A guaranteed crowd-pleaser: Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms, and artichokes

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Given that I am a total misanthrope, it comes as a surprise to some how much I love entertaining. Ever since I figured out how to boil water without setting the house on fire (somewhere in my early twenties), I’ve taken ridiculous pleasure in having my nearest and dearest over for a home-cooked meal. The current flaw in this pleasure: in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen, it’s hard to manufacture a meal for more than, say, four people at a time. As such, I am sure you can imagine my initial panic when Bench and I decided to have a dinner party for eight; fortunately for everyone, I had this recipe tucked in my back pocket.

A riff on traditional white-slash-green lasagna, this particular recipe gets a little extra heft from sauteed mushrooms and a whole lot of personality from minced artichoke bottoms (I tried to make this happen with artichoke hearts, but…just…no. Texturally, they just didn’t do what I wanted them to; they were too flighty and fibrous where I wanted solid and defined) and about thirty pounds of garlic. Though you can do everything The Hard Way (make your own pesto, wash and chop adult spinach, grate your own parmesan–none of which, seriously, I would have done if I’d known the party was going to be switched at the last minute from Saturday to Friday; totally unnecessary when you’re pressed for time), you really don’t have to: premade pesto is an excellent way to shave off some prep time, and bagged, prewashed baby spinach makes it almost TOO easy. You can probably even use those lasagna noodles that don’t require pre-boiling (which I, being a cowardly sort, have never tried) and you can definitely use pre-grated cheese.

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I love serving this at parties for several reasons: it’s delicious (obviously), it’s impressive, it’s easy to assemble, vegetarians will eat it, it multiplies well, and you can do it at a leisurely pace in advance or you can make it in a hurry on a Friday night. Basically, it’s my go-to, no fail, always appropriate, guaranteed-to-elicit-queries-for-the-recipe party superstar. My repertoire holds no equal. I hope it’s the same for you.

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Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms and artichokes

a little oil for the pan
about 16 lasagna noodles
6 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, finely minced
15-oz (usually 1 can) artichoke bottoms, minced
2 lbs. (4 cups) ricotta cheese
1 cup pesto
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or minced walnuts)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 head garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh black pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 lbs. mozzarella cheese, grated

  1. Preheat your oven to 350; slice the top off the head of garlic, drizzle it with olive oil and wrap it loosely in foil. Bake until soft and fragrant (about one hour) (Note: if you are preparing the lasagna in advance, this would be a good time to turn off your oven. If you are NOT preparing this in advance, roast the garlic while you’re prepping the rest of the filling and keep the oven hot). Once it’s cool enough to touch, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and mash it into a paste. Set aside.
  2. Set a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the lasagna noodles for 4-5 minutes (until tender but still al dente). Drain them and lay them out flat on foil or parchment while you get the filling ready.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a large pan; over medium-low heat, saute the mushrooms with a bit of salt until they have released all their liquid, and then re-absorbed it (about 3-4 minutes). Add the artichoke bottoms and saute for 2-3 minutes more; add the minced garlic and saute for two more minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Mix together: ricotta, artichoke-mushroom mixture, pine nuts, roasted garlic paste, pesto, pine nuts and spinach. Set aside.
  5. Lightly oil a 9×13 pan. Line the bottom with one layer of noodles, then spread 1/3 of the filling over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Add another layer of noodles, filling and cheese. And once more.
  6. Bake for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees; if the top starts to scorch, cover it lightly with foil.
In entertaining, lasagna, pesto

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