Friday, September 2, 2011

Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – March 3, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published in Simple & Delicious, December/January 2011.

I love lasagna.  I love Cajun food.  I love shrimp & cheese.  This recipe could have quite possibly been written with me in mind.

That being said, I hate having to make rolls.  They never turn out as pretty as they are supposed to be.  Also, it usually is ridiculously messy.  Add to that, REGULAR lasagna is time consuming to make because you have to cook the noodles, make the sauce, make the filling and assemble.  However, the attraction to the cheesy, Cajun, shrimp with lasagna noodles blinded me to all of this and I excitedly started this recipe.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups
Look at this picture and tell me you don’t think it looks delicious.  I’ve been flipping back and forth between my picture and the published picture and I gotta tell ya… it looks pretty close.

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The picture published in Simple and Delicious looks very tasty, but I can’t figure out how they got their shrimp to make the rolls look so perfect.  My rolls look just as tall, but the shrimp is tucked inside.  That’s the only way I could get them to roll into a pretty spiral.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessSIGH – I had no illusions that I wasn’t going to end up a gigantic mess.  I’ve made lasagna before and there are so many pots to dirty and messes to be made.  What I didn’t realize is the time it would take to line up the slimy noodles (olive oil helps them from sticking together), rolling them and then attempting to move that roll over to the baking dish.  Oh yeah, there’s lots of melted cheese and tomatoes to clean.

Start-to-Finish Time: OVER TWO HOURS – This was a far cry from the 55 minutes listed on the recipe.  I knew it was going to take a little longer, but I had not anticipated this amount of time.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – So the tomatoes and onions didn’t have to be finely chopped, but there was A LOT of chopping to do.

Ease of Recipe: MORE THAN I BARGAINED FOR – it isn’t that it is hard, but it just took a long time to make and there were a lot of steps.  I think if you had help – say one person in charge of noodles, one person in charge of sauce, one person in charge of filling and everyone pitching in to make rolls – it would be a lot easier.  As a solo project… quite a bit of work.

OverallYUMMY – so this tasted great, but it was a ridiculous amount of work.  It was even more difficult to make than lasagna.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Nutrition Data.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 25 minutes + standing
Servings: 6

Nutritional Information (1 serving = 2 pieces)
  • Calories 689
  • Total Fat 35g (Saturated Fat 18g)
  • Cholesterol 249mg
  • Sodium 1425mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 55g
  • Fiber 3g
  • Protein 41g
I actually got three more rolls out of the dish – plenty of filling as well as noodles.  The serving size of 2 rolls per person is fairly accurate, although hearty appetites may eat 3 or 4.  It is plenty of food (if not a little heavy), and if you serve it with a light salad and crusty bread to round out the meal you may be able to get 7-8 servings out of the casserole.

The prep time is so much longer than listed because you need to cook the lasagna noodles first.  It always amuses me when recipes call for ingredients such as pasta that are pre-cooked.  You can’t really buy pre-cooked lasagna noodles, so you have to account for the noodles to be finished – which they never do.  Let’s face it, if you saw a recipe with a 2 hour preparation time, you’d probably pass it over, right?

At least 45 minutes of the total time is baking/standing time, so you won’t be sweating over a hot sauce and lasagna pans for the entire 2 hours and 14 minutes.  Here’s how my timing worked out:
  • Prep Time: 50 minutes
  • Sauce and Filling Complete: 24 minutes
  • Assemble Rolls: 15 minutes
  • Bake Time: 30 minutes (total)
  • Standing Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 14 minutes
The nutritional data on this recipe isn’t great.  Very high in fat and sodium… not exactly the healthiest meal.  This wasn’t a shock to me though.  It is loaded with cheese, milk and sausage after all.  I always plug the original recipe into Nutritional Data to see how close it is to the original.  I was shocked to see the sodium level change to a crazy number!  Everything else dropped (a pleasant surprise), but boy… that sodium is WAY too high.  Here is the nutritional data on the original recipe per Nutritional Data:
  • Serving Size 2 pieces
  • Calories 584
  • Total Fat 35g (Saturated Fat 15g)
  • Cholesterol 76mg
  • Sodium 2279mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 47g
  • Fiber 7g
  • Sugar 7g
  • Protein 27g
I made some changes to slim it down and try to reduce the sodium.  After I made some changes I ran it through again to see if there were any differences:
  • Serving size 2 pieces
  • Calories 474
  • Total Fat 25g (Saturated Fat 9g)
  • Cholesterol 46mg
  • Sodium 2102mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 46g
  • Fiber 7g
  • Sugar 6g
  • Protein 21g
I was pleasantly surprised how much the fat, cholesterol levels went down.  I was a little disappointed that the changes I made didn’t lower the sodium more though.  Then I remembered that reduced fat dairy products tend to have a slightly higher sodium count.  Oh well, at least it went down a little.  On the nutrition scale, it is at least filling for the calorie count.

