Italian Flag Lasagna
When one walks around with a surname like ‘Antonini’, there’s a certain expectation of Italian-ness. It probably comes from all the vowels. Even though there’s actually not a drop of Italian blood coursing through my veins (I married into the name), I have adopted some of the mannerisms: talking with my hands, being emotional, and cooking lots of pasta.
The latter (cooking pasta) is what caused me to say, “hmmmm!” when I spied my friend Rose’s Facebook photo of the Italian Flag Lasagna she made. Rose is a fabulous cook so I always pay attention when she talks food. Her dish had 6 layers: green, white, red….green, white, red.
As cooks the world over know, we always feel obligated to tweak recipes and make them our own. So, of course, when I decided to pay homage to my husband’s people by making my version of Italian Flag Lasagna, that’s what I did with Rose’s recipe.
The first change was making the lasagna 3 thick layers of green, white, and red – so it’s more flag-like. Then I bulked up the green filling with broccoli and the red with fake ground beef, so the layers wouldn’t collapse. The white layer of ricotta, egg, and Romano cheese would be fine on it’s own.
By now you may know that I’m a wee bit picky (some might say ‘neurotic’) about what I feed my family. I like to make as much from scratch as I can so I know what’s in our food. I’m also on the frugal side (some might say ‘cheap’) so cooking from scratch saves me money. Always a bonus!
That being said, doing everything yourself takes time. For my Italian Flag Lasagna, I made the pasta, pesto, marinara sauce, and bought fresh spinach that I washed, de-stemmed, and chopped in the food processor. Not gonna lie: it was work. But if you choose, you don’t have to do any of that. You can purchase lasagna noodles, pesto, frozen chopped spinach, and marinara sauce. While it’s probably tastier to make the spinach/pesto and marinara layers from scratch, the main feature of this recipe is that it looks like the Italian Flag – and you can still get the ‘wow’ factor from store-bought ingredients.
As the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, next time I prepare Italian Flag Lasagna, I’m going to make several batches of both the spinach/pesto and marinara fillings, then freeze them in portion sized containers. That way in future, all I’ll have to do is make the noodles and ricotta filling.
THIS IS IMPORTANT (you can tell because I used all caps): For best results, make Italian Flag Lasagna the day before serving. After baking, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The layers will then solidify. To serve, slice into serving sizes, and microwave until warm. If you don’t do this, the layers won’t be as pert, and you’ll lose the flag effect.
ITALIAN FLAG LASAGNA – makes a 10″ x 7″ x 2″ lasagna
– Spinach/Pesto Filling
- 9 cups packed fresh spinach (or 1¼ cups frozen chopped spinach)
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 1¾ cups broccoli, chopped and blanched
- 2/3 cup pesto (recipe below)
Chop spinach in a food processor by pulsing several times, or use kitchen scissors.
In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion until translucent. Add in spinach, salt, and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted and liquid is extracted. Turn off burner and tilt skillet, pushing the solids uphill so the liquid can drain. Mix together the drained spinach, broccoli, and pesto.
– Pesto – makes 2 cups (freeze what you don’t need!)
- 5 cups fresh basil, pack down the basil when you measure
- 12 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 T lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
- 1 cup + 2 T Romano cheese, shredded
- ½ cup + 2 T pine nuts, toasted
- Put all ingredients in a blender. Depending on your blender, you will probably have to start and stop quite often in order to reposition the ingredients. Be very careful not to press down with an implement (such as a wooden spoon) while the blender is running. As tempting as it is, I’ve had to throw out a few batches of pesto when the wooden spoon went too far down and got caught in the blades. Wood chips in pesto = not good!
– Ricotta Filling
- 15 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
- ½ cup Romano cheese, shredded
- 1 egg
Beat egg in a mixing bowl. Stir in the ricotta and Romano.
– Marinara Sauce
- 4 cups Roma tomatoes, drained and chopped (I used canned, removing the stem end and any flaws)
- ½ T olive oil
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- 1 tsp garlic, pressed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ cup red wine
- 1¼ cups fake ground beef (I use Morningstar Griller Crumbles)
In a skillet heat olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent. Add in the tomatoes, oregano, and wine. Bring to boil, then lower flame and simmer sauce uncovered until it thickens (about 20 minutes). Stir in the imitation ground beef and simmer another 5 minutes.
- 1 cup Romano cheese, shredded
- 1½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
NOTE: If purchasing lasagna noodles, you’ll need 11 noodles.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 eggs
- ½ T olive oil
- water, as needed
Into a food processor put the eggs, flour, and olive oil. Blend until most of the flour is incorporated. Add water one tablespoon at a time until you can form a ball with your hands, but dough is not wet. Roll dough into 8 balls, 2 of them should be about 2″ in diameter. Let rest in covered food processor 30 minutes.
Start boiling the water to cook the pasta. Run the two large dough balls through the pasta machine working your way to #5 setting. They should be about 5″ wide and VERY long. These pieces will form the bottom layer and will run up the sides. The extra length is to wrap around the lasagna to form the top layer.
Grease the sides of the lasagna pan. Spoon some of the liquid part of the marinara sauce onto the bottom of the pan and spread to cover. Boil one of the long pasta strips about 1 minute. Remove and drop into bowl of cold water. Put the other long strip into the boiling water. While that’s cooking, take the cooled strip and cover one side and half the bottom of the pan. Remove the other strip, put in cold water, and lay that one on the other side.
Spread the spinach/pesto filling evenly on the pasta. Top with ½ cup shredded Romano.
Prepare 2 more pasta balls. Roll them to #5, making them 3″ wide. Boil them together 1 minute, drop into cold water, and layer them on the spinach/pesto filling.
Spread the ricotta filling evenly on top.
Prepare 2 more pasta balls as above. Layer on top of ricotta filling.
Spread the marinara filling evenly on top. Top with the remaining ½ cup Romano.
If the bottom pasta strips are long enough that they can fully cover the marinara layer, you don’t need to use the last 2 pasta balls. Prepare them, if needed. Wrap the bottom strips around the marinara filling.
Sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese, cover with foil (making sure it doesn’t touch the cheese). Bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer.