Redeeming Best Intentions

If you're anything like me, you sometimes buy green vegetables with virtuous plans in mind. Salads, sauteed greens, stir-frys--we'll make them all! But sometimes, I forget about that bunch of chard or bag of kale. The road to sad, limp produce is paved with good intentions.

I get suckered into those family-sized packs of greens because of their relative value over the more reasonable smaller packs, and then I panic when I realize that they don't cook themselves. Last week, I threw in a couple of handfuls of spinach with some frozen peas and butter, tossed it all together with pasta, olive oil, and Parmesan. It was fast, easy, and delicious...but I forgot about the other pound of spinach still in the crisper until days later. What's the best way to use a big bunch of spinach? In addition to the strata, this slow-cooker lasagna is one of my favorites.

Besides a giant bowl of spinach, you'll need mushrooms, pesto, tomato sauce, no-boil lasagna noodles (truly a miracle of modern technology), and three kinds of cheese. (Mom, avert your eyes!) With about half an hour of prep time, three bowls, and five hours of patience, you'll dig into a cheesy, saucy bowl of noodles and all those greens that you'd promised a good time to a few days ago. Bonus: This lasagna isn't horribly bad for you! It's actually pretty virtuous itself.

Slow-Cooker Spinach, Pesto, & Mushroom Lasagna
Adapted from Cooking Light | Serves 8

4 cups baby spinach (or adult spinach, roughly chopped)
1 tablespoon water
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup pesto
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
15 ounces reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese, divided (1/4 cup for mixture, 1/2 cup for topping)
25 ounces of tomato-basil sauce
8 ounces of plain tomato sauce (or just extra tomato-basil sauce if you have a giant jar)
1 (8-ounce) package no-boil lasagna noodles (12 noodles)

Put the spinach in large glass bowl with 1 tablespoon of water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 90 seconds. Carefully remove the plastic and let the spinach cool before you drain it and squeeze it dry. Combine the spinach, mushrooms, and pesto in that same bowl; set aside. Combine mozzarella, ricotta, and beaten egg in a separate bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan, and set aside. Combine the jarred sauce with the plain tomato sauce in another bowl.

Can you tell I love jadeite?
Coat the bottom of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Spread about a cup of pasta sauce mixture in the bottom of the crock. Arrange 3 noodles over the pasta sauce mixture (you may have to break them up some to fit); top with 1 cup cheese (one-third of what’s in the bowl) mixture and 1 cup (half of what’s in the bowl) spinach mixture. 

Don't worry about messy noodles. It'll cook just fine like this.

Repeat the layers, ending with spinach mixture. Arrange 3 noodles over spinach mixture; top with remaining 1 cup cheese mixture and 1 cup of the sauce. Place the remaining 3 noodles over sauce; spread sauce mixture over noodles. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.

I know that's a lot of layers to keep straight, so I made a cross-section list of what you should have:
[Top of lasagna]
1/2 cup Parmesan
cooking spray
[Bottom of lasagna]

Cover with lid; cook on low 5 hours or until done.

You'll notice I don't have any pictures of the final product. We ate it all before I remembered. It's not a pretty dish, so don't expect to wow dinner guests with its presentation, but it's a solid weekend dish you can put together and forget about. You'll have a delicious dinner when you're watching football later. I hear there's a big game coming up. Come back here soon, and I'll have an easy cookie recipe that's perfect for some sibling rivalry.


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