Spinach and Asparagus Lasagna Roll-Ups

When I was home in Vancouver over the summer, we had my sister’s violin teacher Adrian and his wife Paige over for dinner. I had found this untraditional lasagna recipe and was dying to test it out myself, but of course no recipe I touch goes unchanged, so we made a gluten-free, vegetarian version to accommodate our various diners’ dietary needs. We even made our own tomato sauce from scratch!

The results were undeniably scrumptious. We made a double recipe and had enough to feed the five of us, plus leftovers for my mom, sister, and I for the following two days (as my dad was away for work, he missed out). Adrian and Paige emailed us the next day asking for the recipe. I have been dreaming of it ever since.

To prepare the lasagna, you must first pre-cook the lasagna noodles and roast the asparagus before assembling each roll-up. It is a lengthy process, but it’s well worth it.

I think of this recipe as the perfect solution for singles looking for solo meals. You could whip up a batch of lasagna roll-ups and freeze them in individual portions, such that the rather laborious cooking process actually yields six or seven meals. That’s not a bad haul, and it’s much easier to package and freeze into individual portions than a regular lasagna!

Spinach and Asparagus Lasagna Roll-Ups

1 package regular or gluten-free lasagna pasta
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
500 ml ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
5 tbsp basil pesto
1 egg
1 bunch asparagus
1/2 jar tomato sauce, or about 1 1/2 cups fresh tomato sauce
shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1. Set a large pot of water to boil. Preheat your oven to 400º.

2. Wash your asparagus and trim the wooden ends off. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle olive oil over them. Then, use your hands to toss the asparagus and distribute the oil over them. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the asparagus, then place them in the oven to roast for approximately 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Once the water is boiling, place the lasagna noodles in the water and partially cook them, according to the package instructions. Drain the noodles, then place them in a bowl of lukewarm water. This will prevent them from sticking to one another or drying out as you assemble your lasagna roll-ups.

4. While the pasta is cooking and the asparagus is roasting, thaw and drain the spinach (you can defrost it in the microwave). In a small frying pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Chop the onion and garlic and cook in the hot oil for 5 to 10 minutes, until softened.

5. In a bowl, combine the ricotta or cottage cheese, the pesto, the cooked onion mixture, and the thawed spinach. Mix thoroughly, then taste it and add more pesto if necessary. Season with salt and fresh pepper, mix and taste again. When you are happy with the seasoning, crack an egg into the bowl and stir it into the mixture. This will help hold the filling together.

6. Once the asparagus is cooked, turn the oven temperature down to 350º. Cut the asparagus into pieces approximately as wide as the lasagna pasta.

You are now ready to begin assembling your roll-ups!

7. In your oven dish, spoon about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce and spread it to cover the bottom of the dish evenly.

8. On a cutting board, lay out a single layer of lasagna pasta pieces. Spoon a few spoonfuls of cheese mixture onto each piece and spread it out so that the filling is approximately 1/2 an inch thick. Place 5 or 6 asparagus pieces on the filling so that they are spread out. Sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese over the length of the noodle. Then, carefully roll the individual pasta piece into a spiral and place it in the dish with the “seam” of the roll facing the bottom of the dish, to ensure it will not come apart during the cooking process. Repeat the filling process with all your noodles.

Sometimes a picture says a thousand words -- this picture illustrates the process I just described above. I rolled while my mom snapped some pictures. You can see how we arranged the roll-ups next to one another so that they could support one another in the dish. Like friends!

9. Once all of your roll-ups are complete, cover them with the remainder of the tomato sauce. Be quite liberal here, as the sauce will prevent the pasta from drying out as it bakes.

This is not enough sauce. You need MORE!!! (See the other pasta in the background there? That's because our double recipe filled two of these dishes!)

10. Sprinkle the top of the pasta roll-ups with mozzarella cheese and freshly cracked pepper, then cover the dish with its lid or with aluminum foil.

11. Bake the lasagna in the oven according to the package instructions (usually around 30 or 40 minutes). Then, remove the lasagna from the oven and allow the roll-ups to sit, covered, for approximately 10 minutes before serving.

12. Serve with a salad and enjoy the fruits of your labour!

The roll-ups, adequately sauced and fresh out of the oven! Can you say yum!? I wish we had a picture of them on a plate...

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