Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lasagna with Chard: In Practically No Time.

Like many foodies, I have subscriptions to the usual cooking magazines: Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit. And I still haven't forgiven Condé Nast  for the loss of Gourmet. But I find that my real go-to source for recipe ideas is The New York Times.

I'm a total fan of Mark Bittman and his Minimalist columns. I can't wait to check out the Wednesday food section and the Sunday Magazine recipes each week. Oh yes, and several times a week, I go online to see what Martha Rose Shulman is featuring in her ongoing series, Recipes for Health, where she focuses on a particular seasonal produce item, grain, or pantry ingredient to inspire meals that are delicious, easy, and nutritious. In fact, her recipes have just been collected and published in a new cookbook, The Very Best of Recipes for Health: 250 Recipes And More from the Popular Feature on NewYorkTimes.com. Last year about this time, she published a recipe for a vegetarian lasagna with chard, tomato sauce and ricotta. I didn't make it then, but I filed it away in my mind (and on my computer).

So after I came home from the Seacoast Farmers' Market with beautiful bunches of Swiss chard from the New Roots stand, and knowing I had a tub of Narragansett Creamery's Renaissance Ricotta that needed to be used, I decided this was the time to try that lasagna.

I'd bought some heirloom tomatoes to make the sauce -- and some baby leeks, which weren't part of the recipe, but I thought would make a good addition. I also decided to defrost three of my brother-in-law Dave's homemade hot Italian sausages. Meat isn't called for in the recipe either, but it was definitely part of the taste I had in mind.

I made the tomato sauce according to instructions, though I added a second big sprig of basil, because I wanted more of that flavor. I did not peel and seed the tomatoes before cooking, and while I considered pureeing them in the food mill, I just left it all in. (I don't think it makes the sauce bitter and figure it adds fiber.)

I briefly contemplated asking Dave to make homemade noodles, then I got an idea: we have a terrific local pasta maker, Terra Cotta Pasta Co. -- perhaps they make lasagna noodles. Voila, they do! And the noodles are thin and wonderful, not like those thick no-boil ones you find in the supermarket. They're frozen, so you just leave them out to defrost and layer them in the pan. What could be easier?

The dish was a real treat. (I love the earthy chard taste, but I suspect the sausage and leeks were good additions, too.) And I'm crazy about those noodles. I suspect I'll be making lasagna more often now.

Lasagna With Chard, Tomato Sauce and Ricotta
By Martha Rose Shulman, NewYorkTimes.com
This savory vegetarian lasagna is easy to put together. You can assemble it up to a day ahead of time, then bake it shortly before dinner. (My non-vegetarian version includes Italian sausage and leeks.)

1 generous bunch Swiss chard (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 pound regular or no-boil lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
Pinch of sugar
1 large basil sprig
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese (I had more, so I used more, probably 1 cup all together)
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I added 1/2 cup of pecorino romano)
I also used hot Italian sausage, three links, which I removed from the skin and sauteed and three leeks which I sliced and sauteed in the sausage pan. I then added both to the tomato/chard sauce.

1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil while you prepare the chard. Fill a bowl with ice water. Tear the leaves from the stems and wash thoroughly in two changes of water. Discard the stems or set aside for another purpose.

2. When the water comes to a boil, add the Swiss chard leaves. Boil 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil), until tender but still bright green, then remove from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside. Cook the lasagna noodles in the same pot of water if not using no-boil lasagna noodles. Remove the pasta from the pot and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil in a bowl.

3. In a wide, nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil sprig, and salt (begin with 1/2 teaspoon and add more later), and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, until thick, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the amount of juice in the pan. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the basil sprig. Stir in the Swiss chard and remove from the heat. (I added the Italian sausage and leeks at this point.)

4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Oil a square or rectangular baking dish (no bigger than 2-quart) and line the bottom with a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top with the remaining ricotta and tomato-chard sauce, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top. Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes, or until bubbling and the pasta is tender. Uncover, allow to sit for 5 minutes, and serve.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Advance preparation: You can blanch the chard and make the sauce up to 3 days ahead. Refrigerate in covered containers. The lasagna can be assembled a day ahead of time and refrigerated until shortly before baking.