Today is my birthday, and for years, that meant I got to eat ribs and birthday cake.
You know how much I love a good tradition.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to fulfill this particular tradition over the past few years because I don’t live with my parents anymore, who are the special earth angels who would make me that heavenly dinner year in and year out.
I’m currently on a flight to a wedding in Atlanta, but I’m thinking next year is the year I can bring that succulent dinner back into my life, only this time I’d make that meal for my friends.
But since today is a still a special day, I wanted to share a new version I made of another family classic – white lasagna. I’ve mentioned our Christmas Eve lasagna at least once and today I bring you the loophole to let us make it twice a year.
This came about because I had a surplus of lasagna sheets taking up precious room in my pantry and the time came for me to just get rid of them. Twist my arm, ya know?
I could have made our perfect winter white lasagna, but it is quite heavy. Though this spring version is admittedly still very heavy, the spring vegetables I’ve added brighten and lighten it up just enough to make it acceptable in the still cool days of early spring.
Sitting and waiting with a St. Germain cocktail. ^
When I went shopping for the ingredients, the farmer’s market was still pretty bare. I got the leeks and pea shoots there, and the sausage and eggs. I think that by now, you’ll be able to find asparagus and maybe even peas there. And if you’re lucky like we used to be when we were in New Jersey, you may even get your hands on some fresh, salty, still-warm mozzarella; and if you do, make sure you help yourself to a sliver or two as soon as you get home, because it doesn’t get much better than that.
Now I’m very close to landing and even that much closer to birthday drinks, so excuse me! It may not be ribs tonight, but I’m looking forward to whatever delectable treat Atlanta brings me for my birthday dinner!
Serves: 6-8 people
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
A generous ½ cup of diced leeks
A pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups milk (I use a combination of skim and whole milk because that’s what I always have on hand, but use whatever kind you like)
16 oz ricotta
A handful or two of peashoots, roughly chopped
Zest of ½ a lemon
Juice of ½ a lemon
A generous pinch of kosher salt
A less generous pinch of freshly ground pepper
For the rest:
Butter or oil, to grease pan
1 pound of fresh lamb sausage
A drizzle of olive oil
3 smashed garlic cloves
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1 inch slices
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced or torn into pieces
Grated parmesan or pecorino – as much as you’d like to add
Lasagna sheets (I use the kind you don’t need to cook beforehand and you’ll need about 1/3 or ½ a box)
Parsley to garnish
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, make the béchamel. Over medium heat, melt the butter and add the leeks. Cook them down, stirring often, until they’re translucent, 4-5 minutes. Next, add the flour and whisk (important!) it until all of the flour is absorbed and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. Now you can add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and whisk again for a minute. Finally, add the milk in a steady stream, whisking the whole time (even more important this time!). Cook until thickened, which can take up to 8 or 10 minutes. Do not let the béchamel come to a full boil, but a few bubbles are ok. Set aside, off the heat, until assembling.
- In a medium bowl, make the ricotta mixture. Add the ricotta, the peashoots, the zest and juice of half a lemon, the eggs, and salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside until assembling.
- In a large 12 inch sauté pan, add a light drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. While the pan heats up, add the fresh sausage, removed from the casing. Start mashing up the sausage with a wooden spoon to break it up as best you can. Once it’s on it’s way to being browned, add the three smashed garlic cloves. Keep cooking on the stove until the sausage is fully cooked and the garlic is a bit brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon to retain some of the juices. From here, you can add the sausage and garlic to a food processor to break down into very small bits, or you can use your hands to break it all up a bit. Do whichever you prefer and set aside until assembling.
- In the same sauté pan, also over medium heat and retaining the sausage juices, add a bit more olive oil if needed, and add the asparagus. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes and add the peas. Cook until they seem tender, seasoning with salt and pepper if need be, and take off the heat. Add to the sausage mixture.
- Heat your oven to 375.
- Grease a casserole dish (with dimensions 9×5 of similar) with butter or olive oil and begin layering.
- You’re going to make three layers. I like to begin with a very light layer of béchamel (light because you’re still going to want 3 layers out of that). Once you have that spread around as best you can, add a layer of noodles. Break and lasagna sheets to fill in the gaps. Next add a 1/3 of the remaining béchamel, then scatter a 1/3 of the sausage/vegetable as evenly as you can, then scatter over a 1/3 of the mozzarella/pecorino. Finish with dollops of a 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. Starting with the lasagna layer, repeat two times.
- Once the lasagna is finished being layered, top with a little more pecorino if you have it, and maybe some decorative uncooked asparagus if you have leftover spears. Then pop it into the oven for 20 minutes. If it looks like it needs a little more time, give it another 5-10. You can also turn on the broiler after 20 minutes to crisp the top for a minute or two. If so, keep your eye on it. Once out of the oven, garnish with parsley.
- Let it rest for about ten minutes, then slice up, serve, and dig in. Have a special day with your special spring lasagna.