Changes denoted by red text

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Ingredients - Meats
1-1/4 pounds uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup diced fully cooked spicy jalapeño chicken sausage

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Ingredients - Vegetables

1 medium onion, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

Fit Spray Wash

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Ingredients - Dairy

1/4 cup butter, cubed

2 cups skim milk

 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese

4 ounces pepper Jack cheese, shredded

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Ingredients - Pantry & Spices
2 tablespoons Olive Oil

2 tablespoons Creole seasoning

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

15 whole grain lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

1 teaspoon paprika

Cooking Spray

Ingredient Notes:
Shrimp – look for shrimp that are 41-60 ct for the “medium size”.  I found frozen shrimp that were already deveined, but I still had to peel them.

Tomatoes – originally, the recipe called for 4 tomatoes.  I only used 3.  I’m kind of glad that that’s all I used too since it seemed like A LOT of tomatoes in my filling.

Creole Seasoning – the recipe called for Cajun spice, but I couldn’t find any that specifically said Cajun.  Instead, I used my Creole seasoning that I already had.  Since I wasn’t sure if it was a true substitute, I did a little research on the topic of Creole versus Cajun cooking.  Both types of cooking originated in France.  One of the main differences is how they prepare their roux – Creole roux is a butter & flour blend (like traditional French roux) and Cajun roux is an oil and flour blend.  Interestingly enough, the roux for this dish (cheese sauce) is a butter/flour mix, so technically, it is a Creole dish.  Therefore, in this particular case, I am certain that the “Creole” and “Cajun” distinction is all marketing and the spices used are roughly the same.

Garlic – to save some time, I used my pre-minced garlic.  A handy shortcut when you’ve got a lot of prep work to do.

Flour – I spooned the flour into the measuring cup and leveled it.  When you scoop the flour with the measuring cup, you can pack in more flour than needed.  Since I was using skim milk, which could take longer to thicken, I decided I didn’t want any more flour in the dish than necessary.

Skim Milk – the recipe originally called for regular 2% milk.  I only keep skim milk on hand so I used that.  Just remember that even using 1% milk drops the calories by 20% and cuts the fat and cholesterol in half.  Skim has zero fat and a relatively insignificant amount of cholesterol while shaving off a third of the calories.  Considering that it didn’t affect the sauce’s consistency at all, it was a good alternative to full-fat milk.

Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese
  • There are several types of cheddar cheese (determined by the amount of milk in it) and this recipe doesn’t specify which one to use.  I went with a mild, reduced-fat cheddar cheese.  If you don’t like cheddar, you can substitute Colby or a Colby-jack blend.
  • The original recipe called for regular cheddar cheese, but going with a reduced fat cheese reduces the calories and fat by about a third and lowers the cholesterol slightly.  One thing about using the reduced fat cheese is sometimes it doesn’t melt as easily, but that wasn’t the case with this recipe.
Spicy Jalapeno Chicken Sausage
  • The original recipe called for andouille sausage which, according to Wikipedia, is a smoked meat made out of pork, peppers, onion and wine with seasonings.  My trip to the local grocery store (moderate size) yielded no andouille sausage, which surprised me more than anything else.  I looked around for a substitute and found this jalapeno and chicken blend.  Is it a perfect substitute?  No, but it tasted great and gave a great kick to the cheese sauce.
  • I used 2 medium-size links to get the cup of diced sausage.
Whole Grain Lasagna Noodles
  • The original recipe called for “regular” lasagna noodles, but according to Weight Watchers wheat pasta is “loaded in vitamins and minerals and has two to three times as much fiber as refined-wheat (regular) pasta."  Some food for thought if you’re debating whether or not it is worth switching to whole wheat pasta.
  • Many an Italian has told me that wheat pasta is blasphemy.  Personally?  I can’t tell the difference.  However, the original recipe does call for traditional pasta, so feel free to use it in the event (a) you can’t find wheat lasagna noodles or (b) you can’t bring yourself to eat the wheat.
  • There really isn’t a substitute for lasagna noodles.  You can’t use the no-boil noodles either since they have to be flexible enough for you to roll them up into spirals.
Pepper Jack Cheese – I used regular Pepper Jack cheese, but I noticed there is now a reduced-fat version.  I would definitely go for that if making it again.

Fit Spray Wash – Since I had tomatoes to clean, I used my Fit Spray wash to clean the vegetables.  It just helps take that waxy build-up off of produce without a lot of scrubbing.

