- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

It’s the perfect time for green. Green everything for St. Patrick’s Day. Green for the beginning of spring, just a few days later.

In honor of this glorious, optimistic time of year, I offer one of my favorite green foods: pesto lasagna. In a refreshing departure from the usual tomato-sauce theme, this dish is a melange of green noodles layered with spinach and pesto. Even die-hard tomato lasagna fans will warm to this comforting green variation.

Serve green lasagna with a tossed green salad for a nicely balanced meal. However, if that is taking the green motif over the top, try making a salad out of deep purple radicchio. Just dress it lightly with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It’s a wonderful combination.

I know many of us are watching our calories, but I strongly suggest using whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella, rather than the skim or part-skim varieties. The flavor is deeper, the texture noticeably more tender. Use a commercially prepared pesto or make your own. Fresh basil is available in many supermarkets this time of year.

One warning: Don’t use no-cook noodles for this. There is not enough liquid in this recipe. The no-cook technique works only with lasagna that contains plenty of tomato sauce for the uncooked noodles to absorb.

Green lasagna

Olive oil for the pan

About 16 green uncooked lasagna noodles, either fresh or dried

2 pounds fresh spinach, washed; or 2 10-ounce packages fresh baby spinach leaves; or 2 10-ounce packages frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted

2 pounds ricotta cheese

1 cup pesto (recipe follows) or commercially prepared

4 large cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/3 cup pine nuts or finely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with olive oil.

If using fresh noodles, skip this paragraph: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles; cook for about 4 minutes. (They will be undercooked.) Drain and lay flat on a table, counter or tray.

Meanwhile, if using fresh spinach, chop it fine. If using frozen chopped spinach, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted and squeeze out all excess water. Place ricotta in a large bowl. Stir in spinach, pesto, garlic, salt, pepper to taste, ½ cup Parmesan and nuts. Mix well.

Place a layer of noodles in bottom of prepared pan. Spoon about 1/3 of filling in dabs over the noodles. (You can spread it a little but not too much.) Sprinkle with 1/3 of grated mozzarella. Follow with another layer of noodles, another 1/3 of filling and another 1/3 of mozzarella. Repeat one more time, and then finish up with a final layer of noodles, topped with remaining Parmesan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 50 minutes. If top becomes as brown as you like before this time is up, cover loosely with foil and continue baking. Serve hot. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

PESTO:

3 packed cups fresh basil leaves

3 to 4 cloves garlic

1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts, optional

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Additional extra-virgin olive oil for storage, optional

Place basil leaves and garlic to taste in a food processor or blender and mix well. Add nuts, if desired, and continue to blend until nuts are finely ground. Keep machine running as you drizzle in olive oil.

When you have a smooth paste, transfer to a bowl and stir in Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you are not going to use pesto right away, place in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Smooth out top surface of pesto and pour on enough olive oil to cover it completely. This creates an air-proof seal that helps preserve it well. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator for up to several days. Makes 1 cup.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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