When I was growing up, my Mom kind of took meatless Lenten meals to the extreme. Not only was it forbidden to eat meat, she was fairly adamant about making sure we ate something that we really didn't like. There were no Friday night fish fries at the Legion Hall for us. Not once in my childhood did a Phil A. O'Fish sandwich cross my lips. I think that in her eyes, dining out on Fridays in Lent was a sin. (Although to this day I'm not really sure if it was a mortal sin or merely a venial sin. I should probably check that out, eh?) We were made to be content eating our tin of sardines with a handful of saltine crackers or maybe a grilled cheese sandwich would pop up occasionally if we pretended it didn't taste very good. (Feeling sorry for me yet? Don't. I look back on those days and wish I had half the willpower now that I had then, even if it was forced upon me at the time.)
So Mom... I'm feeling a little guilty and remain thankful that you don't have a computer and will never see what I made for Ash Wednesday this year, because I think it might actually be one of the most delicious meals I've ever made! And, I'll eat sardines on Friday.... I promise.
Spinach, Mushroom and Pesto Lasagna
9 lasagna noodles
10 oz chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP butter
2 cups diced onion
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
dash of crushed red pepper flakes
8 ounces of button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups Half & Half
3/4 cup plus 2 TBSP basil pesto
12 oz mozzarella cheese (I used slices)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8" X 11 1/2" baking dish with cooking spray.
In a separate baking dish place lasagna noodles and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes while making the sauce.
In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, garlic powder and egg. Season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large skillet heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions and bell pepper, season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes and saute until onions are translucent, 6-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until mushrooms lose their moisture, another 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to combine. Continue cooking and stirring over medium heat for two minutes. Add the milk and half & half, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes until sauce has thickened a bit. Remove from heat and stir in 3/4 cup pesto. Taste to see if salt and pepper are needed.
Drain lasagna noodles.
Spoon 2 TBSP of the pesto on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Lay three noodles on top of the pesto. Top with 1/3 of the basil cream sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) and spread to cover noodles. Dollop 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on top of the sauce, then top the ricotta with 1/3 of the cheese slices. Repeat layers two more times. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place dish in oven. Bake for 25 minutes, uncover, then bake for another 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned. Let dish sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.