When you need to impress a paramour — and you will — a sure-fire way is to demonstrate talent, familiarity and comfort about the kitchen. Lots of men know this but soon find themselves in over their heads. Far too many showy cooking programs entice with sure-fire boudoir passports such as ‘braised hare in truffle reduction’ or ‘cuttlefish risotto with hearts of palm.’ Ignore these inducements as, similar to flowers and birthday cards, you will follow through but once in your relationship. (Trust me.) Do not find yourself staring angrily at the $60 pail of truffle oil in your pantry for the next decade! Master the preparation of a few honest, uncomplicated items that you will make every month for the rest of your life, without having to consult a recipe.
Today’s directions are for the preparation of lasagne, in a vegetarian variety with spinach. Yours need not be either.
Begin by noting that most Canadians born in the last three decades have never eaten a homemade lasagne. Yes, we eat lasagne frequently, but ready-made. If you make one from scratch, it always, always dazzles. Believe me, because I’m lazy but seek praise…and the following recipe works. It’s dead easy, requires little prior experience and, perhaps best of all, precludes fiddly, precise measuring of ingredients!
Have these items at the ready:
• One egg
• Sprinkle of nutmeg (may be optional — I do throw it in but it strikes me as superfluous)
• Freshly ground pepper
• Container of ricotta (whatever the size on the grocer’s shelves, that’s the one)
• Block of mozzarella (the big one that looks like a paving tile)
• Grated parmesan (the nice kind, not that cardboard cylinder)
• Block of frozen, chopped spinach
• Two jars of vegetarian Bolognese (alternate: 1.5 jars of pasta sauce and a small tray of ground beef)
• Package of lasagne noodles (the regular ones, not the no-boil/no-bakes — they’re a trap)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Have three bowls, two pots, and a baking dish in your kitchen. In a pot on the stove, boil water for 12 noodles. Most ‘recipes’ call for nine but I prefer a noodlier variety. In a second pot, boil the spinach in a little water. Into the first bowl, grate the block of cheese. Into the second bowl, empty the jars of Bolognese. Into the third bowl, mix egg, nutmeg, pepper, tub of ricotta, and some parmesan. Not a lot of the latter, about a quarter cup. If you don’t know what a quarter cup is, I too have no idea. Doesn’t matter — one can’t fail here. Drain the ready spinach and add to the ricotta bowl. Use a hand-mixer or blender to render the cheese-spinach into a lovely, light-green sauce. This is a habit to develop now, in case you need to conceal vegetables from children at some later dinner, years down the road. You’re welcome.
Lightly grease your baking dish and spread a layer of veggie/meat sauce. Cover with three noodles. Add a layer of ricotta/spinach sauce, then meat sauce, then mozzarella, followed by three noodles. Repeat twice more. If you run out of any sauces in your enthusiasm, cancel one noodle layer and take a vow of silence. Once you’ve laid the last noodles, cover with remaining mozzarella and another quarter cup of parmesan. (It’s just enough for a wall-to-wall dusting, if that helps.) Cover with foil and put the lasagne in the oven. The preceding steps will take you 40 minutes the first time, 30 the next time, and maybe 20 once you’ve become a master.
Pour yourself a drink, have a shower, and remove the foil (after about 20-30 minutes). Continue to cook, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes. There’s no great danger of burning or drying out so let’s not be fussy about time after we were so laid back on measurements! Remove from oven and let rest 10-or-so minutes before serving. If you’re already feeling like a whiz, even better thinking is to make this a Sunday night dinner, so your lunches are covered by leftovers for a few days.
Keep making the lasagne, month after month, year upon year. Consider small variations: chop up some mushrooms, add black olives, throw in capers, whatever you’re into. Be glad you don’t have a surplus of truffle oil.
Next in This Series
Crepes: the deceptively simple breakfast you can make if you can count to three.
Image courtesy of Marcus Tamm.