Old favorites for new loves: lasagna
I recently wrote about how I am slowly developing a different relationship with cooking since Kevin died. Part of the challenge for me (and for many widowed people) has been giving myself permission to enjoy food and cooking since my spouse's death. I associate complex cooking with Kevin, so learning to relish it again is a whole new ballgame.
This past weekend I decided to make lasagna. This was never a big favorite of Kevin's, but my new sweetheart, C, loves it. I wanted to make it as a love letter for him yet the idea of cooking something complex and with passion felt a bit daunting. It felt like more than I could easily manage, that I'd get lost in the details and memories. It felt like I was cheating on Kevin.
I know that's not true, that loving C doesn't mean I love Kevin any less. C understands this and accepts Kevin as part of the package; if he's involved with me then Kevin is part of our relationship. I often feel as though C has a better handle on it than I do and I am deeply grateful that he can accept me with all that it means.
I wanted to make him a lasagna, as something delicious to relish, something special for him, something that tells him how I feel, something sensuous that we could share, yet there was that sense of discomfort. So I talked with him about it. C is a smart man and a wise one. He suggested we make it together. So we did. I'm sure K was there, in the steam from the sauce and the spices and the first shuddering bite. It was delicious. I am glad we made it, the two of us and the three.
Basic Italian-American lasagna, as taught to Laura by a friend's mom many years ago (alas, I forgot to take a picture. Imagine it please.)
- Make the sauce the day before you plan to assemble and cook the lasagna. You can make the sauce from scratch if you like, but I used two bottle of Classico basic red sauce. Saute and drain about half a pound of ground beef and the meat from two spicy Italian and one mild sausage links. Add this cooked meat, broken into small bits, to the sauce. I also added a chopped onion and a lot of chopped garlic, maybe 8 cloves. Let this all simmer on very low heat for a couple of hours, until the onion is translucent and tender. Let the sauce cool and refrigerate until you plan to assemble.
- The day of assembly:
- Mix a large container of whole-milk ricotta with an egg or two, enough that it will be stiff but spreadable. Add a good dose of freshly ground black pepper and about a cup of good grated parmesan cheese. I also add a small bunch of finely chopped parsley. Mix well. The parsley will be noticeable in the finished product so skip if you don't like parsley: I like the herby undertones, it lightens what is a very heavy dish.
- Cook and drain a box of lasagna noodles in well-salted water. They should be very al dente, soft enough that they don't break when you pour them out but still not floppy. Rinse with cool water so they don't stick. I've also made it without cooking the noodles at all, but you'll need to use more sauce as you assemble. I strongly prefer pasta made from semolina.
- Heat the sauce just enough that it's more spreadable. It will likely be very thick right out of the fridge.
- Shred at least a pound of mozzarella. I used closer to two pounds and used pre-shredded cheese, in all honesty.
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Set up all of your ingredients and assemble in a lasagna pan (I use a disposable foil pan because I don't own a baking dish deep enough) placed on a baking sheet. The baking sheet is important because it may bubble over and you don't want to have to clean that mess out of the oven.
- First put a little sauce in the bottom of the pan
- Layer noodles, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella.
- Try for at least three layers (ending with mozzarella).
- Cover with foil and bake. It will be heavy when you lift it. Check in 30 minutes. If it's all nice and bubbly uncover and let the edges brown.
- Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.