Take the tomatoes out of lasagna

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

I have many favorite dishes, but they are only special if I don’t eat them too often. Once every couple of months seems like a good interval.

A case in point is the typical lasagna. Made with tomato sauce, it tastes very similar to a lot of other Italian dishes with red sauce. In fact, tomatoes and Italian food seem irrevocably linked, at least here in the United States. This wasn’t always the case.

Tomatoes, indigenous to South America, didn’t make their way to Italy until the middle of the 16th century. As a member of the nightshade family of poisonous plants, tomatoes were highly suspect as an edible. They didn’t become popular until the mid-19th century. If you visit Italy today, you will still find a varied cuisine that doesn’t always include tomatoes.

If you like the idea of a layered noodle dish, try a different type of lasagna. In lasagna bianca, the tomatoes are replaced by a bechamel sauce. The amount of cheese is reduced and replaced with a savory vegetable mixture. The resulting dish is a lighter version of the regular Italian-American classic.

Lasagna bianca is easy to prepare if you use frozen vegetables and oven-ready lasagna noodles. Through the years I have tried many types, but my preferred brand is Barilla. The noodles are thin and light, very similar to handmade lasagna sheets.

Lasagna Bianca

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli, thawed

3 teaspoons salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

Dash of freshly grated nutmeg

1 pound mozzarella, shredded

1 box oven-ready lasagna

Grease a 15-by-10-inch (or similar size) lasagna pan.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are soft. Add the spinach, broccoli, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and parsley. Cook over low heat until the liquid from the vegetables has evaporated. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir to make a smooth paste. Add the milk gradually. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and a dash of nutmeg.

To assemble the lasagna, coat the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of sauce and then place a layer of noodles. Next add a layer of sauce, half the vegetable mixture, and a layer of mozzarella. Repeat for the next layer. For the top layer, use only noodles, white sauce and cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and cook in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Let rest for five to 10 minutes before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.