An interesting idea that works well: use pre-packaged fresh raviolis from the market as the pasta element in a quick lasagna.
Ray's note for the provenance of this idea says, "I met a real working mom on a set for a TV commercial who shared a cooking secret." Gosh, a real working mom! Wow! I hear those are scarce!
I know Ray is trying to say that the woman wasn't just an actor, but her phrasing makes her sound a bit out of touch with the vast majority of her readership. We work, we're moms...it's crazy but true.
Anyway...the recipe works well, after a bit of tweaking. The lasagna is quite rich, and it pairs nicely with the Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette salad. I made it with spinach-ricotta raviolis, but I think wild mushroom, or 4-cheese, as Ray recommends, would also work well.
Not noted in the recipe is that it's easier to layer larger raviolis. I got the biggest ones I could find in my grocery store, about 2 1/2 inches square. I'd avoid raviolis any smaller than that, as they would probably require a bit of fussing about with to layer properly.
The recipe calls for a 24 to 28-oz. package of fresh raviolis. In my local store, they're only sold in smaller packages, so I used three 9-oz. containers. I think I could have done with four 9-oz. packages, since I didn't get even coverage in a 9-by-13 inch Pyrex baking dish with only three packages of raviolis. I suggest using more pasta, or layering in a smaller dish, perhaps an 8- or 9-inch oval.
Ray calls for frozen spinach, but I used a 9-oz. bag of fresh spinach leaves and wilted them in the garlic oil. This worked well and eliminated the rather tedious draining-and-squeezing process that's necessary with frozen spinach. The recipe also calls for using quartered artichoke hearts, but these pieces were pretty big and didn't integrate well into the casserole. I recommend slicing the quarters into smaller pieces.
I've made a few changes to the preparation instructions. When the spinach and artichokes are removed from heat, they give off quite a bit of liquid. I recommend that you drain them off before layering into the dish, so as not to dilute the sauce. And Ray tells the cook to prepare the asparagus in a colander over the raviolis. Maybe you have a pot-and-colander setup that'll work this way, but I don't. I cooked the asparagus in a steamer basket by itself in a small saucepan. Ray has the cook assemble the lasagna and then broil it quickly to melt the cheese, but I found that the raviolis and vegetables had cooled too much during the assembly process -- they didn't get reheated enough under the broiler, so I recommend cooking for 5 to 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings, or more
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cans (13 to 15 oz. each) quarted artichokes in water, drained well and sliced into smaller pieces
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 package (24 to 28 oz.) fresh ravioli (or use three or four 9-oz. packages), such as wild mushroom, 4-cheese, or spinach-ricotta
1 pound thin asparagus spears, trimmed of tough ends and cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces
2 cups shredded Provolone or Italian 4-Cheese Blend
Bring a large pot of water to boil.
While water comes to a boil, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic and sauté 1 minute, then add spinach. Add artichokes and turn to combine and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat to a colander set over a bowl, to drain off excess liquid.
Place skillet back on heat and add butter. When melted, add flour and whisk for 1 minute. Whisk in stock and bring to a bubble. Whisk in cream and Parmigiano cheese, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and thicken for about 2 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
When water in large pot is boiling, add ravioli and cook about 4 to 5 minutes, or until just barely al dente, then drain. Do not boil too vigorously, as the ravioli will burst and lose their filling. When water in small saucepan is boiling, place asparagus into a steamer basket and cook in the small saucepan until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove asparagus and add to the spinach and artichokes.
To assemble lasagna: drizzle a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish (medium oval size would work well). Arrange a layer of cooked ravioli, about 1/3 of the total, in the bottom of the dish. Layer half of the vegetables over the ravioli, then add a few ladles of sauce. Arrange another layer of ravioli over the first layer, then top with the rest of the vegetables. Add a couple more ladles of sauce. Layer the remaining ravioli over the top, pour remaining sauce over them, then cover with provolone or 4-cheese blend. Bake about 5 to 10 minutes, or until lasagna is heated through. Serve with Romaine Hearts with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette.