good! I like spag. squash a lot, but haven't thought of it for lasagna. thank you, thank you!

bea at La tartine gourmande said...

Thank you Julie for the kind words! Your lasagna looks deliciously good!