I've been on a bit of a spinach kick lately, adding it to just about everything we've eaten in the past week or so. I guess you could say I've been channelling my inner Popeye! But even without Popeye's recommendation, spinach contains more nutrients per calorie than any other food on earth. Make no wonder that one can of the green stuff and Popeye was transformed into a muscle poppin' tornado of energy!
Spinach is loaded with vitamins like A, K, D and E and a host of trace minerals. It's also a good source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids, something all of us could use a little more of in our diets. Researchers have identified more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds in spinach making it an excellent source of anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. In a recent study on the relationship between the risk of prostate cancer and veggie intake, (including such things as broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts), only spinach showed evidence of significant protection against the occurence of aggressive prostate cancer.
Spinach also alkalizes the body, balancing the highly acidic diet most of us subject our bodies to and which drains our energy, increases obesity and creates a host of other health problems. Carotenoids in spinach protect against eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. One cup of fresh spinach, or 1/6 cup cooked, contains TWICE your Vitamin K daily intake needs which, along with the calcium and magnesium in spinach, is esstential to maintain healthy bones. One really interesting factoid that I came across was that studies have shown that the artificial light in the grocery store shining on those plastic tubs of spinach can actually help keep the leaves from spoiling which means spinach is still metabolically active and fresh after packaging.
Make no wonder I love the stuff! And having some on hand because it just so happened to be on sale meant I had to make the most of each and every leaf....waste not, want not right? I was in the mood for some pasta and I wanted to incorporate some spinach. One of the perks of being chief cook and bottle washer is that I occassionally get to cater to my own whims. Lasagna Florentine was the obvious choice! Traditional Lasagna Florentine contains a delicious blend of Italian sausage, spinach, mozzarella and ricotta. I didn't have any Italian sausage so ground beef was gonna have to do, but as for the rest? I was good to go!
First up, I had to make my base meat sauce. I browned some lean ground beef in a little olive oil in large pot over medium high heat, seasoned with a little freshly ground sea salt and black pepper and about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. I then tossed in one medium onion, diced, a clove of garlic, minced and about two cups of sliced white mushrooms. When the onions were translucent and the mushrooms browned, I added in one, 14 ounce can of no salt added diced tomatoes, one, 5.5 ounce can of no salt added tomato paste and about 2 cups of no salt added tomato sauce. I brought all of that to a gentle boil and tossed in a couple of fresh bay leaves, reduced the heat and let the sauce simmer for about an hour before going on to the next step.
After about an hour, I gave 2 cups of fresh spinach a quick saute, just long enough for it to start to wilt.
In a large bowl, I whisked one egg, added in a container of ricotta cheese, seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper and added in the wilted spinach, which completed my filling.
All that was left to do was to build my Lasagna Florentine. I took a shortcut and used store bought fresh pasta as opposed to making my own...sometimes a girl just has to do what a girl has to do!
I added a couple of ladles of meat/tomato sauce to the bottom of a large lasagna dish and topped with lasagna sheets. I added more meat sauce, then pasta, then added the spinach and ricotta filling which I topped with 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese and more pasta. More sauce, a layer of pasta and then the remaining sauce. I added about a cup of a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella and then a generous amount of grated paremsan cheese. My Lasagna Florentine was now oven ready!
The fresh pasta wouldn't take long to cook and the sauce was already cooked, so I baked my Lasagna Florentine in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes just to heat through and for all that cheese to melt and the flavours to combine.
Dinner was ready! My daughter's friend was here and she told me that she'd give it a 'try' but added that she doesn't like her dad's lasagna, (sorry Paul). I braced myself for my first negative review from a 13 year old. Fortunately, she actually loved it, which she told me again when she was over three days later and asking if she could come to dinner when I made lasagna again. (That child has obviously figured out how to win me over!).
Apparently, she also asked Mackenzie after eating what the 'green stuff' was. When Mackenzie told her it was spinach she said, 'Really? I thought I'd hate spinach!'. Another victory for stealth health!
While it took a little longer to make the meat and tomato sauce from sratch, I think it was definitely worth it. I got to control the additives, salt and seasoning as well as the quality of the ground beef. To accompany my Lasagna Florentine, I simply sliced some bread and mixed up some butter with a clove of minced garlic, smeared the garlic butter on top of the sliced bread, grated a little fresh parmesan on top and gave it a little toast under the broiler.
The only words to describe this Lasagna Florentine are 'simply sumptuous comfort food' but I would be remiss if I didn't add that lasagna is one of those things that only tastes better the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to come together as one. That also makes Lasagna Florentine a great make-ahead dish for the week, a potluck or family gathering.
Lasagna Florentine....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!