Vegetarian Lasagna Goes Green – NYTimes.com

By David Tanis, Posted March 13 2015

Lasagna, that many-layered marvel, is a dish that shifts with the seasons. Like fashion, it comes in different hues and textures that match the weather.

Cold-weather lasagna may sport tawny wild mushrooms or burnt-umber butternut squash. Or there is the hearty and filling lasagna alla Bolognese, oozing with a brick-red meaty ragù. A summer lasagna may feature vivid ripe tomatoes and basil. But the color for a springtime lasagna is undisputably green.

Spring greens range from pale to dark, but whatever their intensity, they are emblematic of the season. Leaves and shoots are finally pushing up from the earth. We eat them with glee, not only for their life-affirming and tonic qualities, but also because they are delicious.

Spinach, dandelion, mustard and turnip greens are all wonderful lightly steamed or simply wilted in olive oil. A whisper of garlic and a suspicion of crushed red pepper complement but do not mask their flavor.

I don’t like to play favorites, but my present obsession is for broccoli rabe, also known as rapini or cima di rapa, which has a particularly addictive mix of bitter and sweet. Italian cooks love to use it because it marries well with fennel sausage, pancetta and roast pork, and is delectable as a meatless side dish, with cannellini beans, and in pastas or soups.

Chinese cooks revere greens, too. In Chinese cuisine, similar mustard greens (like gai lan) are popular, so if I can’t find broccoli rabe, a trip to Chinatown solves the problem. A wide assortment of greens is always available there, beautifully trimmed and displayed. Some varieties have buds beginning to show delicious yellow flowers.

For this vegetarian lasagna, I layer lemony ricotta with a creamy béchamel sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. I could have made tender fresh pasta but opted instead for dry lasagna noodles, trusting that the filling would provide the texture I was after.

To get even more flavor from the greens, I use them two ways: cooked and chopped, and swirled with garlic and olive oil to make an assertive pesto. Success: The lasagna bursts with lively broccoli rabe flavor, yet it is exceptionally light.

Let’s shed our bulky coats and recalibrate our appetites, celebrating spring as we do. This time of year, lasagna needn’t be heavy; it just needs to be green.

Recipes: Broccoli Rabe Lasagna | More Lasagna Recipes

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