Dinner · Vegetarian

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

My favorite thing to cook for big groups is lasagna.  Especially in the winter, lasagna is the perfect comfort food for cold nights.  So, when a few people came over to watch football this weekend, I knew immediately what to put on the menu.

lasagna cooked

I have a few reliable recipes that I go to time and again (especially this one with butternut squash and mushrooms), but I wanted to try something new. I also wanted a seasonal recipe, which is inarguably difficult to find in the middle of January.  Without popular fillings like summer squash, eggplant, and asparagus, I decided to go with mushrooms, onions, and spinach. I also left out the ricotta, which makes the lasagna less traditional but a bit heartier and more filling.

ingredients

To really improve the flavor of my lasagna, I did two major things.  The first was to cook my own tomato sauce, which is pretty easy (it only takes about 10 minutes) and tastes much better than the jarred stuff from the store.  The second was to vary up the cheeses in my recipe, going beyond the typical mozzarella and Parmesan combination.  I ultimately chose to include Gruyere and Pecorino, adding a sharp and salty flavor to the cheese layer.

making the lasagna layers

A few notes: I’m a huge fan of no-boil noodles, but you have to be careful.  Make sure to coat them thoroughly in sauce, otherwise they won’t soften up during baking.  Also, feel free to swap in other veggies.  In the future, I plan on trying variations with broccoli, cauliflower, and eggplant.

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Recipe (inspired by Cooks Illustrated)

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (optional)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 15 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (button, crimini, and portobello), sliced or chopped
  • 1 pound frozen spinach (or fresh), thawed
  • dried herbs (I used thyme and oregano)
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 8 oz mozzarella, grated
  • 6 oz Gruyere, grated
  • 2 oz Pecorino Romano, grated
  • 3 oz Parmesan, grated

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and grease a deep 13 x 9 baking dish.
  2. For the tomato sauce: In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat.  Add half the minced garlic (about two tbsp) and swirl around the pan for about a minute.  Add crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a steady simmer and let cook for 10 minutes, or until thickened.  Add 1/2 cup water, red wine vinegar, and tomato paste.  Simmer for a few minutes longer to meld flavors and then remove from heat.
  3. For the vegetables: Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and let cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and remaining garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until mushrooms are fully cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated.  If there is still liquid in your pan, strain mushrooms to remove as much liquid as possible.
  4. Place thawed spinach in a large colander and squeeze to remove excess liquid (Don’t skip this step! If you do, your lasagna will be too wet). Combine spinach and mushrooms in a large skillet or bowl. Set aside.
  5. For the cheese layer: In a small bowl, mix together the mozzarella and Gruyere.
  6. To assemble: Coat bottom of the 13 x 9 pan with a light layer of olive oil and 1/2 cup tomato sauce.  Place three noodles on top, making sure that they do not touch the edges of the pan.  Cover the noodles with 1 cup cooked vegetables, 1/2 cup sauce, and 3/4 grated cheese mixture, 1 tbsp Pecorino, and 1 tbsp Parmesan. Place three noodles on top, and continue repeating layers of vegetables, sauce, and cheese three more times.  When you get to the top layer, lay down three more noodles, remaining sauce, remaining cheese, and 2 tbsp Parmesan.
  7. To bake: Cover lasagna with foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more, until top is browned and bubbly.  Remove and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
Dinner · Vegetarian

Winter Squash and Spinach Pizza

winter squash pizza

This recipe is inspired by Picco, a lovely restaurant located in Boston’s South End. While everything on the menu is top notch, my absolute favorite thing to order is the pizza covered in butternut squash, brussels sprouts, and a generous amount of fontina cheese.

For my rendition of this recipe, I decided to skip the red sauce and start with a foundation of white pizza.  I didn’t have any brussels sprouts on hand, so I replaced them with a few handfuls of fresh spinach.  I also added a few caramelized onions, since I love their sweet and savory flavor (hint: if you’re in a rush, add some balsamic vinegar to the onions near the end of cooking.  This creates a similar flavor, but takes about half the time!).

Winter Squash and Spinach Pizza Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Pizza dough (I suggest this recipe, but you can also buy some at your local grocery store)
  • mozzarella cheese, grated
  • ricotta cheese
  • a few handfuls of spinach
  • 1/2 butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 medium onion
  • cornmeal
  • olive oil

Prep:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the cubes of butternut squash in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place on a prepared baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes, testing for doneness with a fork. Don’t overcook, since the butternut squash will roast for 10 minutes more on top of the pizza.
  2. Cut the onion in half and slice into thin half moons. Heat oil in a small skillet on low and add onions.  Cook for about 20 minutes, or until onions are evenly golden brown and caramelized.
  3. In the meantime, spread cornmeal out onto a large baking pan.  Stretch the pizza dough so that it is uniformly thin and fits nicely into the baking pan. Rub stretched dough with a light layer of olive oil.

