If you're anything like me, lunch is the most problematic meal of the day. I've got breakfast
down pat, and dinner is always an adventure with three kids with varying tastes, but lunch? I
know I have to eat, and usually I'm hungry, but I run into the same problem nearly every day:
what is for lunch? More importantly, what's for lunch that I actually want to eat? After too
many consecutive days of tuna salad or turkey-and-cheese roll-ups, a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich sounds awfully tempting.
Three Layer Savory Ricotta "Pie"
Of course, I don't eat PB&J — unless it's made with sugar-free jam and low carb bread, and
even then, it's a treat, not a staple. While I may indulge in the occasional slice of pizza,
I've often found those extra carbs at lunch coming back to haunt me, in the form of
out-of-control hunger later in the day. I've learned the hard way that limiting refined carbs
at lunch is one of the best things I can do to avoid the pitfalls of the afternoon snack. (Not
that I don't believe in snacking, because I do. I think you should eat when you're hungry. But
sometimes I know I've had enough calories, and I still feel hungry, and then I have to think,
what's going on here? If I'm hungry because my blood sugar's out of whack because of an earlier
carb indulgence, I'll try to quell it with a glass of water or a cup of tea.)
I've found, as in many things, that successful lunches require advance planning. The easiest
lunches by far are the ones made from last night's leftovers; sometimes it's easy to make a
few extra servings, or buy a slightly larger roast, and get a few single extra meals out of
one dinner prep.
I also keep a supply of portable foods on hand for rushed days. If I'm running out the door,
I'll grab a couple of BabyBel cheeses, a handful of nuts, and a few dried apricots. Not the
best solution, but easy to eat when I'm on the go.
You can see I have pretty minimal requirements for my lunches. I need a good protein source,
and often I am satisfied with just that (hence the tuna salad, and the turkey and cheese
roll-ups.) What I like, though, is to get some more nutrients and fiber, too, which is why
I'll reach for nuts and dried fruit (in moderation!) when I'm pressed for time, or I'll pile
the tuna salad into an avocado half, or roll up some lettuce along with the turkey and cheese.
What's really nice, though, is having something that's just for lunch. This ricotta "pie"
recipe packs in all the protein you could want and delicious veggies, too. It could make a
lovely first course for a fancy dinner, but for me, it's just right for lunch.
- 16 ounces (1 bag) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- 1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 C shredded whole milk mozzarella cheese
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T olive oil
- 6 roma tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 tsp Italian seasonings
- 2 C (1 15 ounce container) whole milk ricotta
- 1 C grated parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
Spinach layer: warm the oil in a medium skillet over low heat, and add the minced garlic. Cook
for about 2-3 minutes to soften, stirring occasionally. While the garlic is cooking, remove as
much liquid from the spinach as possible. The easiest way to do this is to squeeze small handfuls
one at a time until the entire package is processed. Add the spinach to the garlic and oil in
the skillet, and stir to combine. Add the two cheeses, and stir to distribute evenly. Cook just
until the mozzarella starts to melt.
Spray a 10-inch pie pan (I used a glass pan) with no-stick cooking spray, and scrape the
spinach-cheese mixture into the pie pan. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the
pan and up the sides, being careful not to leave thin spots.
Bake the spinach layer at 350°F for 40-45 minutes, until the crust is nicely brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before finishing assembly.
While the crust is baking, prepare the other layers.
Tomato layer: Dice the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces. Using the same skillet you used for
the spinach, add another 2 T olive oil and the garlic, as before. Let the garlic soften
over low heat for a few minutes, then add the diced tomatoes and the Italian seasoning.
Increase the heat to medium high, and stir the tomatoes as they cook. Continue for about 5 minutes
or so, until the tomatoes are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat and
set the pan aside to cool while you prepare the ricotta layer.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the two eggs, then add the ricotta and parmesan cheeses, and stir
very well to combine. This mixture will be stiff, so be sure that there are no clumps of
To finish, spread the tomato mixture evenly over the bottom of the spinach layer, then carefully
spoon the ricotta layer on top of the tomatoes. Spread the ricotta out to the sides of the pie
pan, and smooth out the top. Bake the pie at 350°F for 30-40 minutes, until the top is
Allow to cool completely before cutting; if you slice the pie while it's still warm, the spinach
layer tends to fall apart. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate any
APPROXIMATE NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING:
316 calories; 24 g fat; 8 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 20 g protein.
So, what do you like for lunch? What lunch do you miss most from your pre-LC days? Send me an email and let me know, and I'll share the best lunch ideas
in a future column.
Copyright © April 2006 Joan Hedman and Low Carb Luxury