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Introduction
You do not need to be an accomplished chef to attempt to construct this dish. In fact, you do not need to know anything about cooking at all. It would probably be better if you were a simple bricklayer. Just follow the instructions, stay true to your quest, and you shall be rewarded with the finest lasagne in all the land. Good luck.
Ingredients
6 sheets fresh lasagne
1 aubergine
1 bag spinach
300g asparagus
1 large red onion
100g sun-dried tomatoes
300g mozzarella
200g mexicana cheese, or substitute cheddar with chilli flakes
1 large jar white lasagne sauce (700g)
1 bag fresh basil
1 bag fresh coriander
3 cloves garlic
soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Tools
ovenproof rectangular dish – 12″ x 8″ x 2″ deep
a second dish of similar size for holding hot water
large non-stick frying pan
small shallow pan
plastic potato masher
garlic press
steamer, grill or microwave for softening asparagus
colander
spatula
kettle
knife and chopping board

Preparation
These can be done simultaneously depending on your competence and number of helpers. When each bit is done you can simply set it to one side until needed. If you are really motoring this can all be done in 30 minutes. Give yourself 40 and enjoy a nice glass of wine while you do it.

1. Press the garlic into a small shallow pan. Chop the onions and sun-dried tomatoes and add to the pan. Add a bit of olive oil if your tomatoes are not already drenched in it and fry on a low heat until the onions are soft but not brown.

2. Heat a large non-stick frying pan on a high heat. Slice the aubergine into half-centimetre slices and add to the pan in a single layer. Douse with soy sauce and after a few minutes press the aubergine using a plastic potato masher, being careful to hold the pan steady. You should be looking to gently crush the aubergine so that it gives up its moisture and starts to fry in its own juices. Flip the aubergine slices as necessary and fry until browned on both sides. Continue until all slices are done.

3. Steam the asparagus for 5 minutes to soften it up. Alternatively, put under a grill for 10 minutes. As a last resort, microwave for 3 minutes. If you have bought fine asparagus then this step is not necessary.

4. Wash the spinach and place in a colander. Pluck the leaves from the basil and mix with the spinach. Pour over a litre of hot water from the kettle and mix gently with a spatula so that all of the spinach wilts.

5. Slice the mozzarella and mexicana – the mexicana needs to have enough area make a single layer in your dish and the mozzarella, two. You might find the mozzarella doesn’t look enough – don’t worry, you can leave gaps and it will melt.

6. Roughly chop the coriander.

7. Fill the second shallow rectangular pan or dish with hot water from the kettle, and dunk your fresh lasagne sheets in there to make them malleable.

8. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Construction
This is from the bottom up. At each stage you should be looking to minimise the amount of air in the dish by packing the ingredients tightly together. After each layer of lasagne you can even press down evenly across the whole dish to squish everything together. Shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
spinach and basil
1/2 of the mozzarella
generous black pepper
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
tomatoes, garlic and onion
coriander
aubergine – lay slices flat, try to fill the available space
other 1/2 of the mozzarella
generous black pepper
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
2 sheets of fresh lasagne side-by-side but overlapping
asparagus
1/4 jar of white sauce – spread evenly
mexicana cheese

If you have any ingredients left at this stage, you have failed. Go back to “Introduction”.

Cooking
Put it in the oven for 40 mins at 180C. If you like the top layer a bit browner and crispier, turn it up to 200C with 10 minutes to go.

Serving suggestion
Trust me, you do not need chips. A nice green leaf salad with a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing, and maybe a halved tomato or two should be ample.

Variations
Try adding any of the following:

  • pan-fried courgettes or peppers
  • broccoli
  • black olives
  • sliced artichokes in oil
  • stir-fried Mexican chicken (caution: may not be strictly vegetarian)
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Gratineed Gnocchi with Spinach and RicottaI made this yummy recipe from Gourmet magazine the other night with a pack of store-bought gnocchi in my cupboard. I had been struggling to come up with what to do with them and was drawn to this recipe because it wasn’t gorgonzola or tomato based as most gnocchi recipes seem to be.

I followed the recipe on the Gourmet site except for two substitutions. I used a few tablespoons of single cream topped up with milk because I didn’t have any double cream on hand and because it was healthier. This did make it a bit more watery though and I had to cook the cream sauce for a bit longer. I also didn’t have any mozzarella, strangely I find it hard to get in the UK because all the stores seem to have is fresh mozzarella, so I substituted some grated cheddar.

The recipe says it serves four, but I had half of it the first night with a green salad and the rest for supper the next night.

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This is another great recipe from delicious magazine (July 2007). I have made it four times and it is always a crowd pleaser. Usually I stick to the recipe below, but when I was staying at my dad’s we didn’t have Thai fish sauce, baby spinach or a red chilli that was big enough. For the fish sauce I substituted anchovy paste and we used salad greens in place of the spinach. I think the fish sauce tasted better than the anchovy paste, but it will do in a pinch. We only had a small bit of red chilli so I cut up some jalapeno peppers as well. They weren’t overly hot but they added a bit of crunch and I thought they were a nice addition. If you don’t want chilli on your hands for days, use a glove or small plastic bag to hold the chilli while you cut it up.

Since there are not many calories or carbs in this dish, I serve it with brown rice on the side so people who aren’t watching their carb intake can make it a larger meal.

Make sure you buy good steak and don’t overcook it. If it is juicy and tender it will melt in the mouth.


Thai-style Beef with Spinach

Serves 4.
Ready in 20 minutes.

Thai-style Beef with Spinach

400g fillet or sirloin steak, sinew and excess fat removed
4 tbsp reduced-salt soy sauce
1 tsp groundnut or vegetable oil
100g beansprouts
1 large shallot or 3 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
175g baby leaf spinach
Handful fresh coriander leaves

For the dressing:

1 small red chili, deseeded and thinly sliced
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
juice of 2 limes
1 tsp caster sugar

1. Cut the steak into 2 long strips and put into a bowl. Add the soy sauce, season with freshly ground pepper, toss to coat evenly and set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the steak and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until charred and and cooked medium-rare (cook for longer if you like). Transfer to a plate to rest for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.

4. Add the beansprouts, shallot or spring onions, spinach and coriander leaves. Thinly slice the beef, add to the salad and gently toss together.

Serve immediately.

Per Serving: 222 kcals, 11.2g fat(3.8g saturated), 24.7g protein, 8.1g carbs, 7.2g sugar, 1.7g salt.

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