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I don’t just view beets as a non-toxic source of food coloring. They’re actually one of my favorite vegetables, and have been ever since I was a kid. Nonconformist that I was even then, I have always loved beets, and their accompanying greens, in every form I could get them.

One of the beauties of beets is that you get two vegetables for the price of one if you buy them with the tops on, as you should definitely strive to do since that keeps the beets fresh longer too. Beet greens are on the mild end of the greens spectrum, very close to spinach in texture and right next to chard, their near-relative, in flavor, but with thinner and more tender stems. This makes beet greens an ideal replacement or companion to either, as in the filling for this luxurious, thrice-green lasagna.

The combination of spinach and ricotta in lasagna, ravioli, or other filled pasta may be classic, but to be perfectly honest, it can also be kind of boring. You’re never going to offend anyone with it, but you won’t wow anyone either. Mixing in greens with a little more personality — in this case, the mellow mineral note of the beet greens and the bright peppery note of arugula — brings in genuine wow potential. Since I strongly prefer a white lasagna over a red one when the filling is this green, the more complex combination of greens creates a nice balance against the richness of the bechamel. This not-too-cheesy, creamy yet assertive lasagna is a great fit for the cooler temperatures we’re finally getting.

In case you’re wondering, the beets that came with these greens were roasted — my favorite way to cook them, because it concentrates all that sweetness instead of bleeding it into the boiling water — and turned into a vaguely Eastern European salad that I will probably write up next week.

Spinach, Arugula and Beet Green Lasagna
Serves 6-8

For the filling:
3 tablespoons olive oil
15 ounces baby spinach
15 ounces baby arugula
Greens from two bunches beets
1 small onion, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
15 ounces ricotta
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

For the sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup pureed canned tomatoes
Salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

For assembly:
6-8 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Thoroughly wash all the greens, and slice the beet greens into thin ribbons.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and saute the onion and shallots until transparent. Add the greens in big handfuls, turning with tongs to cook evenly, and adding more greens as soon as the batch before wilts down enough to make room.

Once all the greens have wilted, set them in a strainer over a bowl until most of the liquid has drained off. Squeeze thoroughly to remove any remaining liquid, then turn the greens out on a cutting board and chop into bite-sized pieces. Put the greens in a bowl, stir in the ricotta and 1/4 cup parmesan, and season assertively with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Combine the butter and the minced shallot in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter has completely melted and the shallots have softened. Whisk in the flour and cook for an additional minute or two, then whisk in the milk. Simmer for at least five more minutes, stirring regularly, until the sauce is well thickened.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Spread an 8×8 Pyrex pan with enough sauce to generously cover the bottom, and nestle in enough noodles to form a single layer without overlaps. Spread several tablespoons of sauce over the noodles, add half the filling in an even layer, and sprinkle with a handful of mozzarella. Repeat the layering process with the remaining half of the filling, topping with a third layer of noodles. Add the tomato puree to the remaining sauce, pour the sauce over the top layer of noodles, and sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan evenly over the top.

Cover the pan with foil and set on a baking sheet in case of drips. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling, the noodles yield to a sharp knife, and the cheese is golden-brown. Switch on the broiler and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes for a really brown and burnished top.

Cool for 10-15 minutes to firm up the lasagna and prevent serious roof-of-mouth burning.

Notes:

Be sure to season the filling really aggressively, since the noodles, cheese and sauce will mute the flavor a bit.

The addition of the small amount of tomato puree to the sauce is not enough to impart noticeable tomato flavor; it just adds some color and used up a small amount of canned diced tomatoes I had lying around anyway. You could easily leave that out.

If you don’t have beet greens, you could use a large bunch of Swiss chard instead, but trim away the stems and just use the leaves here. The stems can be chopped and added to soup or pasta with olive oil and garlic later in the week, but they’re a little too firm for this filling.

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