Sunday, January 9, 2011

The "Zannia" Explosion!

It never fails. I always end up in some degree of pain after I make my beef and spinach “Zannia”.
It happened when I made it for the first time in the early 90s, long before I had ever purchased my can’t-do-without-it food processor. It also happened when I had to make it every week when I ran my catering business. It led the Friday menu, paired with delicious garlic bread and a tasty salad of purple and white cabbage, carrots and romaine lettuce with a tangy chive dressing. But, I had promised myself that I was going to start the New Year right with a first weekend meal to remember.
This rounds, however, I had double the work, in that I also made a soya and spinach version for my vegetarian daughter, plus another small one for a friend.

Still, this is one of those recipes I can make in my sleep, and whenever I do it, my reward is having my kitchen smell like a fine Italian restaurant, plus seeing the happy faces chowing down and knocking their spoons on their plates. My one regret is not being able to make some garlic bread to go with it today... *sigh*
So, for today’s special blog, here is my Beef and Spinach Lasagne in three steps:

The making of the meat sauce…
Making the spinach and cheese filling…
Putting the layers together.

Hold on to your potspoons, my friends… here’s step one.

Making the Meat sauce

A huge log of mincemeat was treated simply with lime juice and rum as an early seasoning for this dish, simply because I didn’t want to lose the flavour of the seasonings that go in later in the cooking process…

The meat is cooked in olive oil until it loses its pink colour.

By this time, it starts to spring out some water and excess fat, which gets strained off… (Couldn’t take a pic of the straining part cuz I needed both hands for that operation.)

Back on the fire! Home made seasoning, Worcestershire, Angostura bitters, a capful of rum – Granny swears by it – some Maggi Flavour de pot and a little minced garlic all join the dance.

The only vegetable I put in (that in my opinion, gives it that ‘Trinidadian zeppo’) is five chopped pimento peppers.

Because I am making one large and two small loaf sized Zannias, I opened two large bottles of Prego tomato sauce. I tend to use Traditional or Tomato Basil, but that’s just how I roll.

To get the remainder out the bottle, I put in a cup of water with a teaspoon of brown sugar (to help cut the acidity of the tomatoes); then shake everything around, and pour it into the pot.


Let it bubble for a couple minutes, then taste. Mine needed some ginger powder, parsley and black pepper. Sometimes I’d add a hot pepper if I’m in the mood, but not today. Also, I don’t ever add extra salt to this sauce ‘cause the Maggi has enough. (Gotta watch that blood pressure now!)
Check out how it's bubbling…


Making the spinach and cheese filling.

I use Emborg frozen spinach, because it’s easier than cleaning and making some bhaji.

I’m using about a cup and a half (about 10 to 13 of these balls) for the amount I’m making today. My normal lasagna usually gets just 6 or 7 balls. They go into cold water with a teeny bit of salt (to ease up the bitterness). It’ll cook for about 5 to 7 minutes.

I drained it off in my rice strainer and used the spoon to press out as much liquid as possible. It's better done with muslin or cheesecloth; just put the spinach in and give it a “twis’ an squeeze”.

(I still squeezed this even further with my hands, because I didn’t want any extra liquid going into the filling.) You know, watching this spinach is giving me ideas for sahina… ah go save that for another post! ;-)


Now for the cheese… 

Now, I tend to use one of three cheeses besides Parmesan; Anchor Vegetarian cheddar, Milkana Vegetarian (from Australia) or this one, a New Zealand Rennet free Cheddar. I don’t use mozzarella or ricotta at all; strange, but true. This is really my go-to cheese because of the taste and crumbly texture, plus it melts really well. Both of these blocks are getting processed today.

So, here in the food processor I have 6 cups of grated cheese, 4 eggs, the squeezed spinach and I’m pouring in 1 cup of milk. (I reserved two half cups and one full cup of cheese for the three lasagna toppings.)

Before blitzing, I shook in a little black pepper and some parmesan cheese.

I pulsed it until everything combined to a thick greenish yellow paste. Now to set up for…


Layering the Zannia!

I ALWAYS ladle a spoonful of meat sauce on the bottom, so the zannia won’t stick.

