In the Philippines, no party menu is complete without a noodle dish. And pasta is always a crowd pleaser. I’ve been alternating baked macaroni and lasagna with meat sauce for as long as I can remember — for the girls’ birthdays and school Christmas parties, for family gatherings, for potluck affairs, for unplanned get-togethers…
This time, something new. Instead of arranging the lasagna noodles in alternating layers with meat sauce and cheese sauce, I rolled them up. The filling consists of two layers — one with cheese and spinach, and the other with lots of meat. It’s not a new idea. There are so many versions that popped up on the web for the past year and many of them really look good. This is my version which integrates a copious amount of spinach in the dish.
Except for the far prettier look, what has lasagna roll-ups got over the usual layered kind? If served for a crowd, the roll-ups are less messy. One rolled lasagna per person and there’s no need to cut through the layers of pasta, meat, sauce and cheese. The serving dish doesn’t look like a typhoon had gone through it after two persons have cut through and taken their portions.
Is the preparation more involved? Not really. I have to admit though that it can messy. And lifting the rolled and filled noodles to arrange them in the baking dish without anything falling off can give you an adrenalin rush — from fear. I messed up once but, after that, it was smooth sailing.
A few tips to make the process less scary:
First. After cooking the lasagne, drain then lay out on a rack to dry without the noodles losing their shape. You really want to keep them flat.
Second. The meat sauce should be very chunky — almost dry, in fact. To make handling easier, chill the meat sauce for a couple of hours to allow the fats to firm up. That way, there is no liquid oil or fat running all over as you spread the meat on the noodles.
Third. This dish has to be baked COVERED. Otherwise, the edges of the noodles will harden.
Fourth. See the following posts:
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Spread a couple of tablespoonfuls of tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking pan that should be large enough to hold all the rolled lasagna noodles.
Stir together one cup of shredded cheese and the chopped spinach.
Lay a lasagna noodle flat. Spread the cheese-spinach mixture on the noodle followed by the chilled chunky meat sauce.
Roll the lasagna and immediately move to the baking tray.
Repeat until all the noodles have been filled and rolled.
Spoon the remaining tomato sauce on top, around and between the rolled noodles.
Top each rolled noodle with shredded cheese.
Bake, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the meat sauce is heated through, the tomato sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.
Don’t forget to sprinkle with basil before serving.