I regularly dream up recipes in my head, and the process goes something like this: I think of something I’d like to eat, or a meal problem I’d like a solution for (eg kids lunches, mid week dinners, cocktail hour…) then I go over and over an idea in my head until I imagine how I might cook it, and how it might turn out. Then I road test it. More often than not, it fails the first time. Often I’m too dispirited to try again. So I move on.
I had this idea of a super easy lasagne – with no precooking of sauces or fillings – made in a takeaway foil container for a quick mid week kids dinner, or a meal to take to the footy, on a picnic, or a road trip, or perhaps even for an older child’s school lunch.
For no particular reason, although probably the fact that I intended this dish to be something you would take out with you, I wanted it to be vegetarian. I tried a version with paper thin blanched vegetables. It didn’t work – the veges were still hard and the rest of the lasagne soft. I could have steamed the vegies of course, but then some prep would have been required.
I persisted, determined that my simple notion of a lasagne that takes almost no preparation and can be taken straight from the oven and out the front door was really really achievable.
I came up with an alternative (baby spinach and pesto) and tried again. But I used too much mozzarella, and it was too chewy. Take three: mozzarella this time with ricotta. Nailed it! She smiles smugly.
While it goes against my grain to buy store bought pesto and tomato sauce, I have to acknowledge that from time to time, cutting corners is better than no home cooked meal at all.
The really great thing about this lasagne is that it takes roughly 10 minutes to assemble (although the cooking time is about the same for a regular lasagne). Is it as good as a traditional lasagne, that took you an hour and a half to prepare the sauces for, half an hour to assemble, and another half an hour of cleaning up? No, of course it isn’t. But in the same way that a Saturday afternoon at a VFL game is no match for a blockbuster at the MCG, you’d still be much happier with it than many of the alternatives that might have been available to you.
With this dish, all the prep is done at the supermarket (or market) – in addition to the ingredients below, you will need to get those little aluminium food containers with the silver lined cardboard lids from a supermarket.
What you will NOT need however are: a knife, a chopping board, saucepans, or an argument over the dishes 🙂
- 1 tub pesto – use homemade if you already have some, or get some from a deli or supermarket
- 1 tub of fresh mozzarella (bocconcini – same thing), drained
- 1 tub of ricotta cheese
- grated parmesan cheese
- 1 packet/bag english spinach leaves, washed
- 1 jar of the best napolitana sauce you can find
- 1 packet dried lasagne sheets
- nutmeg for grating
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Have all your ingredients on the benchtop, then follow these steps.
1. Put a dash of water and a drizzle of olive oil in the bottom of the foil container.
2. Place a lasagne sheet on the bottom – you will probably have to break it a bit to fit it in, just do the best you can.
3. Spoon some tomato sauce over the lasagne sheet.
4. Add some spinach leaves torn up with your hands, just enough to make one layer
5. Add torn up bocconcini balls (no more than 2 per layer, even less)
6. Spoon a few dollops of pesto around the cheese
7. Blob some ricotta blob over
8. Grate parmesan cheese over the top
Repeat Steps 2. to 8. for two more layers.
Finish with a 4th layer of lasagne, and this time just smear some ricotta over the top to completely cover, and grate some parmesan and a little nutmeg.
If it looks dry around the sides, add a little water, but not too much. It shouldn’t come up to more than half way, but you should be able to see a bit of liquid in the bottom.
Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Take the foil off and check. Stick a sharp knife in it, and if it doesn’t feel soft, or if there are dry bits of lasagne around the top and sides, re-cover, put back in and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes. Remove the foil and place the cardboard lid on and seal. Any still firm bits on the top should steam and soften as it cools down under the lid.
A few tips:
- when buying the ingredients from the supermarket, grab some pizza bases and use leftover ingredients for a quick midweek pizza.
- if your kids are horrid little carnivores or will not sully their mouths with a verdant vegetable, you could make this with some ham slices instead of spinach.