Assemble the Pizza:

  1. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.
  2. Spread mozzarella cheese evenly over the pizza dough. Using a medium sized spoon, scoop ricotta out of the container and drop onto the pizza. Continue this process 10-15 more times, until pizza is evenly covered. Sprinkle spinach over the entire pizza. Use a few handfuls, keeping in mind that the spinach will shrink during cooking.
  3. Top pizza with minced garlic, caramelized onions, and cooked butternut squash cubes. Place in the hot oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until pizza is evenly browned.  Remove and let cool before serving.
Dinner · Vegetarian

Homemade Pizza

photo (2)

My first attempt at homemade pizza was a complete flop. My friend decided to make it using a bread maker, assuming that the huge machine would make the process rather foolproof. But, boy were we wrong.  When we went to remove the dough after kneading, the entire thing was a liquid mess.  We tried as hard as we could to mold it into some semblance of a pizza, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  To salvage the meal, we cooked up a quick batch of penne and topped it off with our prepared pizza sauce and chopped veggies.  While there was no nicely bubbling crust or melty mozzarella cheese, we were still happily full.

After that experience, I pretty much gave up on making my own pizza dough.  I found a local shop that sold it pre-made, and that became my go-to way of hosting a pizza party. I still experimented with homemade sauces and fancy toppings, but the dough was not something I was eager to try again.

Recently, however, I had a renewed desire to make my own dough.  My coworker always talked about how easy it was, and I wanted to get over my fear of yeasty doughs.  So, I googled a dough recipe, took out my KitchenAid mixer (definitely instrumental in this process), and got to work.

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In just a few steps, I wound up with a stretchy, fluffy, perfect dough.  The dough rose perfectly within two hours, held up to some pretty aggressive shaping, and served as a great vehicle for all my toppings.

The sauce here is also wonderful.  The great thing about pizza dough sauces is that they don’t have to be cooked (since they’ll be baked in the oven for at least 10 minutes), so they can be whipped together very quickly.  Feel free to experiment with the herbs (or use fresh ones), but definitely give it a try!

Homemade Pizza Recipe 

Ingredients

For the dough (recipe from Simply Recipes):

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the sauce (adapted from Peter Reinhart):

  • 16 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash of ground pepper
  • 1/ 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Toppings (these were great, but feel free to use whatever is in the fridge):

  • asparagus (cut into 1-2 inch spears)
  • zucchini, quartered and diced
  • red and green peppers, chopped or sliced thinly
  • mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • mozzarella cheese, grated
  • cornmeal (for the crust)

Instructions

For the dough:

  1. Combine warm water and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Make sure that the water isn’t too hot! Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, or until the yeast foams on top.
  2. Using a wooden spoon, mix in olive oil, salt, and sugar.  Slowly add the flour until it is too difficult to stir.
  3. At this point, attach the dough hook to your stand mixer.  Mix the dough on low or medium speed for around 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
  4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl.  Cover with a tea towel and let sit in a warm place (I chose the top of my fridge) for 1-1.5 hours.  During this time, the dough should double in size.

For the sauce:

  1. combine all ingredients in a blender.  Mix for 10-15 seconds, depending on the strength of your blender and your preferred sauce texture.  I like to leave it pretty chunky so there are pieces of tomato on my pizza.

Making the pizzas:

  1. Prep your pizza pan by covering it in cornmeal.  I use square pans, either 11″x18″ or 9″x13″.
  2. Heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and punch down the dough.
  3. Split your dough evenly in half and mold each piece into a small round ball.  Let sit on a tray covered with a tea towel for 10-15 minutes, or until you are ready to start baking.
  4. Working with one ball at a time, start stretching the dough.  To start, I like to put the dough ball on top of my knuckles and let the dough stretch around my hand.  Then I work with the edges, letting the dough hang down and stretch as I work my way around the circle. It’s OK if the dough isn’t perfectly stretched yet, since you can continue to work with it once you lay it on the pan.
  5. Place your stretched dough on the prepared pan.  Cover with olive oil first (this helps the sauce stay on top, and not soak into, the crust).  Then lightly coat with sauce, top with mozzarella cheese, and add toppings.
  6. Slide pizza into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Check the bottom of the pizza to make sure that it’s browned as well.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes and then cut into pieces to serve!

This recipe makes 2 doughs (or pizza for roughly 4-6 people).