Sunday, June 29, 2008

Noodle Love VIII: Lasagna

Although now I, happily, spend much of my time cooking for a man, I did, in my more youthful and culinarily inexperienced years, enjoy having a man cook for me. My junior year in college, I lived in a single-person dorm that was the size of a walk-in closet, and, with no kitchen of my own, my meals usually consisted of ice-cream scoop-mounded piles of the cafeteria's mystery meat du jour. But sometimes I'd pack a bag and leave campus for a weekend and be served food—delicious food—that was made just for me by a man who enjoyed indulging my every request. There were dishes I asked for over and over again, pepperoni bread and crab-stuffed chicken breast being the most frequent two. But sometimes he'd plan the meals and I'd sit at the kitchen table, greedily sipping glass after glass of wine, waiting impatiently for whatever was being prepared for me.

He liked to use onions, an ingredient which, at the time, I insisted I didn't care for. He used so many that the smell would permeate the air of his small apartment and I'd rub my watering eyes and complain that I didn't know why he had to use so many onions. He'd refill my glass and chop another onion.

The particular meal I'm thinking of now was lasagna. The man may have turned out to be a dud, but the lasagna was not. It was delicious, and I still remember it as the best lasagna I've ever had. I don't know how he made it—at the time I was interested in eating, not cooking—but, besides the onions, I remember that the sauce was heavy on red wine. When the weekend was over, I returned to my dorm, lasagna-filled Tupperware in tow, and stored the leftovers in my mini-fridge. In the following days I ate the leftovers cold from the fridge for breakfast—then, breakfast was around 11:00 am—and it was as good cold as it had been warm.

These days, I'm with a man who is wonderful but whose overly picky tastes threaten to cramp my budding culinary repertoire. He's not impressed in the least with Italian food, he insists that all pasta is the same, and he hates tomatoes and ricotta cheese. What is a lasagna-loving girl to do?

Well, I make it anyway, that's what I do. But only rarely, and only when I find a recipe that seems especially tasty. I thought maybe Martha Stewart’s Lasagna Primavera would get by Adam. There are no tomatoes in it, after all, and it’s filled with veggies, so I thought I could pass it off as health food. But he didn't like the ricotta or the frozen spinach, which is the latest addition to his growing list of dislikes. He ate one piece of the lasagna, and only after he'd doused it in Red Hot.

I hope that, in telling you this, I'm not doing this lasagna a disservice. Adam is strange and peculiar and you can't go by his tastes. But you can certainly trust me, and I'm telling you that this lasagna is wonderful. It's so good that I had to spend the next week finishing the leftovers myself, and I didn't mind a bit.

If I had to make one complaint, though, I'd say that I wish the noodles themselves had stayed a bit firmer. The recipe calls for the lasagna to be cooked for 65 minutes--is it possible for noodles not to turn soft after that long? I don't know. I used oven-ready noodles, as the recipe advised, but, if I ever dare to make lasagna again, I might try using regular noodles, soaked very briefly in hot water, and see how that works out.

I had planned to serve the lasagna with garlic knots, but making the lasagna was not a speedy process, and I didn’t have it in me to bake anything else. I found, though, that the lasagna goes really well served with a very simple side of vine-ripened, lightly salted tomatoes. Enjoy!

Vegetable Lasagna
Adapted from Freeze-Ahead Lasagna Primavera

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for foil
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry*
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
1 cup finely shredded broccoli florets**
1/2 pound carrots (4 to 5), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg***
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta (about 2 cups)
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 package (9 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
1 pound part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; add onion and garlic and cook until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let flour mixture darken); whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently; reduce to a simmer, and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add spinach, peas, broccoli, and carrots; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Set sauce aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

In the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, spread a thin layer of vegetable sauce. Layer 3 noodles, half the remaining vegetable sauce, another 3 noodles, half the ricotta mixture, half the mozzarella, and half the Parmesan; repeat.

