Today’s Paper Plate du Jour is a vegetarian lasagna roll up that is simple to make. It is a satisfying comfort food without being heavy. About 16 years ago, I took a class at the gym called “Think Light” which focused on weight loss and real cooking. This is an adaptation of the recipe from that program. This week I have been revisiting some of those recipes since I ate my way through 10 funerals and Production Baking class last year. While I am not imposing marshall refrigerator law in my house, I am looking for lower calorie versions of foods my kids will eat that keep well in the refrigerator or freezer. The lasagna roll up has become a family favorite because it can be made quickly. In fact, I refuse to make traditional lasagna after having made this for so many years. It is a good way to sneak in some healthy spinach and red cabbage for those wouldn’t normally eat those powerhouse veggies!
There is only one time that this dish didn’t turn out perfectly for me. Now it makes me laugh, but I wanted to cry when it happened! First, I have to admit that I am an adrenaline junkie – especially when it comes to doing something a little out of my comfort zone with food. I am absolutely fearless in this realm. Second confession – I’m not fond of Italian American food at all, except these roll ups. Last fall I was interviewing and auditioning for the very talented and accomplished Executive Chef Neil Cusamano at Vince and Joe’s Gourmet Market. It is an upscale Italian market with a heavy catering volume. I decided to do the roll ups with grilled chicken and fresh green beans poached in orange juice. Yes, I know, poaching green beans in an acid? Crazy and not good for color, but the flavor is fantastic to me. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was using fresh pasta without blanching it first. As I said, I don’t do Italian – but I did make pasta fresh in class.
During that class, I must have heard something wrong because as I was making my sauce from scratch for Chef Neil (what I was thinking), all of the sudden I thought back to that class. I remembered someone telling me that if you are using fresh pasta in a lasagna, don’t bother blanching it. Pressed for time and nervous beyond belief, I thought it would save me some time. BIG horrendous error!! While the flavor was there, it looked horrible! For this reason, I have included the stock photo from “Think Light” and my own photo of how it should look. I copped to my mistakes while Chef Neal was critiquing my work – just like on “Chopped!” He was happy that I knew what my mistakes were and why I had the end result. It was an awesome experience. I did get offered the job on the spot, however I was offered another opportunity.
I can say that experiences like these are crucial to growing as a cook. I am always grateful to any chef who graciously opens the doors and lets my novice self in to cook in an unknown kitchen. The point is to be unafraid of failing in the kitchen and extend your food knowledge from your failures. Someday maybe you’ll be brave enough like me to share kitchen misadventures in a blog with total strangers who can laugh with you about it! 😉
Here is the link to the “Think Light” program: www.thinklight.com
Yield: 12 roll ups
Portion: 2 roll ups/serving
- 10 oz. Fresh baby spinach
- 1 Small pkg. button (or any type) mushrooms, diced
- *Shredded red cabbage – I cut two thin slices from the head and chop
- 16 oz. Fat free cottage cheese
- 1 oz. Shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
- 1/8 c. Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 12 lasagna noodles
- Marinara/Spaghetti Sauce – just enough to coat the bottom of the pan and pour a little on top – see “Think Light” photo ( I make my own sauce but have had great results with store bought products also, so use what you like!)
1. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with cooking spray. You may also use a white wine or red wine vinegar if you like to coat the pan. Heat and add mushrooms. Let mushrooms cook a few minutes.
2. Add fresh baby spinach on top of the mushrooms, wilt in batches if needed, adding more spinach as there is room in the pan.
3. Add red cabbage and cook until cabbage is translucent but not soggy.
4. Remove mixture and strain in colander, pressing down to push out any remaining liquid. Allow to cool while boiling pasta.
5. Boil lasagna noodles al dente, not until they are puffed up and mushy. They should have a little firmness to them.
6. Drain pasta, but don’t rinse. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, place them flat on a cutting board or other clean working surface.
7. In a mixing bowl, place the spinach, mushroom and cabbage mixture and add the cottage, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Mix just until well incorporated.
8. Spread mixture sparingly onto the flat noodles. Roll end to end and place in baking dish that has been coated with a little sauce on the bottom. Continue until all lasagna noodles are rolled and in the pan.
9. Pour sauce in a line down the middle of the row of noodles. Place in preheated 350-degree oven. Cook for approximately 10 minutes.
*Red cabbage is not one of the original ingredients, but it works well in this dish instead of shallots or minced onion and garlic. I find it gives a nice twist to the roll ups.