Close friends just had a beautiful baby boy and I am making them a freezer-friendly meal. I don’t know where the tradition of bringing freezer-friendly dinners to new parents began, but I’m sure they will appreciate not having to cook. Especially if this means they get a little more sleep.
Now the problem is figuring out what to cook that everyone else won’t make and is, well, good. I wanted to make them something they are excited to eat as opposed to something that is just sustenance. I want the dinner to be a small break from their new adventure.
I’m going with my Swiss chard and sweet pea lasagna. Why? Because it’s lasagna, they can pop it into the oven when I bring it over or keep it in the freezer until they are ready for it. Because it’s Swiss chard and sweet pea, I’m guessing no one else is making it. Also because it’s Swiss chard and sweet pea, it becomes a slightly more complex flavor set for a lasagna than your typical freezer section ground meat variety. Finally, it is a lighter lasagna so it will not weigh down the new parents as they race around the house on minimal sleep.
The best part about this dish though, is if they have a ton of company (visiting family and friends) stopping in to see their new treasure, this lasagna is perfect to serve guests, especially when paired with a simple side salad and dressing.
Swiss Chard and Sweet Pea Lasagnainspired from Giada De Laurentiis 1 head of red or white Swiss chard* 1 cup frozen sweet peas, thawed 3 tablespoon olive oil 1 medium onion, diced 2 garlic cloves, minced 1-8 oz container of Ricotta cheese 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 2 cup (divided) mozzarella cheese, shredded 1 egg 2 tablespoon minced fresh basil** 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley 9-12 lasagna noodles (about 1/2 a package) 2 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (see below for recipe) or your favorite tomato/marinara sauce salt and pepper
In a medium saute pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion to the hot olive oil and saute for 5-7 minutes until the onion starts to brown. In the meantime, wash and dry the Swiss chard. Stack the chard leaves on top of each other in a pile, roll them up tightly, and cut them into small strips (chiffonade). Add the minced garlic to the pan and saute for about a minute then add the chard. Saute the chard until it is wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
While cooking the chard, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the lasagna noodles to al dente according to package directions. Also thaw the peas by place them in the microwave with a little water for 2-4 minutes, depending on how frozen your peas are. Drain the water and set them aside.
In a food processor add the ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, egg, basil, parsley, Swiss chard and sweet peas and pulse until combined. Do not over-pulse the mixture; you should still have pieces of chard and some whole peas.
In a 9 in x 12 in baking dish, pour 1/2 cup of the Simple Tomato Sauce in bottom and spread into an even layer. Place 3-4 lasagna noodles in a row in the bottom of the dish. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta filling out onto the noodles. Add another layer of 3-4 noodles and spread the other 1/2 of the ricotta filling. On top add one more layer of 3-4 noodles and pour the remaining 1 1/2 cup of the Simple Tomato Sauce. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese over the top.
If cooking immediately: Preheat oven, before starting to assemble layers, to 350 degrees. Cover the baking dish with foil and place in the 350 degrees oven for 45 minutes or until the sides begin to bubble. Remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes until the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 2-4 minutes before cutting and serving.
If cooking later that day or the next day: Cover the baking dish with foil and place in the refrigerator until ready cook. When ready to cook preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then place the lasagna into a 350 degrees oven for 45 minutes or until the side begin to bubble. Remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes until the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 2-4 minutes before cutting and serving.
If cooking a few days to 1 month later: Cover the baking dish with foil and place in the freeze until ready cook. When ready to cook preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then place the lasagna into a 350 degrees oven for 50 minutes or until the sides begin to bubble. Remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes until the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 2-4 minutes before cutting and serving.
You can use your cooling time to broil/toast a few slices of bread to accompany the lasagna. You could also prepare a simple salad and dressing while the lasagna is cooking in the oven.
*You can substitute 1 package frozen spinach. Defrost in the microwave in the paper package in a bowl (to catch any juices that drain out). Then ring out all the excess water and add directly into the food processor. You should still cook the onions and garlic. Once they are cooked, add them as well to the food processor.
**If you do not have fresh basil you can replace it with 1 tablespoon dried Italian Herbs (a mix of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and various other herbs).
Simple Tomato Sauce4 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium to large onion, diced 1 carrot, grated or finely chopped 3-4 cloves garlic, minced 1-28oz can quality crushed tomatoes 2 tablespoons fresh basil, torn or chiffonade* 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
In a dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Dice the onions and add them to the pot. Grate the carrots into the pot or finely chop them and add them to the pot. Cook the onions and carrots for 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine with the vegetables. Add dried Italian herbs now if using. Simmer sauce over low heat for 20-30 minutes. Stir basil and parsley into the sauce and remove from heat. Serve with a variety of dishes.
If using in the lasagna above you can start this first so by the time you need the sauce, it will be done simmering. Also, this sauce freezes well, so you can always make a double batch and store part of it in the freezer.
*Again you can replace the basil and parsley with 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning