Friday, October 14, 2011

La Bella Italia and Lasagna Rollups

As someone who lived in Italy for four years, studied abroad there, and still tries to desperately grasp onto some vague knowledge of the language, I frequently get cravings for Italian food (*also read as, my excuse for posting A LOT of pasta recipes in the future*). Unfortunately thinking about Italian food results in visions of mozzarella balls, parmesan cheese, and rich pasta dishes dancing in my head, which obviously no longer really appeals to the vegan side of me. Nevertheless, once a craving hits you, it's impossible to resist. And so, with the lure of melted mozzarella and thick tomato sauce pulling me in, I decided to make a vegan version of the lasagna rollups my grandmother makes every year for Christmas. This one includes a ricotta/bechamel combo to help keep things nice and creamy which isn't exactly traditional for my gma, but I'm sure she wouldn't be too offended by my adding it.

Buon Appetito!

What you will need:

1 package lasagna (*I used whole wheat, don't use the no boil kind here since you need to be able to roll it*)
2 jars tomato sauce of your choice or comparable amount homemade
2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella (*I used Daiya, of course*)
1 recipe Alison's macadamia nut ricotta from her Za Za Ziti recipe (*which is also fantastic btw* NOTE: you will need to soak the macadamia nuts for at least four hours before making this so plan ahead)
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tbsp flour
1 cup unsweetened original almond milk (*you can substitute soy milk here, but I like the creaminess of the almond milk for this recipe)
2 tbsp vegan margarine (*I used Smart Balance*)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
nutritional yeast for sprinkling

How to get it done:

Preheat your oven to 350.

Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick spray or lightly oil it with olive oil.

Make up the batch of macadamia nut ricotta and set aside.

Thaw the frozen spinach in your microwave or by running water over it in a colander in the sink.

Squeeze and drain the spinach until most of the water has been removed. Set aside.

Cook the lasagna according to package directions. (*I like to do this in small batches since it makes the noodles easier to work with and then I used tongs to remove them from the hot water so I could keep the water going. I'm sure there's an easier, more refined way to do this, but I don't know it so there you go.*)

Place a long sheet of aluminum foil across a flat surface in your kitchen.

Spray lightly with nonstick spray. This is so your noodles won't stick when you lay them out.

As your lasagna noodle batches are cooked, place them flat across the aluminum foil.

Get to work on the bechamel.

Heat the margarine in a small pot over medium high heat.

Add the flour and mix until you form a roux and the mixture is smooth.

Continue whisking for several minutes (about 6-7) until the mixture turns a light sandy color. This is a pretty subtle change, but it's noticeable.

Add the almond milk slowly, continuing to mix as you do so to ensure that there are no lumps.

Continue cooking until the mixture begins to thicken (about 10 minutes), whisking fairly constantly so it doesn't burn.

Once thickened enough, add the nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Combine the drained spinach with the ricotta until fully mixed.

Add in the garlic powder and Italian seasoning and season with freshly ground black pepper.  Stir til well combined.

Start assembling the rolls by spreading 1.5 - 2 tbsp of the ricotta mixture across the sheet of lasagna. Repeat this process until all of the sheets are covered.

Add 2 tsp of beschamel sauce on top of the ricotta mixture and spread across the sheet of lasagna.

Sprinkle lightly with nutritional yeast.

Spread enough marinara sauce across the casserole dish to cover the bottom completely. (*You can use homemade in this case, but I happen to have found jars of Barilla's Marinara sauce in my local Target, which just so happens to be the jars I used to eat when I lived in Italy and that I am insanely obsessed with, so I went with that and was not disappointed*).

Start rolling those babies up!

Roll the lasagna sheets up, placing the seam down onto the layer of sauce in the casserole dish. Continue until all of the rolls are complete (*I didn't have a big enough casserole dish so this ended up being one 9x13 and one 8x8*).

Ladel tomato sauce across the tops of the rolls until fully covered. (*I ended up with about half a jar left from the two jars after this stage which was perfect for heating up to serve alongside the rolls at dinner*).

Sprinkle the mozzarella across the top of the tomato sauce.

Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the tin foil and sprinkle generously with nutritional yeast. Place bake in the oven to cook for another 5 minutes.


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