After the terrible month of rain I alluded to in my last post , we finally got sun this weekend! And no, it wasn’t the fleeting kind that comes in drips and drabs so brief you can blink and miss it, but the prolonged, delightful kind that fills an entire afternoon. And as much as I hate to say it (because it sounds like I am justifying the days and days of dreariness we had), coming off of so much rain made me appreciate it more.
I knew I wanted to make something bright and cheery to celebrate so it seemed incredibly fitting that I had also planned on using the weekend to create my entry for the Fresh Supersweet Corn Blogger Recipe Contest . To me corn EASILY says sunny.
Gorgeous corn at the Green City Market. Sadly, this picture is from last summer as it's still a little early for local corn here.
As soon as I spotted the contest a couple of weeks back I knew I wanted to create a Sweet Corn Lasagna with Spinach and Ham. I know it sounds like an odd choice. When one envisions the pastoral landscape of Italy, lush vineyards and plump tomatoes on the vine are what come to mind, not rows and rows of corn. But after making Crab and Spinach Manicotti with a Sweet Corn Bechamel back in July I knew how well corn paired with more traditional Italian flavors.
In that dish, the corn was merely a background flavor, echoing the sweetness of the crab in the manicotti filling.
This time, I wanted to elevate it to make it the star so I folded a cup of freshly cooked corn kernels into a mixture of ricotta, spinach, basil, ham. mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese.
I layered this between cooked sheets of lasagna (I prefer pre-cooked over no boil in this recipe because I find that with bechamel-based lasagnas, no boil noodles draw too much moisture and make the dish dry.) along with generous ladles of my sweet corn bechamel. I adapted this slightly from the last time I made it, adding even more corn kernels for a more intense corn flavor.
And this bechamel is, in my opinion, what really makes the dish sing. It amplifies the corn flavor in the dish so that it’s sweet, rich and unmistakable. It’s the most time-consuming step of the recipe, requiring you to puree together milk and corn in the blender before straining it and adding it to your flour and butter to make a decadent sauce. But really, the rest of the recipe is incredibly easy so it’s worth the extra bit of effort.
It also doesn’t hurt that the end result of the dish is soul satisfying. Even though I chose to make mine with 1% milk and fat free ricotta for a figure-friendly treat, it still has a lusciously indulgent taste to it. The sweetness of the corn marries perfectly with the more earthy flavor of the spinach and the saltiness of the ham, while the basil adds a deliciously fresh pop. It may be a less than conventional combination of flavors, especially for an Italian-inspired dish, but I’m now a huge fan and cannot wait to make this again, especially when fresh corn becomes even more abundant this summer. I’m thinking it would be equally good as a vegetarian version with lightly sauteed red bell peppers and zucchini standing in for the ham. I hope you’ll make this yourself and enjoy it just as much as I did.
Corn and Spinach Lasagna Serves 8
-3 cups milk (I used 1%, but 2% or whole would also work)
-2 1/2 cups cooked fresh extrasweet corn kernels (the kernels of about 5 small ears of corn or about 3 1/2 medium ears of corn), divided
-2 tablespoons butter
-1/3 cup all purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
-Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
-9 wavy lasagna noodles (about 8 ounces), cooked until al denteaccording to package directions
-10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
-1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
-2 cups ricotta cheese (I used fat free, but low fat or whole milk would also be delicious)
-2/3 cup ham
-1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella
-1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare the sweet corn béchamel by pureeing milk and 1 1/2 cups of corn kernels together in a blender. Strain through a sieve, pressing down on the mixture with a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk mixture, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes (do not allow the sauce to boil). Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and nutmeg.
Combine remaining corn kernels, spinach, basil, ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and remaining pepper in a bowl.
Spread 1/2 cup of béchamel in bottom of an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles over sauce; top with 1/2 of the corn-ricotta mixture and ladle about 1/2 of the remaining bechamel over the top. Arrange 3 noodles over the bechamel. Top with the remaining corn-ricotta mixture. Top with the remaining noodles and ladle the remainder of the bechamel over the top (dish will be very full). Cover with foil; place baking dish on a baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven; increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Uncover the lasagna, and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan; bake an additional 10 minutes or until golden brown.