Lunch Order

When I was a kid, the list of foods I didn’t like was almost longer than the list of foods I did like! Eating is about looks as much as taste, so some of my food prejudices were based purely on how things looked. Other foods had bad experiences attached. This lasagne is a combination of three things that I wouldn’t touch as a child, but that I now love.

My first lasagne experience was a strange one. Schools in Australia don’t have cafeterias. A few good-hearted mums help out in the canteen, making sandwiches, serving hot food, and selling bags of lollies for 10 cents. For a primary school kid, a ‘lunch order’ was a big deal, because most of the time, you brought a sandwich from home. One day, when I was about 6 in first grade, I got lasagne for my lunch order. But it was absolutely foul, and it actually made me throw up. Imagine my disappointment! The sacred lunch order had been ruined, and I had nothing else to eat for lunch. It honestly took me nearly ten years to eat lasagne again. But one day I was game enough to try it again at a nice Italian restaurant. Now I love it, and I love making it.

Ricotta cheese is a funny thing for me, because I don’t mind the taste, but the texture is very off-putting. My family likes the ricotta filled ravioli with a tomato and garlic sauce, and even now I ask my mum to cook me up a little bit of spaghetti instead. Soggy, waterlogged ricotta is just not nice. However, in other forms, it is very tasty, and so versatile. It can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, from pasta to cupcakes, to just spread on nice crusty bread.

And as for spinach, do you know any child that likes spinach? I think I was mainly put off by the stigma that surrounds it, we didn’t have it at home very often and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now I cook with it often, and really enjoy it.

This lasagne marries the ricotta and spinach in a moist and tasty, yet not too heavy dish. Additions such as bacon or pine nuts would be excellent too. It’s hardly an original combination, I know, but this recipe is my own, and one of my first. I am looking forward to experimenting and developing more of my own recipes in the near future.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne

• ½ bunch silverbeet or 1 bunch English spinach
• 500g ricotta cheese
• ½ cup breadcrumbs
• 1 ½ tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
• 2 packets instant lasagne sheets
• mozzarella and parmesan cheese

White Sauce
• 80g butter
• 1/3 cup flour
• 600mL milk
• salt and pepper, to taste

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (390°F) and line a large baking dish with baking paper.
2. Blanch the spinach for 30 seconds, then drain and squeeze to remove excess liquid. Chop finely.
3. Place spinach in a bowl with ricotta, breadcrumbs and parsley and mix to combine. Set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, place the butter. When it is fully melted, stir in the flour, and when combined, add the milk. Whisk until it is smooth and starts to thicken, then reduce heat. Add salt and pepper. Do not let the sauce become too thick.
5. I like to pre-cook my lasagne sheets, even though the packets say it is not necessary. I use a large saucepan with salted, boiling water, cooking 2-3 lasagne sheets at a time for about 5 minutes.
6. Assemble the lasagne, with the lasagne sheets, a thin layer of the spinach and ricotta mixture, some of the white sauce and cheese. Continue this order, and finish with a decent amount of white sauce and cheese on top, with some cracked black pepper.
7. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your lasagne dish. Serve with salad.

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