May 5, 2007

Turkey Sausage is the New Black!

This lasagna was a small triumph for me. I’ve made quite a few pans of lasagna in my time, but this was truly one of the best. The turkey sausage made it nice and spicy, but it wasn’t overloaded with meat the way some lasagna becomes. The sauce I made had a little spice to it, too, and the whole thing was a well balanced combination of richness, spiciness and cheesy goodness without being greasy or heavy.

I was inspired both by Ina Garten’s recipe for Turkey Lasagna and an Epicurious recipe including a spicy tomato sauce. Garten’s lasagna called for goat cheese mixed in with the ricotta but, while I love goat cheese, I didn’t have any on hand. I did have some cream cheese, and since I had tried that before with great results, I stirred some of that in with the ricotta for added creaminess. I find this unnecessary with fresh whole milk ricotta, but supermarket brands are pretty bland, so I like the rich taste that cream cheese gives the filling. Really, what isn’t made better with cream cheese?

I don’t know if all of you out there have an opinion about this or not, but I used frozen spinach in this lasagna, and it’s the second or third time I’ve done so, and I really think it tastes nasty. Most of the time, I don’t mind frozen spinach in baked dishes, but from now on I’m going to cook down fresh spinach. I thought it gave the lasagna almost a bitter flavor, especially when reheated the next day. Any thoughts?

This lasagna reminds of the way I like my drinks – lighter, in the sense that the proportions are kept the same, but in a smaller amount, not weak, in the sense that less alcohol is diluted in the same amount of tonic, for example. Everything in a typical lasagna is here and it is rich tasting, but it’s also lighter than most. So, in my roundabout way, I’m trying to say that this is a meal you can also feel good about eating.

Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna with Spicy Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Ina Garten and

The Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 6-oz can tomato paste Cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until transluscent. Sweat the onions but don’t let them brown, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and dried herbs. Stir frequently and cook 2-3 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, stir to break it up and cook about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and a splash of red wine, if you have some on hand. Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

The Filling:

1 ¼ lb spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed
9 traditional lasagna noodles, or 12 barilla no-cook noodles
1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
3-4 oz cream cheese, about ½ cup
1 10-oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed, or 2 cups cooked fresh spinach
1 ¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cook the sausage in a non-stick pan over medium heat, breaking the links into small chunks with a spatula, until no longer pink. Remove the sausage to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, ¾ cup parmesan cheese and the egg. Season with black pepper.

In a 9x13 baking dish, place about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom. Layer 3 or 4 lasagna noodles on the bottom, depending on their size. Cover the noodles with half of the ricotta mixture and half of the sausage and spinach. Sprinkle lightly with mozzarella. Ladle some sauce over the top and make another layer by first placing the noodles down, then the rest of the ricotta, sausage and spinach. Sprinkle with more cheese and ladle on a bit more sauce, reserving plenty of sauce for the top. Add the last of the noodles on top and cover generously with sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is nicely browned and lasagna is bubbling and hot.


Katie said...

Could it be the brand of frozen spinach?
I put it in lots of stuff and have never noticed an 'off' taste - but, then we love spinach and eat lots! OTOH - fresh is always's that for ambivalence?
I like the bit of spice you've added. And the photo's great!

mooncrazy said...

Megan, we've tagged you for a meme, but couldn't find your e-mail.

Megan said...

Katie - You're probably right - maybe it was the brand, or it could have been old?

Mooncrazy - Thanks for the tag and for letting me know my email isn't up there like it used to be, which I should have noticed a long time ago!
I'm flattered to be a blog that makes you think =)

Lisa said...

Hey, just FYI, I'm linking to your post today, because one of our local farmers has spinach and -- get this -- goat cheese ricotta available this weekend. Perfecto!