The Lasagna at the End of the Trail

serving of lasagna with a side salad

Healthy living is all about balance.  While I was staying in Dublin I fell happily into a balanced lifestyle.  My feet provided the majority of my transportation and anything I acquired along the way I had to carry home in my backpack.  The foods I ate were higher in fat but far less processed than my American diet had been.  Without a microwave or a large freezer I generally cooked meals from scratch.  By living simply and simply living I lost weight and became healthier than ever before.

During my travels in Ireland there were many miles that ended with a delicious meal.  The number one item on the list of things I confirmed while traveling is – I will walk for food.

Seaside Cliff Walk

I heard about a scenic walk along seaside cliffs in County Wicklow and it seemed like a great way to get out of Dublin for the day and explore a little of the nearby countryside.  Leaving the city proved to be the easy part.  The Dublin Area Rapid Transit or DART has turned once sleepy fishing villages into quaint bedroom communities. It also gives tourists the opportunity to visit a few smaller towns and villages without the hassle or expense of renting a car.  On an early summer day I walked to the station and rode south for what I was told would be a lovely gentle stroll.  I picked up the trail in the postcard perfect village of Bray.  It was easy enough to find I simply walked from the station to the end of the beach.

The scenery from the cliffside trail was beyond my expectations. To my right were cushions of feathery pink heather and playful wildflowers. To my left the deep blue Irish Sea swayed lazily under the sun. I watched as snowy gulls swooped down the cliff face searching for a snack and stopped to pat a few grey-brown sheep whose pasture fence ran along the path.  All I needed was to stumble over a stone only to be scooped back up by a dark haired light eyed lad with a brogue so thick it wove celtic knots in the air.

Ireland Scrapbook

After an hour I started to realize the walk was longer than I expected and the sun was beginning to toast my pale skin.  I finished my water and ate my small snack but still could only see dirt path stretching out in front of me.  Its a bit of a funny thing to find yourself stranded in the land of your dreams.  Of course I wasn’t really stranded but I was not in particularly good physical shape and as time and distance passed each step became more difficult.

When the village of Greystones finally came into view I was more than relieved.  I made a beeline for the first cafe I saw and tried very hard not to look like I needed medical attention when I asked for a large glass of water.  Once I composed myself and looked at the menu I knew in an instant what I wanted to eat.  Lasagna Bolognese.  My tired legs, sunburnt face, and empty stomach begged to be wrapped in a blanket of noodles and soothed with a rich cream sauce.  After the first bite things improved significantly and by the final lick of the fork I was back in balance and ready for my next adventure.

single serving of lasagna with bechamel sauce

Simplified Lasagna Bolognese

Between creating and writing this recipe I had a chance to read a recent post by Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  In the post she lovingly details her 6 year quest to master a true Lasagna Bolognese.  Her instructions are not only numbered by steps but by days and the end result is nothing less than stunning.  My recipe takes a more slap dash approach yielding a non-traditional lasagna that still manages to deliver a mouthful of tender noodles, robust sauce, and a creamy finish.  I also cut out about a bazillion calories with this impostor version.  The recipe has several detailed steps but each one is fairly simple on its own. Take it step by step to create a dish that should really impress a hungry crowd.

single serving of lasagna bolognese

Modified Bolognese Sauce

  • 2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, shredded or finely diced
  • 1 cup of shredded carrot
  • 1 cup of shredded celery
  • 2 cups of shredded summer or yellow squash
  • 16 oz of ground chicken, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup dry wine or sherry
  • 2 tsp Italian herb blend
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Shred carrots, celery, and squash using a food processor or a grater.  Place veggies in a microwave safe dish and microwave uncovered on high for 8-10 minutes.  Stir once while microwaving.
  2. While vegetables are in the microwave – Simmer tomatoes and tomato paste in a pot 4 quarts or larger.
  3. Shred onion and garlic cloves and add to simmering tomatoes.
  4. In a large saute pan over medium high heat, begin cooking the chicken.  While cooking break into small pieces and season with herb blend, peper, and a pinch of salt.
  5. Carefully remove from vegetables microwave and drain water using a strainer.  Set strainer aside so veggies may continue to drain.
  6. Once chicken is cooked through add drained vegetables and stir gently to combine.  Add wine and allow about 1/2 of the remaining moisture to cook away.
  7. Add cooked chicken and vegetables to simmering tomatoes, garlic, and onion.  Add more salt and pepper to taste if desired.

At this point the sauce may continue to simmer for as long as desired or remove and cool to make the final lasagna the next day.

Meatless Option – In place of the ground chicken consider sautéing a few cups of diced zucchini, eggplant, portobello mushrooms, or use an equal amount of MorningStar Farms Veggie Meal Starter. – may effect the nutritional values.

Lightened Bechamel Sauce

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB smart balance or light butter alternative
  • 3 TB all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups of fat free milk
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat – melt the oil and smart balance together.
  2. Whisk in the flour and allow to toast a bit on the heat so that it cooks just a little.
  3. Remove from the direct heat and slowly whisk in the milk being careful to stir away any lumps.
  4. Set pan back over the heat and continue to whisk gently.  As the sauce slowly heats it will thicken significantly be careful not to let it boil.
  5. When sauce has thickened reduce heat to lo and continue to stir occasionally until ready to use.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. The result should be a creamy sauce with a mild flavor. – Traditional Bechamel includes nutmeg.  I am not a fan but Mr. Second Helpings enjoys the unique flavor it adds to the sauce.  If you would like to include nutmeg add 1 tsp with the salt and pepper.

Approximate Nutrition for 1/12 of Bechamel Sauce: 51 calories; 3g fat; 4g carbs; 0g fiber; 2g protein; 1 PP

Assembling The Lasagna!

By this point you may be feeling less like Julia Child and more like the plate spinner at the circus.  Hang in there for a little longer this is the home stretch and the result will be worth the effort!

Additional Ingredients

  • 9 whole grain lasagna noodles cooked just under al dente or 1 to 2 minutes less than the instruction on the box.
    Lasagna Layers
  • 2 – 3 cups of washed and dried baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups of shredded part skim mozzarella cheese.

Final Instructions

  1. Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
  2. With all the ingredients assembled and within easy reach begin layering the lasagna in 13 x 9 baking dish.
  3. Spread a layer of sauce  over the entire botom of the dish.
  4. Lay down three noodles – a thicker layer of sauce – enough spinach to cover the pan (2 -3 handfuls) – sprinkle half of the cheese over the spinach.
  5. Lay down another three noodles – a thick layer of sauce – three more noodlesLasagna Bolognese ready for the oven
  6. At this point the dish should be almost completely full.  Carefully pour the Bechamel over the entire lasagna so it oozes into all the nooks and crannies.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and place into the hot oven for about 30 minutes.  If needed, slide a cookie sheet on to the rack below the lasagna to catch any sauce that may bubble over.
  8. Remove when the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling.
  9. Allow to rest for 10-20 minutes prior to serving.

Makes 12 servings.

Approximate Nutrition for Lasagna without Bechamel Sauce: 228.6 calories; 5.6g fat; 25.3g carbs; 4.8g fiber; 16.8g protein; 6 PP

To sort out the steps and cooking time for the final dish I referenced a recipe published on the Barilla Pasta website.  The Bechamel Recipe is very similar to the white sauce my mother made when I was growing up.  The specific amounts come from a recipe published by lubbys442, a member of Weight Watcher’s.com

Two servings of lasagna with a tomato garnish

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