So here’s the thing… I am not a huge fan of tomato sauce. I prefer a white pizza to one drenched in tomato sauce, even a really good one, and I will always opt for a pasta with a sauce that is not red. So these lasagna rolls spoke to me because they have spinach and pesto, two things I love, and the béchamel sauce that serves as the gravy is decidedly white. To me, it compliments these yummy noodle roll-ups rather than competes with them. And because each serving is individually rolled up with just the right amount of filling, it takes a lot less time to bake this dish than your traditional deep dish lasagna.
Spinach and Pesto Lasagna Rolls
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 large egg
2 cups whole milk ricotta
One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup store-bought pesto (I made my own)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Crushed red pepper flakes, optional
Position an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the lasagna noodles 1 minute longer than the package directions for al dente. The pasta should be tender enough that it will roll without cracking. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and is the consistency of a thin gravy, 6 to 8 minutes. Allow the bechamel sauce to cool slightly.
Beat the egg in a large bowl and then stir in the ricotta, spinach, 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the pesto, a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir the remaining 1/2 cup pesto into the slightly cooled bechamel sauce.
Brush a 13- by 9- inch baking dish with oil. Spread 1/4 cup of the pesto-bechamel sauce on to the bottom of the dish.
Lay half of the cooked lasagna noodles on a clean work surface and spread 1/3 cup of the ricotta mixture evenly over each. Starting with a short end, roll each noodle up. As you make the rolls, transfer them to the prepared baking dish seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture. Spoon the remaining pesto-bechamel sauce over the lasagna rolls and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Cover with foil and bake until the rolls are heated through and the sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the cheese is browned on top, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper, if using, and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
I served it with a caprese salad which, truth be told, was too much cheese for my liking. I would have preferred a green salad to accompany these lasagna rollups. But Eliza was home for a visit and she loves my caprese salad and requested it, so that’s what we had. Some garlic bread rounded out the meal. (Actually, some pumpkin bread pudding rounded out the meal… that recipe will be shared soon.)