As the summer wanes here in the northern hemisphere and the temperatures begin to dip, it will soon be time to think about turning the oven on again. And, in our house, that means it’s time to get ready for lasagna! One of the most versatile ways of making lasagna is in bianco, meaning without tomato sauce. It is a style typical of central and northern Italy. Instead of tomato sauce, you fill your lasagna with béchamel layered with whatever condimento you feel like, whether meat, fish or, my personal favorite, any sort of vegetable in season, sautéed in butter or oil olive, often with garlic or onion to lend savor.
We’ve already featured an example of this style of lasagna, lasagne agli asparagi. That post took you through the basic technique, with step by step, illustrated instructions, so I won’t go into details here. The same technique can be used with any other vegetable, with the only difference being how you treat the vegetable condimento. This time, rather than asparagus, I made a spinach lasagna.
- One batch of fresh egg pasta
- One batch of béchamel sauce
For the spinach condimento:
- 500g (1 lb) spinach
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
If you are using young spinach, you simply prepare them in padella, adding the rinsed spinach directly into your seasoned olive oil, without draining them too well, and sauté until they have fully wilted, no more than a few minutes. If you are using older spinach, the kind with crinkly leaves, you’ll need to trim the leaves of their stems, then parboil the leaves in abundant salted water for a minute or two before sautéing them.
Then proceed as usual, layering fresh pasta, béchamel, sautéed spinach and abundant grated parmesan until you have exhausted your ingredients, ending with bechamel sprinkled with grated cheese and dotted with butter. (Don’t build up more than four layers, however.)
Bake in a hot oven (200°C/400°F) for about 20 minutes, or until just a bit browned on top.
As with all lasagna, you should let your spinach lasagna cool off for at least 10-15 minutes before serving it.
As mentioned, the same technique shown above for spinach lasagna can be used with just about any filling that strikes your fancy. In the late summer, I particularly like zucchini, for example, which you can sauté just like the spinach in garlic and olive oil. Or, something different, why not try some luscious summer tomatoes, laid uncooked over the béchamel sauce?
If you are not feeling too ambitious, you can save considerable time by using store-bought lasagna sheets. Here, though, you need to be a bit careful. A lot of so-called ‘fresh’ store-bought pasta is made with semolina flour, which makes for a tougher dough that is fine for southern-style lasagna but not very apt for a delicate lasagna in bianco. Your better bet is actually using dry ‘no boil’ lasagna, but be aware that no boil pasta absorbs a lot of liquid as it cooks, so use a rather loose béchamel, and lots of it.
As the weather cools off, you may want to switch fillings—I think mushrooms are particularly wonderful, or radicchio, pumpkin, butternut squash… but I am getting ahead of myself. Late summer is a special time of year, with its abundance of fresh produce, so enjoy the last of the summer vegetables while we can—and this is a particular delicious way to do so.