I really admire a beautifully and elegantly wrapped package. Perhaps it’s because I, myself, am absolutely abysmal at wrapping, and couldn’t wrap my way around a paper box to save my life. Things start out well enough, but as the wrapping progresses—yikes! Crooked creases here, little tears there, tape plastered everywhere to hold it all together…argh! Oh…OK, it’s not THAT bad. I have gotten better over the years. Now I try to just take my time, making the creases as even as possible, carefully folding the edges over so they stay smooth; but still, my finished product ends up looking a bit like a gleeful child had their well-intentioned way with the wrapping process rather than a grown woman. This is all to my chagrin, of course. I mean, an attractive, well-wrapped package makes the gift that is contained within that much more appealing, doesn’t it? It’s like a little preview, in a way. In all honesty, I suffer from a touch of “wrapping envy” whenever I see a package cleanly and meticulously covered in a festive paper, sides folded neatly over with perfect corners, and barely-seen tape holding it almost invisibly together. Oh, well. What I do have some confidence in, at least, is that my actual gifts are always thought out; that what is within the box, the package, is meant to bring joy and happiness, perhaps even a little surprise to the one receiving it. And that’s what counts, right? I mean, ultimately, the wrapping paper gets torn to shreds during the unwrapping process anyway, doesn’t it? Let’s just say that I’m grateful food is more forgiving.
All kidding aside, it’s really true that what’s on the inside, is what’s most important. And if you can get the outside in alignment with that, then it’s a bonus, a “total package”. Thankfully, food already has that potential to be the “total package” built right into itself, naturally; it’s vibrant, colorful, flavorful and interesting when put together with some forethought, which makes creating with it such a pleasure. It makes pretty-on-the-outside-and-on-the-inside, completely doable, don’t you find? And with something as unassuming as some simple lasagna noodles, a precious little package filled with tasty little goodies can easily be created making everyone happy—especially when it’s dinner time, and there are hungry bellies involved. Thick slices of portobello mushrooms, roasted peppers, creamy ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and a rich, smoky tomato sauce that tops everything off…mmm, mmm—that sounds pretty well-put-together, if you ask me! And best of all, there’s no paper, scissors or tape required, luckily for me.
So I’m not the world’s best gift wrapper; c’est la vie. And I apologize in advance if you ever receive a gift from me—humor me, would you? Just overlook the slightly “unique” exterior that you may be faced with, and go straight for the good stuff within. You won’t hurt my feelings; promise. But when it comes to food, you may know by now that I like to play a little; I like to find the “total package” in whatever dish that I’m preparing. And these little packages—these tasty little Lasagna “Wrap Ups”—have got cozy, cute and comforting written all over them. And that’s something I can very easily wrap my appetite around, at least.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Lasagna “Wrap-Ups” Stuffed with Sliced Portobellos, Herbed-Ricotta Cheese, Roasted Peppers and Spinach, topped with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella
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(Makes 12 Lasagna “Wrap Ups”, serving 6-12 depending on portion size)
• Olive oil
4 medium portobello mushrooms (stems and gills removed), each sliced into 9 slices
• Black pepper
22 ounces ricotta cheese (about one and a half 15 ounce containers)
3 ½ cups shredded mozzarella, divided use
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped, divided use
1 teaspoon lemon zest
• Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
12 lasagna noodles, cooked
1 (12 ounce) jar roasted red/yellow peppers, drained and julienned
2 cups, packed, baby spinach leaves
-Preheat the oven to 350°, and set aside a large baking/casserole dish (13 x 9)
-Place a large, non-stick pan over medium-high heat, and add about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; once the oil is hot, add in about half of the portobello slices along with a pinch of salt and black pepper, and briefly saute them for about 2 minutes, just until barely softened (they will finish cooking in the oven); turn the slices out onto a plate to hold, and repeat the process with the remaining portobello slices; set the portobello slices aside for a few moments.
-Next, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella, 2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and set aside for a moment.
-To assemble the “Wrap Ups”, begin by adding about 1 ½ cups of the Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce to the bottom of the baking/casserole dish. Next, place one cooked lasagna noodle, vertically, in front of you; add ¼ cup of the ricotta cheese mixture to the lasagna noodle, about 2” from the bottom, lightly forming the cheese to fit the width of the noodle; next, top that with 3 portobello slices, about 3 roasted pepper slices, and about 4-5 baby spinach leaves; roll the lasagna noodle upwards as evenly and as tightly as possible, then set the “Wrap Up” seam-side down in the sauce in the casserole dish; repeat the process until all 12 lasagna noodles are wrapped.
-Top the “Wrap Ups” liberally with the Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce, then sprinkle with the remaining 2 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella; bake the “Wrap Ups” for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is gooey and melted; to finish, sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley over top, and serve immediately while hot. (*If it’s a little juicy on the bottom, just use a slotted spoon to remove the “Wrap Ups” from the baking dish.)
Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, quartered and sliced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dry oregano
• Pinch red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 (14.5 ounce) cans organic fire-roasted tomatoes with juice
1 (15 ounce) organic tomato sauce
2 teaspoons salt
-Place a large, heavy-bottom pan or pot over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil; once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion, the Italian seasoning, the black pepper, the oregano and the red pepper flakes, and saute them together for about 10-12 minutes, or until the onion slices are lightly golden; next, add in the garlic and stir, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the white wine and reduce for about 30 seconds; next, add in the tomato paste and stir, cooking it for a moment or two to cook out the raw flavor; finally, add in the fire-roasted tomatoes and the tomato sauce, plus the salt, and gently stir to combine; gently simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes, uncovered; use while hot, or allow it to cool completely, and keep in the fridge until ready to use.