I don’t know about you but for me, the best way to show me you love me is to cook for me. I love being cooked for but since I also love to cook and I am home, it falls that I am usually the one doing the cooking. Which is fine. Although, I do like to remember back when A. was a-courting me…he quickly figured out the way to my heart was through my taste buds and there were many meals where I got to sit and read a book or a magazine while he rushed around the kitchen trying to impress me. And sometimes he did. The first time I recall being really impressed with something he made was when he made lasagna. It was a fennel and mushroom lasagna from Epicurious and to this day, it’s his go to meal when he has to cook.
Around Christmas time we were planning on bringing food to his parent’s house for dinner and we decided that A. would make his lasagna and I would make a white lasagna. Lasagna in Bianco. I did some research and found a good recipe to use as a template but last night when I made it again I veered from my first attempt and decided to wing it. As so often happens, I had things in the fridge I wanted to use up so I made it work. And I’m so glad I did because it turned out perfectly.
Now lasagna takes a little bit of work but nothing that can’t be handled by breaking it down into steps. Steps make everything easier. Baby steps. As in life. As in lasagna.
Step One. What are you going to put in your lasagna? I had some broccolini that was starting to look a little worse for the wear, some carrots I had just picked up from the farmer’s market and a basket of mushrooms that needed to be eaten soon. I got to work prepping my veggies. First I sauteed 4 to 6 thinly sliced carrots in a bit of butter and olive oil. I popped a lid on them for a few minutes to let them steam and then I finished them off just until they started to get some brown spots. Set them in a bowl and pop the pan back on the heat, swirl in a bit more olive oil and then I tossed in my chopped broccolini which I had parboiled for a minute or two. I seasoned the broccolini (3 bunches) with minced garlic (6 cloves) and salt and red pepper flakes. I just sauteed the broccolini until it picked up the flavors of the garlic and red pepper flakes. Set the broccolini aside in another bowl and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Throw in a small chunk of butter and then add the sliced mushrooms. Sautee the mushrooms until golden and set them aside with the other vegetables.
Step two. Make your bechamel. This is your white sauce. Now this is the sauce that is going to flavor your lasagna noodles so you want to infuse some flavor into it. There is nothing worse than a bland and pasty bechamel. Start by measuring out 3-4 cups of whole milk or a combination of heavy cream and skim milk, half and half and 2% whatever you have on hand, short of straight skim milk should work. Nothing leaner than 2% though. Put the milk in a saucepan (I used one cup heavy cream and 3 cups skim milk because that’s what I had in the house.) Bonus points if your cream is from here.
Battenkill Valley Creamery. I live down the hill from them…well, down the hill and over the mountain but really, right around the corner.
Put your cream into a saucepan and warm it up. I like to add some flattened cloves of garlic. Flatten with the side of a knife so the flavor is exuded into the milk and they’re easy to fish out later. I also added a Parmesan rind to mine. Always save your Parmesan rinds they add fantastic flavor and umami to all sorts of things. If you don’t save them, don’t tell me- it will break my heart.
I like to give my milk a while to simmer to get the most flavor out of my garlic and Parmesan rind. I usually let it simmer for a half an hour or so. Just be careful milk has a tendency to boil over and make a huge mess. Low heat, low heat.
Once I feel that I have enough flavor infused into my milk, I start the bechamel. In another saucepan I melt a half stick of butter. When it starts to foam, toss in 1/4 cup of white flour and whisk like mad. This is not the time to check your email. You whisk, whisk, whisk until the raw flour smell starts to fade and the flour starts to color. As soon as that happens, start adding your milk. I like to add mine a little at a time and just whisk like crazy because I find the final product is smoother. Once all your milk is incorporated, taste it. Add salt. Taste it again. If you really want to round out the flavors and add a little something special, grate some fresh nutmeg on top. I don’t know why, but most white sauces and cheese sauces benefit from a grating of nutmeg. Try it.
Step three. Make your ricotta filling. Not much to this. I used 3 cups of ricotta and two large eggs. Whisk until smooth.
Step four. Assemble your lasagna. In the bottom of a 9×13 pan, add a ladle full of bechamel, three lasagna noodles (I’m partial to Barilla No Cook Noodles), spoon on some ricotta and sprinkle with your vegetables. I did broccolini topped with carrots and then mushrooms. Drizzle the veggies with more bechamel and then add more noodles, more ricotta, more veggies, more bechamel…
and so on until you reach as many layers as you’d like. I had 4 layers. Spoon the rest of the bechamel over the top and cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. And the most important step of all? Let your lasagna rest. Do not even think about cutting into it until it’s rested at least 15 but preferably 20 minutes. I’m so impatient that I had to take a shower while mine was resting because I didn’t trust myself.
Do you enjoy having someone make a meal for you?