Then, I put 3 sheets of the no boil lasagne noodles… look, I’m a believer in cutting out extra work when it comes to complex dishes like this, so for years, I’ve used no-boil lasagne, a huuuuuuuge timesaver in the kitchen!

Added a layer of meat sauce, covering the noodle with sauce so it stays moist. Then I dotted the cheese filling on the meat sauce itself, but not everyone does their layering in this way.

Then I covered it with another layer of noodles. You’ll see here that sometimes I change the direction as I layer. Again, that’s just how I roll…

More meat sauce, and I repeated the layers. If you get tied up, remember N-S-C (short for Noodles, Sauce, Cheese). That way you won’t forget the order the layers are going in.

For the topping, I put the last layer of noodle on, then the last scrapings of meat, which I spread out, and then sprinkled on whatever bits of cheese filling were left.

I sprinkled on the reserved cup of grated cheese...

Shook on some herbage. I use either dried parsley, basil, oregano or Italian seasoning, followed by a good sprinkling of Parmesan.

Don’t worry about liquid from the sauce pooling at the bottom of the pan – that’s exactly what you want, because the steam from this is what helps cook the sheets.

I sprayed a few sheets of foil with cooking spray and covered each pan tightly, with the sprayed side facing the cheese. Now everybody is ready for a 375°F oven, to bake for 35 to 40 minutes, middle rack. Never use the bottom rack of the oven or it’ll burn. (I promise, before the 30th minute or so, your kitchen will smell AMAZING!!!)
Pulled them out the oven and removed the covers carefully – steam burns are EXTREMELY PAINFUL! (Check out how it looks... *drool*)

Here they are after cooking uncovered for 8 more minutes.
(Damn, these Zannias look GOOOOOOOOD!!!)

All I needed to do next was leave them to cool for about 15 minutes, otherwise they would slide apart  when I cut them, and nobody wants that… we wanna see those lovely layers, ent?

So there you have them, two beef and one soya Zannia. I was hoping to have done the salad and arranged a nice plate to take some photos, but I started writing, then I cut a piece to eat because the sound of the bubbling gas in my stomach was drowning out my thoughts, hahahaaaa! Small thing; you are seeing the finished product - which is most important.

Now before  I take my leave, I need to put in my two cents before the purists come to whip me, lol!
Some may argue and say that because there’s no mozzarella and ricotta in this recipe, it’s not a lasagne. In my book, once you use the sheet noodles of the same name, it's a lasagne, whether is has chicken, fish, lobster or lentils. It shouldn't matter if you use a cheese filling or a cheese sauce. Lasagne is lasagne (whether you choose to spell it with an 'a' or an 'e' at the end of the word).  This version  is what has been starring in my kitchen for years; a two-cheese, budget friendly, Trinidadian, Halcian Pierre original Zannia, made with love and guaranteed to full your belly and have you licking your lips, you hear? 

And thus, I bow and thank you for continuing to support my humble blog. Leave a comment or two so I'll know you passed through nuh, hahahaaa!

Stay tuned for another fun food journey, my friends. Much love and hugs, and doh forget to mind de pot.


  1. Yeahhhhhhhhhh lunch tomorrow...awwww dammmm. I traelling early (freeze a piece for Friday lunch fuh yuh boy nah. Congrats - said you would do it...DID I!!!!!!

  2. You sure did meng!! LOL!! I promise to keep your piece for you, Clint, yuh done know! And thanks ever so much my friend! The cookbook is almost done too; the desserts are giving me some beans... It may be the shortest section in the book yes, hahahaaa!
    Hugs and love always!

  3. Halley, looks great! One quick thing for you to try: the last couple times I made italian stuff, I made my own tomato sauce for it. This is not a do-this-or-it's-adulterated suggestion; I found four really good reasons for making the sauce: 1) it's plenty cheaper, 2) it tastes a lot better and fresher, 3) you can use a lot, lot less oil than the storebought ones have, and 4) it's really easy, if you do it in a slow cooker overnight. Just drop one 32 oz can of whole tomatoes, one six ounce can of tomato paste, a few cloves of garlic, a diced onion, some salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme, and just one tablespoon of olive oil into the slow cooker and leave it be until the next day. I

  4. Sounds awesome, Marc, and luckily I do have an old slow cooker so I'm definitely gonna try it soon. Thanks for the tip, my dear! Muah! :-D