Nollaig na mBan, Spinach and Cream Cheese Lasagne, Vegetarian

Celebrating Nollaig na mBan, 2015

Being a proud Kerry woman, my mother insisted on celebrating Nollaig na mBan. I never questioned it. I took it for granted that all homes in Ireland were the same. I have since discovered the day is only celebrated by pockets throughout Ireland rather than widespread. I read up about this and while many suggest it’s fading out, I can tell you that’s utter nonsense; if anything, it’s on the rise! Where it is celebrated, it is done so with great gusto!

So what is it? Translated into English, Nollaig na mBan means ‘Women’s Christmas’. I couldn’t find out where the tradition comes from but it was generally assumed that, after all the energy and work put into the family Christmas, this was the day the lady of the house had free. Not only that, men took over household duties and child minding while the ladies celebrated with their gal pals and/or other female family members.

Nollaig na mBan was, and is, strictly observed in our home. While the male members of the family didn’t take over the housework, it was the one day in the year my mother did not cook (or more accurately, point blank refused to cook!). For Dad, this was the day my mother went ‘On Strike’! In the days before widespread availability of take-outs and convenience food, my father took us out for dinner. It was that or starve! Not only were we all thankful for the treat but delighted he didn’t cook any of his ‘culinary delights.’ Any day without boiled grey mutton and watery vegetables was a great day!

In more modern times, Nollaig na mBan is celebrated in a number of ways – by dinning out in restaurants with pals or going to the pub. There is something quite cheerful, and yet bizarre, going into a bar which is full of women with the only males found behind the bar working! Alternatively, friends gather at home for a meal or drinks.

The Teen and I always celebrate the day. This year was quiet for us – I simply cooked a nice meal at home. It took a little time but was well worth it as the end result was wolfed down.

And ladies, if you don’t already celebrate Nollaig na mBan – it really is time to start!

Spinach and Cream Cheese Lasagne
(Serves 4)

Tomato sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon, dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon sugar
Tin chopped tomatoes
Olive oil for frying

9-12 Lasagne sheets (no-cook)

Spinach filling
400g baby spinach, washed and chopped roughly
¼ lb mushrooms, chopped finely
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
Freshly grated nutmeg – about ½ teaspoon
½ cup finely grated Parmesan
1 Mozzarella cheese ball – slice one half thinly and cut the other half into small pieces
3 generous tablespoons, cream cheese
Olive oil for frying
Salt and Pepper

Pre-heat oven at 170C

Tomato sauce
1. In a saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion until soft (about 5 minutes)
2. Add in the garlic and fry for another 1-2 minutes
3. Add in the herbs, tomatoes and sugar
4. Season with salt and pepper
5. Put in blender and whisk until smooth but still textured

Spinach filling
1. In a saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion until soft (about 5 minutes)
2. Add in the garlic and fry for another 1-2 minutes
3. Add in the mushrooms and cook until soft
4. Add in the spinach and wilt in the heat
5. Add 2-3 teaspoons of Parmesan, the nutmeg and the cream cheese and stir until combined
6. Season with salt and pepper

Putting the lasagne together
1. Place a few tablespoons of tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan
2. Cover with sheets of lasagne and then spread a third of the spinach filling over the pasta before dotting with small pieces of mozzarella
3. Repeat until finished
4. Cover with sheets of lasagne, pour over the tomato sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and add the sliced mozzarella
5. Cover loosely with foil – sealed at the edges but loose on top to avoid contact with the topping
6. Cook for 35 minutes
7. Remove the foil and cook for a further 5-10 minutes
8. Allow stand for 5 minutes
9. Serve with a dressed green salad