Cheesy spinach lasagna (vegetarian style)

Lasagna is a classic dish with many layers. Really, it is a lot like a typical Portlander: carefully constructed on the outside with a warm, gooey mixture on the inside. Or, you know, a band t-shirt under flannel under Gore-Tex. The point is it looks like it’s expensive and working hard to be delicious, but you can easily make it happen yourself.

Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Hang on to your hats, however, because that is the easy part. While your oven is preheating, you can get to work bringing a large pot of water to a boil. If you don’t boil the lasagna noodles before you try to bake them, they are going to be hard, crunchy and generally unpleasant to eat. Make sure you lightly salt the water before you add the noodles. If you feel paranoid that you can’t be attentive enough to move them around and keep them from sticking together, you can add a dash of olive oil to the water as well.

The boiling process should take 8–10 minutes, but don’t let them get too soft. Cooking the noodles just long enough to get them to the “al dente” point (that is, when they are no longer crunchy, but they aren’t too squishy and waterlogged) will make sure that they do not get overcooked in the baking process. No one likes rubbery lasagna (this writer assumes). When you’re satisfied with the state of your lasagna noodles, remove them from the heat and drain the water from the pot. A strainer can help with this, but if you don’t have one you can grab a pot lid and use it to create a small enough opening that water can escape the pot but noodles can’t.

Lasagna isn’t all noodles, of course. You’re going to need to make a filling for it. This is where your onions, mushrooms and garlic come into play. You can probably find garlic already minced at the store. The onions and mushrooms you will most likely have to cut up yourself. Once this is done, you should bring a skillet to medium heat on your stove top and cook the onions, mushrooms and garlic together until the veggies have reached a tender state. Drain the excess liquid. While you’re at it,  you might as well boil your spinach for 5 minutes, drain the liquid and chop the spinach up as well. Best to get the chopping done while you’re on a roll.

Now everything is all cut up and drained. We’re still on the same page here, right? Good. All of the ingredients, after being given a few minutes to cool down, are about to get very friendly as you put them together and add your  basil, oregano, salt and pepper. You will also invite the ricotta cheese, Romano cheese and egg to the party at this time. If you have an electric mixer and want a filling that is smoother, you can beat your ingredients together for 1 minute. If you don’t have one, just make sure to use your strongest arm and really work with a whisk until things feel sufficiently incorporated. Assimilation isn’t a bad thing in lasagna; that’s kind of the point.

Now, back to that layering thing. Place five of your cooked lasagna noodles down on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Make sure they are settled comfortably, then put down an even layer of the mixture you just made. Sprinkle the Parmesan and mozzarella over the layer in an amount that you consider appropriate. Do the same thing with the sauce of your choice. Most people use a tomato-based sauce or paste to get a classic lasagna taste. I tend to prefer a cheesy, creamy sauce myself.

Repeat the layering process twice, then add a final layer of your noodles and some more of the grated and shredded cheeses to make it look pretty. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and stick it in your oven for an hour, and you should be good. Make sure to let it cool for 15 minutes or so before you try to serve it.

This recipe makes about 12 servings, so invite some friends over or enjoy your leftovers and save some money on dinner for a few nights. If you want to serve a simple side dish with your meal, you can grab a loaf of  previously baked Italian bread at the store. Just add some of your extra minced garlic and cheese, along with a little bit of butter, and stick the slices under the broiler until they are as crispy as you like. Done? Congrats, friends! You’ve made lasagna.