Creamy, comforting and gently spiced, my Spinach Florentine Casserole is an easy to throw together weeknight dish that’s perfect for Meatless Monday. It’s so delicious that even I – someone who is very wary of spinach – absolutely love it.
My Spinach Florentine Casserole has three layers:
A creamy spinach and mushroom layer,
When they are baked in the oven, somehow the creamy, tomato-ey, cheesy layers blend together so deliciously that I have to restrain myself from having seconds.
I’ve been making my Spinach Florentine Casserole for a number of years now. It was inspired by a recipe from the late Linda McCartney’s book, ‘Linda’s Kitchen’. Linda’s Kitchen is out of print now but if you can get hold of a copy I highly recommend it. When I first became interested in meatless recipes, it was the recipes in this book that grabbed my imagination. And in the first instance, it was Linda’s recipes that convinced my husband that vegetarian recipes could be just as tasty as their meaty counterparts.
One of the recipes in Linda’s Kitchen that always appealed to me was for a Layered Spinach Fusilli Bake. However I wasn’t keen on Linda’s idea of a layer of pasta dressed solely with olive oil and garlic in the middle and I knew my husband would not care for the sliced tomatoes on top. To get round these issues, I decided to dress the pasta layer with a pesto spiked tomato sauce instead as well as adding mushrooms to the florentine layer for both flavour and nutrition. I replaced the sliced tomato topping with sharp cheddar cheese.
One thing you do need to be careful of in order to keep this dish strictly vegetarian is to be sure to use vegetarian cheese. As one of the main ingredients in pesto is Parmesan cheese – a cheese which is not vegetarian – you may want to make you own pesto using a vegetarian Italian style cheese.
Served alongside a crisp green salad and some crusty bread, my Spinach Florentine Casserole will convince even the most hardened spinach avoider to give this nutritional powerhouse a chance. Leftovers keep for a couple of days in the fridge and are very tasty re-heated for lunch the next day.
- 1 pound of spinach
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms
- ¼ cup butter
- 3 tablespoons plain flour
- about 2 cups milk
- pinch of salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- very generous pinch of nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
- 8 to 9 ounces penne pasta
- 1¾ cups plain tomato sauce or passata (sieved tomatoes) (I use a 400 gram tin of passata)
- 4 tablespoons basil pesto
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 generous cup vegetarian cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C or 170°C for a fan oven).
- Steam the spinach for 3 minutes.
- Remove the spinach from the heat and drain it as much as possible. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to pick up some colour.
- Sprinkle the flour over top of the mushrooms and stir to coat.
- Cook for a minute or so.
- Gradually add the milk, a bit at a time, stirring and allowing the sauce to thicken between each addition. You want a fairly thick and creamy sauce so you may not need all the milk.
- Add the cooked spinach and stir through.
- Stir in the nutmeg.
- Add the salt and pepper.
- Pour the mixture into the bottom of a deep 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.
- Drain the pasta and return it to the saucepan.
- Over very low heat, add the tomato sauce or passata to the pasta in the saucepan.
- Grate in the garlic and add the pesto, stirring through to mix.
- Place the dressed pasta layer carefully over the spinach florentine layer in the baking dish.
- Sprinkle the cheese over top of the pasta layer.
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and beginning to turn golden brown.
All the photographs in this post were taken by my son, Alex J Harris of 4lex Arts.
Shared with Full Plate Thursday
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