The afternoon before the evening I invited some friends over to eat this lasagna, I attended a panel of magazine editors. One editor, from an edgy, bad-ass magazine, was talking about how he loved to host dinner parties for friends, in response to a question I’d asked. He listed the main dishes he liked to prepare for his guests: experimental, high-fallutin, expensive, restaurant knock-off, labor-intensive, impressive food.
“I don’t make, like, lasagna,” he said.
And there I sat, thinking of my foil-covered lasagna in the fridge, assembled and partially baked last night so I’d only have to heat it up and throw together a salad before my friends came over at 7. This was a hearty, vegetarian lasagna stuffed with greens and garlic and lemon and ricotta. Cheap to make, satisfying to eat, not very hard to put together in advance.
From my seat at the panel, my heart went out to my lasagna, which didn’t even have a bechamel or a long-simmered meat sauce to recommend it.
As if to emphasize my laziness, I’d even invented a new shortcut: not cooking the lasagna noodles–regular ones, not no-boil. With a sauce that’s a little more watery than usual and a piece of foil sealing in the steam, it turns out the noodles cook while the lasagna bakes.
When I make lasagna, I turn the kitchen into a mess. A bowl of the cheeses perches on top of a cutting board still covered with grated mozzarella and garlic peel. My mini food processor is dripping with tomato sauce, and puddles from the chard leaves I’ve just washed dot a trail between the sink and the stove.
I prefer to leave this mess while I layer sauce, greens, noodles, and cheese in my lasagna pan and clean the dishes while the scents of melting cheese and garlic waft from the oven. I figure the chaos is a sacrifice to the ease and thriftiness of this dish, which, if you’re not serving friends, you could eat squares of all week long.
Swiss Chard Lasagna
Serves 6 to 8
You can sub in 2 pounds of frozen spinach for the Swiss chard if you really need to make this a pantry/freezer dish. This is going to sound nuts, but you can also go really light on the pasta. Simply space the pasta sheets a bit further apart in the dish – you can get away with 2 sheets per layer and you won’t even be able to tell it’s a lower-carb lasagna.
For the sauce:
About 20 basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
One 28-ounce can tomatoes
For the greens:
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bunches swiss chard, washed, stems trimmed, and cut into ribbons
Zest from half a lemon
1/4 cup white wine
3/4 teaspoon salt
juice from half a 1/2 lemon
For the cheese and lasagna:
One 15 or 16-ounce container of whole milk ricotta
1 1/3 cup grated parmesan (5 ounces)
8 ounces (1/2 pound) fresh mozzarella, finely chopped
8 ounces (1/2 pound) low moisture mozzarella, grated
Lots of freshly ground pepper
About 3/4 pound lasagna noodles
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Make the sauce. Place the basil and garlic in the food process and pulse til finely chopped. Add the tomatoes and salt and blend until smooth.
For the greens: in a large saucepan with a lid, sauté the garlic in oil until golden over medium heat. Add the chard and lower the heat. Toss the chard with the garlic and oil, then cover for 4 minutes, until the leaves are wilted. Take off the lid and add the lemon zest, white wine and salt. Let most of the liquid cook off. Add the lemon juice. Stir, then set aside to cool slightly.
For the cheese filling: reserve 1 cup of the fresh mozzarella. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 cup parmesan, the rest of the mozz, the eggs, and lots of pepper. Mix well.
Now you’ve got to put the stuff in your lasagna pan, in this order:
- 1/2 cup sauce
- 1 layer noodles–enough to cover the sauce, leaving at least 1/2 inch in between each noodle
- Half of the cheese filling, spread evenly
- Half of the Swiss chard, scattered evenly
- 1 cup sauce
- 1 layer noodles
- The second half of the cheese
- Second half of the spinach
- 1 layer noodles
- 1 cup sauce
- Remaining 1 cup mozzarella
- Remaining 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Bake, covered in foil, for 45 minutes. Place a baking sheet beneath to catch drippings. Remove the foil and let the lasagna cook for 20 more minutes.