lasagna time is now
spinach & cheese rotolo with tomato sauce and whipped mascarpone
Sometimes I just need lasagna.
Like clockwork, thoughts of undulating layers of pasta, oozing cheese, and perfectly golden, crunchy corners arise mere moments after the holiday fanfare subsides. Farewell fairy lights, gingerbread cookies, and late-night eggnog…and hello to the warm bear hug that is lasagna.
Today I’m giving my usual tower of pasta and sauce a little facelift and making rotolo. Rotolo means “roll” or “coil,” and it can refer to a variety of sweet or savory dishes. In this context, it’s a large sheet of pasta, usually filled with spinach and cheese, that’s rolled and sliced cinnamon bun-style, then baked until bubbling in a pool of tomato sauce. Think lasagna meets cannelloni—pasta al forno at its best.
But this is not the traditional method of making rotolo. Typically, raw pasta sheets are arranged on a tea towel. The filling is then spread on top and the pasta is rolled into a log, wrapped tightly in the towel, and secured either by tying the ends like a candy wrapper or with butcher’s twine like a roast. The rotolo is poached in the towel, unwrapped, sliced, and baked. I’m sure this technique isn’t as complicated as it seems, but I was dubious about boiling anything in a towel. So instead I looked to the famous “pinwheel lasagna” of New York-based restaurant Don Angie.
If you’ve heard of Don Angie, you’ve no doubt come across this lasagna. Husband-and-wife team Scott Tacinelli and Angela Rito created the dish as the star of their menu, a dinner designed for two that’s luxurious and comforting in equal measure. Instead of spinach and cheese, Scott and Angie’s dish draws on the flavors of a classic Bolognese lasagna (besciamella, meat sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano) with a touch of their signature Italian-American style (mozzarella, sausage, tomato sauce). You can find the recipe in their excellent cookbook, Italian American.
To make their untraditional rotolo, Scott and Angie forgo the tea towel and blanch the pasta sheets prior to assembly. One sheet of par-cooked pasta is slathered in besciamella and sprinkled with cheese, followed by a second sheet that’s covered in meat sauce. The two layers are then rolled into a tight log and chilled thoroughly before slicing and baking. This technique seemed far more intuitive, so I ran with it. It did not disappoint.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this dish is that it’s rich without being heavy. I used my cheesy spinach lasagna filling as a base, so there’s plenty of delicious dairy to go around. But the generous dose of leafy greens and bright tomato sauce cut through all that cheese beautifully. I also took another leaf from Don Angie’s book: At the restaurant, you’ll find little dollops of robiolina—a soft, slightly tangy fresh cheese—nestled between the lasagna rolls. Here I’ve added some whipped mascarpone and sheep’s milk feta to complete the look, which adds a welcome layer of tang.
Like any lasagna, this recipe is 110% slow-and-steady project cooking. I strongly encourage you to spread the preparation over two days. Doing so will ensure the components are properly chilled, not to mention keep kitchen fatigue at bay. The finished dish is well worth the wait.
Spinach & Cheese Lasagna Rolls (Rotolo)
Serves 6 to 8; makes 15 rolls