Cover dish with lightly oiled aluminum foil, and place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake 45 minutes, uncover, and bake until bubbling and browned, about 20 minutes more. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

* I used my salad spinner to get the water out of the frozen spinach. It takes a while, but remove as much liquid as you can, or else your sauce will be watery.
** I added the broccoli because I had some to use up, but it’s optional. If you choose to add it, just shred it as finely as you can with a sharp knife until it looks like it does in the picture above.
*** The nutmeg is optional, too, but I really like the flavor. Nutmeg is often paired with both cream sauces and dark greens.


Leigh Russell said...

Looks - well, good enough to eat! I'm sure you'll win your man round in the end. He must have some taste buds?

Kevin said...

That lasagna looks good! I like all of the vegetables in it!

Love, TasteSpotting said...

oh, just clicked through on your submission to TasteSpotting, and would love to see you re-submit this post with a picture that's cropped to a 250x250 square before uploading (?) the cropping tool on TS cropped your photo in a strange place. your original choice of photo was good, but wow do i love that bottom on of the close-up!

looking forward to seeing you on tastespotting

noble pig said...

Okay I was going to say how much I love this lasagna but I am just shocked about the Tastespotting message...there's people who work there? He-he.

Jeena said...

Looks so good I love all of the vegetables, I would of loved this lasagne because I quite like a soft pasta so it sounds perfect. :-)

Grace said...

what a gorgeous slab of lasagna! i'm always baffled when people tell me they don't like tomatoes--what's not to love? eh, to each his own. this is a terrific compromise--good for you. :)

Tarah said...

Ohh, I love Vegetarian Lasagna!

Yours looks so good! So delicious!

CEW said...

About 6 months ago or so, Everyday Food ran a recipe for baked ziti with garlic bread and crispy italian salad. Anytime I'm feeling like lasagna, I make it because it's much quicker to put together than lasagna, and it tastes enough like it to satisfy my craving for gooey cheesy tomatoey yumminess. Plus, it's written to only serve 4, so you won't have too many leftovers. ;) My S.O. won't eat certain things that I just love, so I understand how hard it can be to be selfish with food sometimes.

Parker said...

Oh yes I remember those dorm days eating noting but bowls of cereal for dinner...I strayed away from the mystery meats.

I like your style... make it anyways...I know it can be difficult cooking for a picky eater, especially wheny ou obviously are a great cook with a diverse palate.

Although I love tomatoes and ricotta myself, this version of lasagna looks incredible. I will keep this recipe in mind next time I make one.

Patsyk said...

Oh, those pictures made my mouth water! I love lasagna, but don't make it often due to the time it takes. Maybe this winter I'll give it another go and try your recipe.

Nina's Kitchen (Nina Timm) said...

Oh dear, this looks great. I often wonder how you guys manage to cut a perfect slice for a success on this side, yet.
Lovely post.

Leah said...

All winter long I searched for a 'white lasagna' recipe; I can't thank you enough for posting on this! It's exactly what I've been craving, I can't wait to make it, and your pictures of it are gorgeous!

Deborah said...

I'd like to say that my husband is not picky at all, and for the most part, he's pretty agreeable, but there are some things that he doesn't like. And I've learned that whenever he douses his dinner in some sort of sauce, it's not an insult to my cooking! This lasagna sounds great - I love all of the veggies in it!

giz said...

Fussy eaters can be a pain - trust me on this - I've been surrounded by them all my life. Now I just resort to trickery and a good food processor. Once can flavour just about anything and disguise it. It's then that it becomes win-win

freckle said...

I made this last night with regular noodles (pre-blanched for 2 minutes) and it turned out really well. Added bonus, I think they soaked up some of the excess spinach water and everything was nice and firm and solid.

Vicarious Foodie said...

freckle: so glad to hear this worked out well for you! Thanks for your tip about the noodles--I'll keep that in mind.

Anonymous said...

A quick way to get the water out of your spinach is to use a potato ricer. works like a charm.

And I tried those no bake lasagna noodles, don't like them at all.

I use Barilla brand, and cook for five minutes.

PattiSue said...

This is definitely going on my list of things to make, IMMEDIATELY! It looks so delicious!

Sarah said...

Your food looks so delicious. And thanks for the recipe

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