“Make something light.”
My husband and two sons have basketball practice tonight. They want to eat before they leave, and they don’t want anything heavy.
It makes sense. Except … I planned this past week’s menus two weeks in advance so I could feed my visiting parents in style. And since they leave for home tomorrow, I want tonight’s dinner to be special.
I’d planned to make a white lasagna from an old Bon Appetit recipe. It’s three layers of bechamel, mozzarella, Parmesan and noodles.
Still, my heart is set on a lasagna theme. Can I find a variation?
I start thinking about lasagna noodles. Their ruffly edges. Their long, lean lines. Why do they have to be packed and stacked and glued together with cheese? What if each noodle was rolled around just enough filling for a single serving? Would the meal still be special?
Would it still be lasagna?
I decide to find out. I saute a filling of mushrooms and artichokes, then make a basic milk sauce spiked with Parmesan cheese. I boil 12 lasagna noodles (two rolls for each of us), drain them and lay them flat on tinfoil to slightly dry. I put some sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish, then start rolling noodles around filling.
The finished dish looks pretty, but it’s kind of naked. I pour the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with about a cup of mozzarella cheese. Then I cover the dish with foil and bake it for an hour.
It emerges from the oven creamy and slightly brown. The mushrooms give the rolls a deep, meaty flavor. The artichokes and Parmesan give them some tang. They definitely taste like lasagna, but at one — at most two — apiece, we feel much more virtuous than if we’d chowed down on big slabs of the traditional dish.
In the interest of honesty, I’ve got to tell you … the meal I made tonight is not a 30-minute wonder. It takes a couple of hours from start to finish. And while it’s served in a single dish, I dirtied three pans preparing it.
But don’t fret. Using this basic technique, you can streamline the recipe all you want. Use jarred marinara or Alfredo for your sauce. Roll your lasagna noodles around fresh vegetables to avoid the saute. Mix some garlic, herbs and 1 egg into ricotta cheese and use that as your filling. Add shredded, cooked chicken or turkey for the meat-lovers in your life.
My husband and sons came home from basketball sweaty and happy. My parents got their special farewell dish. And I have a new meal in my dinner rotation.
Pasta with a twist.
Lasagna in a roll.
Mushroom & Artichoke Lasagna Rolls (adapted from Bon Appetit)
For the filling: Roughly chop 12 ounces cremini mushrooms. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan. Add the mushrooms and saute until they release their liquid. Add 1 14-ounce can drained artichoke hearts (do NOT use marinated artichoke hearts!), 2 finely minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme and 2 tablespoons dry vermouth or dry white wine. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until almost all the liquid has evaporated.
For the sauce: Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large saute pan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes. Pour in 3 cups heated milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Whisk in 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and several grinds of pepper. Take off heat and set aside.
For the noodles: Cook 12 lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain. Rinse in cold water, then drain again. Lay flat on a large sheet of tinfoil, being careful not to overlap.
Assembling the dish: Spread 1/2-3/4 cup sauce on the bottom of a greased casserole dish.
Place one noodle on a plate. Drizzle 1 tablespoon sauce down the middle, leaving about an inch of space at each end of the noodle. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons mushroom-artichoke filling on top of the sauce. Sprinkle grated mozzarella cheese atop the filling.
Starting at one end, gently roll the noodle up. Place seam-side down in the casserole dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.
Spread remaining sauce on top of lasagna rolls. Sprinkle 4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese over. Cover tightly with foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove foil, and bake 15 minutes longer. If the rolls need to brown a bit more, turn on your broiler and broil 1-2 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve hot.