Lasagne Verdi con Pomodoro e Basilico

Green Lasagne with Tomatoes and Basil

Lasagne is one of the richest dishes in the Italian repertory, but it need not, indeed it ought not, ever be cumbersome. It is too often, in its transplanted versions, overloaded with an ill-matching combination of cheeses, vegetables, sausages, and meat. The key to successful lasagne is deftness, using the solid pasta strips as a base for a simple composition of ingredients that evoke the spirit of the season. In Italy, in the spring, one might use young, purple artichokes; in the fall, wild mushrooms; in the winter, a warmly nourishing Bolognese sauce. The recipe given here could be a parting salute to summer, a celebration of the ripeness of tomato and the poignancy of fresh basil.

Lasagne must be homemade to achieve the fine harmony of layer after delicate layer of pasta fused to its condiments. Of course one can make lasagne, as I am sure many will, utilizing packaged pasta from the supermarket. But those who do will have missed the point, as well as the pleasure.

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound whole-milk mozzarella
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 pounds fresh, ripe plum tomatoes
  • Spinach pasta made with 2 large eggs; half a 10-ounce package frozen leaf spinach, thawed; and about cups flour, as described
  • Salt
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons garlic chopped very fine
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • ½ pound boiled, unsmoked ham, cut into strips about inch wide and 2 inches long
  • A lasagne pan, 12 by 9 inches or its equivalent
  • ¼ cup fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs toasted to a nut brown in the oven

Method

  1. Shred the mozzarella using either a hand grater with large holes or a food processor fitted with a shredding disk. Put it into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, mix thoroughly, and set aside to steep.
  2. Wash the tomatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then put in the tomatoes. Drain after 1 minute. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, pull off their peel. Cut them in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and slice the halves lengthwise into narrow fillets about ¼ inch wide. Spread the fillets on the inside of a colander, place the colander over a plate, and set aside to drain.
  3. Make the pasta as directed. Do not roll it out too thin, but stop after you’ve passed it through the next to last setting on the pasta machine.
  4. Leave the strips as wide as they come from the machine, but shorten them to rectangles no more than 10 inches long.
  5. Place a bowl of cold water within easy reach of your burners and cover a section of your work counter with clean, dry cloth kitchen towels. The area should be large enough to accommodate later all the lasagne strips without overlapping.
  6. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and drop in 3 pasta strips. Cook for just seconds, until the water returns to a full boil. Retrieve the pasta with a slotted spoon or scoop and plunge it into the bowl of cold water. Pick up the strips with your hands, one at a time, and rinse them under cold running water, rubbing them as though they were cloth. Squeeze each strip gently to drain off excess water and lay them flat on the cloth towels, without overlapping. Repeat the operation with the remaining pasta strips. When all the strips have been done, pat them dry from above with a fresh towel.
  7. Turn on the oven to 425°.
  8. Wash the basil leaves in cold water, then pat them dry with kitchen towels. Tear them into 3 or 4 small pieces and put them in a bowl. Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic, cup of the grated Parmesan, and the ham strips. Sprinkle with salt and mix well.
  9. Place 2 small bowls near the lasagne pan. In one bowl put the remaining olive oil and set a strainer over the other.
  10. Drop 2 or 3 pasta strips at a time into the bowl containing the olive oil. Make sure they are coated with oil on both sides, then transfer them to the strainer over the other bowl, to shed excess oil. Line the bottom of the lasagne pan with the coated pasta, leaving no gaps, and trimming where necessary so it fits neatly without overlaps.
  11. Spread enough of the tomato and mozzarella mixture over the pasta in the pan to cover lightly. Sprinkle with some of the bread crumbs.
  12. Cover with another layer of oil-coated pasta, then some more of the tomato and mozzarella mixture, and sprinkle again with some bread crumbs. Repeat the operation, building up layers of pasta and tomato and mozzarella filling until you have used up all the pasta or all the filling. The top layer must be of pasta, over which you will sprinkle the remaining cup of grated Parmesan, olive oil, and bread crumbs.
  13. Place the pan in the uppermost level of the preheated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top forms a golden brown crust. Allow to settle for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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