Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lasagna Roll-Ups for a crowd

The invitations are in the mail and now you've got to figure out what to feed the crowd.

It has to be something you can make ahead of time. It has to be something you can heat without standing over a stove at the last minute. And most importantly, it has to be something delicious.

These lasagna rolls are the perfect solution.

 I mean, who doesn't love lasagna? 

(OK, maybe they're not for the gluten intolerant folks.)

The key to enjoying your own party is getting things done ahead of time as much as possible. For this party, held last Saturday afternoon to celebrate my son's engagement and to introduce my cousins to my daughter-in-law-to-be (oh, how I love the sound of that), I made the marinara sauce on Wednesday.

I boiled the lasagna noodles and assembled the rolls on Thursday. If possible, I don't like to wait until the day before a party to do everything since something unexpected always happens -- or I get a bad night's sleep and can barely pour a bowl of cereal the next morning, much less make 60 lasagna rolls.

Besides, on the day before the party there were plenty of other things to do, like set the table, arrange the flowers, roast the peppers, prep the meat, wash the lettuce, enjoy a massage, etc.

(Just kidding about the massage part unfortunately). 

It may seem daunting, but once I got going, it got a lot easier and went a lot faster. Working alone, it took me about 2 1/2 hours to make five pans of lasagna rolls, with 12 in each pan. If you had someone helping you, it would not only be quicker, but more fun too.

The harder part was figuring out not only where to store all these, but also how to find room to cook all of them the day of the party, while roasting about twelve pork tenderloins too!

After boiling the noodles (actually undercook them by a minute or two, since they'll bake again in the oven), spread a little of the filling along the strip, then dab with some tomato sauce. Leave a little space at one end of the strip, because some of the filling with bulge forward and fill in the gap at the end when you start rolling.

These were meatless but you could easily add meat, either to the sauce or to the filling. I have a few vegetarians in the family, so I kept this batch meatless, adding some spinach for more flavor and bulk. 

I actually prefer the meatless marinara here, because the lasagna noodles soak up a lot of the sauce, and a lighter, looser sauce means you won't end up with a pan full of cooked lasagna noodles that have absorbed all the sauce.

I did actually have another batch that included with the ricotta mixture, some leftover cooked and ground chicken from homemade chicken broth. But that's for another post. My friend Claudia, in fact, just posted a recipe for lasagna rolls using chicken and a b├ęchamel sauce instead of marinara sauce. 

Place the rolls in aluminum foil pans for easy clean up. Spread some marinara sauce on the bottom and top of the rolls. You can stop here if you prefer no mozzarella and parmesan on top. Make sure you cover with more aluminum foil and they'll keep well in the refrigerator for four or five days.

I opted for a sprinkling of cheese on top and some minced basil too.

 Of course, they look more attractive served in a nice casserole.

 I wish I had thought to take a photo of a whole tray full of lasagna rolls as they were taken from the oven, but I was too busy getting the other food on the table, not to mention the fact that people were starting to dig in before I had time to reach for my camera.

But here's a cross section of an individual one for you.

 If you're wondering whether these freeze well, the answer is "yes," but as with all things, fresh is better.

Still, that didn't keep me from tucking some in the freezer for those nights when I don't feel like cooking. If you do freeze them, just make sure you defrost them overnight, or allow A LOT of extra time in the oven.

The lasagna rolls turned out to be a huge hit with my cousins and other family members, including the engaged young couple front and center.

Congratulations you two. 

Lasagna Roll-Ups for a crowd

(makes about 60)

This recipe can easily be cut in half, or in thirds, to make smaller amounts

3 1-lb. boxes dried lasagna 

2 3-lb. containers ricotta cheese

6 cups grated mozzarella cheese

2 cups grated parmesan cheese

6 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, drained

6 eggs, slightly beaten

2 T. salt

2 t. black pepper

1/2 t. grated nutmeg

-homemade marinara sauce - you'll need about two quarts of sauce for this amount of lasagna roll ups

-extra mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions, undercooking them by a minute or two. Drain and rinse with cold water to keep them from sticking to each other.

In a large bowl, mix the mozzarella, parmesan, drained chopped spinach, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Blend thorough. 

Spread the lasagna noodles out on a cookie sheet and place some of the cheese mixture along each length. Dab with a few dribbles of tomato sauce and roll up.

Spread a light layer of tomato sauce in a casserole, then place the roll-ups on the sauce. Spread a little more sauce on top, then sprinkle with a small amount of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour-45 minutes or until bubbly and cooked through.

If you're storing in the refrigerator, bring them out about an hour before baking to let them come to room temperature before placing in the oven.

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