By Betty Gordon
© 2019 text and photos. All rights reserved.
To traditionalists, a heaping portion of lasagne without its ruffled noodle layers might be too radical an idea to consider because it changes the very heart of a time-honored dish.
But as people look for ways to eat healthier and reduce calories and carbohydrates, some recipes have been developed using substitutions such as eggplant slices to separate the layers of filling.
Which brings us to Passover and Easter, where lasagne might seem a weird choice for your spring holiday table.
Those observing Passover can’t make lasagne with regular noodles because of the flour content (forbidden during the holiday). And many would argue it isn’t Easter dinner unless the centerpiece is baked ham with a sweet glaze.
But keep an open mind and try something new. With a few substitutions, one recipe can serve both celebrations.
Lasagne is one of my favorite dishes. Over the years, I’ve made multistep recipes from Italian cookbooks that were wonderful. But they can be extremely time-consuming, especially if you make the marinara from scratch and boil the noddles first. And the classic finished dish would never fit the definition of healthful.
The recipe I use now, without meat or béchamel sauce, has a fraction of the fat and calories. It also takes far less time and effort to make.
This isn’t your grandmother’s lasagne by any means — and she might scoff at the very thought of what I’m suggesting — but to my palate, this recipe is satisfying and fun to assemble.
For Passover, instead of lasagne noodles, substitute sheets of matzo. You don’t even have to soak them before using, as many Passover recipes call for.
One reason why this works for Passover is that the tasteless matzo gets lost among the layers of marinara, cheese and veggies. Matzo by itself is one of the most bland and uninspiring “flavors” of Passover.
These days, many groceries stock specific “kosher for Passover” cheeses and marinara sauce, but if your store doesn’t, ingredients are easily available online.
Though the recipe calls for shredded mozzarella, I usually buy a 1-pound block or two of part-skim mozzarella and cut the cheese into small dice. Some manufacturers use cellulose as an anti-caking agent in their shredded cheese, and I’d rather not have that “additive.”
If your family or friends find that lasagne is too crazy an idea for Easter — and I note I am posting this just before the holiday — then you can always try this recipe some other time.
As the lasagne bakes, the matzo sheets will absorb the water and moisture from the sauce to become soft. The same process applies to the recipe if you are using uncooked lasagne noodles.
Spinach and Veggie Lasagne
Hands on: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes to 1 hour, 55 minutes
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/4 cup onion, finely diced (I use sweet Vidalia onions)
1/4 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 pound small-curd cottage cheese (I use 2 percent milkfat; ricotta is fine too)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (26-ounce) jar marinara sauce
3 (7-ounce) bags shredded mozzarella, divided
For Passover: 6 matzo sheets
For Easter: 9 to 12 lasagne noodles, uncooked
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine spinach, onion, bell pepper, cottage cheese (or ricotta), egg, oregano, salt, black pepper and half the mozzarella.
Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Ladle a thin layer of marinara sauce on the bottom of the pan.
For Passover: Place 2 matzo sheets over the sauce. You may need to break off a small part of the end of one sheet so that both lie flat. Don’t overlap. That will make the layers uneven because the matzo expands and softens as it cooks. You will have a little space on either size of the matzo to the edge of the pan, and this, too, will disappear as the lasagne bakes.
For Easter: Place 3 noodles parallel to one another lengthwise over the sauce; do not overlap. Break a noodle to size and place it at one end perpendicular to the parallel noodles. Like the matzo, the noodles will expand as they bake.
Cover matzo layer or lasagne noodles with half of the spinach-cheese mixture, then spread a layer of sauce.
For Passover: Repeat the matzo layer.
For Easter: Repeat with 3 noodles, but place the perpendicular one at the opposite end of the pan from the first layer. This helps with stability when slicing the layers.
Top with the remaining half of the spinach-cheese mixture and another layer of sauce.
For Passover: Repeat matzo layer.
For Easter: Repeat with 3 more noodles, again positioning the smaller one at the opposite end from the previous layer.
Top with remaining marinara and sprinkle over the rest of the mozzarella.
Pour 1 cup water around the sides. (Or, for a enhanced flavor, “rinse” the jar with enough red wine to swish out stubborn sauce. Top up in a measuring cup so you have a total of 1 cup water/wine and pour around sides of pan.)
Cover tightly with aluminum foil. (To prevent the cheese from sticking as it melts, apply a light film of cooking spray to the foil. If you don’t want the foil to touch your food, cover with a greased sheet of parchment paper first, then the foil.)
Place lasagne on a rimmed baking sheet, in case the sauce bubbles over.
Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, rotate the pan for even cooking, and bake another 30 to 40 minutes until the cheese is melted, bubbly and lightly golden.
Let stand at least 10 minutes before cutting.
Individually wrapped portions in aluminum foil freeze well. Totally defrost before reheating in oven or microwave (don’t put foil in the microwave; use a microwave-safe dish to reheat).