Cooking Spray – you have to lightly grease the baking dish, and this is the most effective way I know how to do that.  Besides, you don’t need the extra fat or calories that come along with greasing with butter.

Equipment Needed:
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That's a lot, isn't it?
(2) bowls
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Pasta pot
Wooden spoon
Paper Towels
Dutch oven
Large saucepan
(2) large spoons
Baking Dish
Aluminum Foil

Equipment Notes:
Bowls – I keep two bowls handy for when I’m cleaning shrimp.  I remove the shrimp from the bag, peel the shrimp & drop the shell into one bowl (which I then use as a garbage bowl) and then place the cleaned shrimp in the other.

Paper Towels – this was a tip from the pasta box.  It keeps the noodles damp and prevents them from sticking together in a pile.  I really didn’t need that many, maybe 4 sheets total.

Dutch Oven – the recipe calls for a large skillet, but there’s A LOT of filling and the large skillet doesn’t cut it.  If you have a large skillet with deep sides, it will work.  If not, stick with a Dutch oven.

Baking Dish – Better Homes and Gardens says one of the major differences between metal pans and glass/ceramic baking dishes is the way heat affects them (high temperatures can make glass shatter and cooking temperatures need to be altered when substituting one for the other).  However, in this case, the acidic quality of tomatoes can react with metal pans and cause the food to discolor, so you definitely want to use glass if at all possible.

(1)  Before prepping the ingredients, start the water for the lasagna noodles.

(2)  While prepping the rest of the ingredients, cook and drain the noodles.  Layer the noodles between damp paper towels and lightly drizzle them with olive oil to keep them from sticking together (and tearing).

If noodles finish cooking before you finish prepping the rest of your ingredients, that’s okay.  You’re going to have to deal with the noodles immediately though.  Don’t just dump them in a colander and leave them.  They’ll stick together and you’ll end up tearing them when trying to assemble the rolls.

(3)  In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté shrimp and onion in oil until shrimp turn pink.

It took about 5 minutes for the shrimp to be cooked all the way through.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups - Finished Filling
(4)  Stir in tomatoes and Cajun seasoning; set aside.

Now you are ready to make the cheese sauce, which is based off a traditional roux.  Make sure you have all your ingredients measured and ready to go since the process moves fast and the flour based roux can burn easily.

(5)  In a large saucepan, melt the butter.  Sauté garlic in butter for 1 minute over medium-high heat.

(6)  Stir in flour until blended.

(7)  Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

I was a little worried that the skim milk wouldn’t allow it to thicken up or take a lot longer than 2 minutes to cook.  Turns out, I had nothing to worry about!

(8)  Remove from the heat; stir in cheddar cheese until smooth.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups - Cheese Sauce
(9)  Add sausage; set aside.

At this point, I could have eaten the sauce right out of the pot.  It smelled fabulous!

(10)  Spray a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups
Filling before Rolled
(11)  Spread 1/3 cup shrimp mixture over each noodle and carefully roll up.

Notice that I have filling spread on ¾ of the noodle only.  As you roll, the filling will sometimes move up.  I wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting filling that would end up outside of the roll when I was done.

Don’t worry about trying to roll the spirals tight.  You should be more concerned about keeping the filling in and having a nice round spiral.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups
Finished Roll
When you are moving the spiral from the counter to the baking dish, make sure you use your hands to protect the filling from falling out the sides.  Rotate the seam of the roll to the top so you can secure it while moving it.  Cup your hands around the roll, placing your thumbs on top and lifting gently, but quickly to the dish.  As you place it in the dish, gently put it down, and then roll your hands off the roll to keep it intact.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups
All Rolls Complete
(12)  Place seam side down in the prepared baking dish.

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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups
Casserole Assembled
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Cajun Shrimp Lasagna Roll-Ups
Casserole Assembled - Side View
(13)  Top with cheese sauce and sprinkle with pepper Jack cheese and paprika. 

(14)  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 15 minutes.

(15)  Uncover; bake 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Now I may have added a little extra garlic to the cheese sauce, but it was phenomenal!!!  It was rich and thick and a little bit of butter-cheesy heaven.  The chicken and jalapeno sausage had a great kick that really added something to the dish.  However, I do wonder what it would have tasted like with the andouille sausage.  Overall, it was delicious, but a lot of work.  I would be willing to make it for a special dinner or guests, but not just for us again.

If I were going to make any changes, they would be:
  • I would make it as a small lasagna (9” square perhaps) with 3 layers and cheese sauce on top.  I might add some sauce in the layers, but before I added the meat.  It was simply too much work to roll all the lasagna sprials.
  • I would look harder for andouille sausage.  I wasn’t disappointed in the chicken-jalapeno, but I’m curious to know how it would taste with the andouille.

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