Over at Jacob’s Well, my church community here in New Jersey, we all lend our individual skills to the greater whole. A part of our identity is “Life in Community.” Not only does this mean opening our arms to people in need of community, it also means sharing the responsibilities of that community. Of course, we can just show up, enjoy the service, and leave, but the knowledge that extending our efforts a little bit further enriches our identities as Christians and members of Jacob’s Well, seems to drive everyone to contribute in whatever way the can. It is a beautiful and transformative thing to see people sacrifice their time and assets (no matter how slim) to better our community. Each Sunday, in our home service, we share a lunch prepared and organized by families (or groups of friends) that volunteer to feed a whole houseful of people. For me, this is obviously an opporunity to utilize my particular skill set. Nevermind how much fun it was, albeit a challenge, to develop and execute a new recipe for more people than I’ve ever cooked for. It had to be something relatively simple to prepare and transport, inexpensive, but still impressive, and not too similar to past weeks’ meals. It came to me in a dream, LASAGNA ROLLS….with two sauces! Only problem was, I had never made lasagna rolls before. Was I really going to attempt something I had never done before and serve it to 50 people? Sure was! Needless to say, when it came time to pop them in the oven and serve ’em up, I was incredibly nervous…stomach-churning, sweaty palms nervous. Honestly, I could barely even taste the food when I finally sat down to eat, and I forgot to take pictures of the final product! But, the next day when I ate one of the three leftover rolls, I realized that I shouldn’t have worried at all! They came out pretty much exactly how I was hoping. If you decide try these out, remember that the recipe can easily be adjusted up or down and that any leftovers can be frozen and reheated in the oven. Here goes:
Frozen Chopped Spinach
Crushed Italian Tomatoes with Basil
Grated Parmesan Cheese (Yes, I used the cheap stuff here…c’mon it’s 50 people!)
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Begin by browning beef, over medium-high heat, in a pot large enough to fit all of the meat at once.
While the meat begins browning, chop some onion and add it to the pot.
Stir it all up and allow to cook for a few minutes, then mince up some garlic and add it in.
Stir to combine. Once the meat is browned, lower the heat to medium. While the meat continues to cook, you should defrost the spinach.
I do this by placing the spinach in a microwave safe bowl and heating on short (minute-long) intervals in the microwave and stirring it between each blast to ensure that it defrosts evenly. Once it is completely defrosted place on top of several layers of paper towels (you can use a kitchen towel, but I don’t have a washer, so paper towels work just fine), wrap the towels up around the spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. You may have to repeat this process several times. I had a very large bag of spinach, so I had to do this in batches.
Now, you can toss the spinach in with the meat. Liberally season the meat mixture with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
Stir to combine. The meat should be cooked through by this point, so you can taste it to check the seasoning.
At this point, you can bring your pasta water to a boil. For the amount of meat I made for the filling, I went through 3-4 boxes of lasagna noodles. Once the water comes to a boil, add a generous amount of kosher salt and add your pasta to the boiling water. Cook a little shy of al dente.
Remember to stir the pasta until it returns to a boil, to prevent sticking. Note: If making for a crowd, you may need to prepare your pasta in batches. You never want to overcrowd your pasta pot. If making in batches, drain cooked batches as they come out and place in a bowl covered with cool water.
Now, here is when you’ll have to put your multi-tasking skills to the test. As your pasta cooks, you want to prepare the cream sauce that you will combine with the meat to complete the filling. Begin by heating a large pot over medium-low heat. Add butter and flour and combine to make a roux.
Allow the flour to cook, but keep a good eye on it. You don’t want the roux to pick up any color since we are making a bechamel, which requires a white or blonde roux. Season with salt and pepper.
Add milk to the roux to reach desired consistency. You want the sauce to be pourable, but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If you think you’ve reached this stage, add a little more milk as it will thicken as it simmers and when you add the parmesan cheese.
Allow to simmer and thicken for a few minutes, then add several handfuls of parmesan cheese.
Stir to combine. Taste sauce to check seasoning. If you’re pleased, you can combine the meat mixture with the cheese sauce in a large bowl.
Make sure all of the meat is coated with the sauce.
Add just a little more parm, and set aside along with lasagna noodles.
In a small pot, combine tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, some salt and bring to a simmer.
Grab some fresh basil and finely slice into ribbons.
Remove tomato sauce from heat, and stir in the basil.
Spread a small amount of the tomato sauce in the bottom of your baking dish (I used a long disposable foil tray).
One by one, lay each lasagna noodle on a flat surface and spread a small spoonful of filling down the center, vertically.
Begin rolling from the end closest tou you, tucking in the filling as you go along.
Place rolls in the foil pan in a single layer.
Repeat filling process until your pan is full (I had to use a second, smaller pan to make 50 rolls).
Cover with a generous, but not excessive, amount of sauce (you want enough sauce so that when you bake it off, the pasta will finish cooking in it).
As I mentioned earlier, I forgot to snap a few pics, but at this point you should top with a healthy helping of shredded mozzarella cheese. You can bake the tray right away, or refrigerate or freeze it until ready to use. Bake at 400 degrees until heated through and cheese is melted and starting to brown. Hope you ENJOY…it’s really not as hard as it looks.