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I'll be honest - I had my doubts about this recipe. I didn't think a spinach/cottage cheese pasta would yield a particularly flavorful dish. I'm not a huge fan of cottage cheese anyway, and I recalled it as being bland and lumpy in all the wrong ways.
So I was surprised when I bought a tub of fat-free cottage cheese and found it to be silky and just the right kind of salty and not at all flavorless. The cottage cheese, combined with the mozzarella and Pecorino Romano I used for this recipe, really made this spinach lasagna dish pop.
This is one of my new favorite vegetarian pasta dishes. It's easy - there's barely any prep work, aside from grating the cheese, and while the tomato sauce takes time to simmer down, there's hardly any active cooking time involved (and you can always buy canned or jarred sauce). It's flavorful - no meat, no problem. My favorite kinds of vegetarian dishes are the ones where you don't even notice there's no meat involved. It's pretty - always a bonus. And you can portion them out and freeze them for those nights when you just don't want to cook.
There's a copious amount of cheese involved, even more than the original recipe calls for, but I'm a cheesehead. I always add more cheese to recipes. And I never regret it.
One note on the garlic: The minced garlic never really cooks inside the lasagna rolls. I found the raw pieces of garlic to be a little too overpowering, so I'm planning to either omit the garlic completely next time or toss them quickly in a skillet with a touch of olive oil before adding to the filling.
Spinach lasagna roll-ups
For the tomato sauce
28 oz. can whole tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes)
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
5 tablespoons butter (next time, will try it with 4 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the lasagna
6 lasagna noodles (the regular, long kind, not the no-boil kind)
2 cups finely chopped baby spinach
1 cup cottage cheese (low-fat or fat free)
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into pea-sized pieces (optional, but so good)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup tomato sauce
To make the tomato sauce:
Simmer the tomatoes with the onion and butter over low heat for about 45 minutes, smushing down the tomatoes with a spoon once in awhile. (Note: The sauce will splatter all over the stove, no matter how low the flame. You've been warned.)
Discard the onion. Salt and pepper to taste.
You'll end up with more tomato sauce than you need for this recipe. Freeze the rest for a quick spaghetti meal in the future.
To make the lasagna:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish.
Cook the noodles al dente. Lay noodles out on a clean kitchen towel in a single layer and let cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, cottage cheese, 1/3 cup of the shredded mozzarella, 1/3 cup fresh mozzarella, 1/3 cup Parmesan (or Pecorino Romano), garlic, salt and black pepper.
Spread spinach mixture over the entire length of each noodle. You want an even spread, maybe about 1/2 inch thick - enough to add heartiness to each lasagna roll but not enough that the filling will spill out as you roll each noodle. (Note: The original recipe called for eight noodles, but the quantity of filling I used for each noodle yielded only six rolls. You can opt for less filling to get eight rolls.)
Roll up each noodle and place on the baking dish on its side, making sure the end of the noodle roll is facing down so the roll stays in place. (Note: When I made this, I read the instructions wrong and baked them with their edges up. They still came out delicious - and made for pretty pictures - but I think you'll get a more even tomato sauce spread over your rolls if you bake them on their sides.)
Pour the tomato sauce over the rolls, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is melted.