This is the time of year when the temperature drops, and I always dream of moving to a town with a much warmer climate. But this time around, I own a local food business that I am committed to growing. I’ve put down some serious roots, and they need watering. So, I put the kibosh on dreams of waking up in a warm little beach town. At least for now! One day, I hope Adam and I will own a seaside Bed and Breakfast and Dinner where we will be able to share our culinary creations daily with visitors from all walks of life.
But today, in reality, I cooked up a little storm in order to find my warmth. I am talking about a big, fat, fresh, creamy, soul satisfying lasagna! And that all began with a variety of ripe tomatoes, sweet onion, shallot, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms and a really big pot.
My mom has always made delicious tomato sauce- simple and delectable, bubbling with the most luscious meatballs. I think I started in the same vein, but my sauce really morphed into a celebration of slow-cooked vegetables.
And, more often than not, it is laced with one of any number of meats that has some fat in it to keep things interesting. Today, ground hot Italian sausage got the whole party goin’ and after I cooked it up, I reserved it so I could layer it into the lasagna later.
As my kitchen began to perfume the entire neighborhood, I made tiny crosses in the tops of my tomatoes, quickly boiled them and then plunged them into a bowl of ice water so I could remove the skins easily. Then, I chopped them roughly. Roughly in size, not in care. : ) When the veggies were soft, I knew it was time to add the tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.
I always add a can or two of tomatoes and about half a can of tomato paste, just to bring that tomato-y flavor to the forefront, especially if it’s not tomato seaon in Georgia. Salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and a good two pinches of sugar brighten that tomato flavor even more. Then, I added a fistful of dried Italian herbs to add flavor and saved the fresh herbs until the sauce had some time to come together.
I understand that a fistful isn’t really a measurement and that “until the sauce had some time to come together” isn’t really a definitive moment…but this is how I cook. The way the sauce looks, smells, tastes, and feels. That’s how I know when to take the next steps. I have found it quite challenging to put these types of thoughts into actual words and recipes for other people to easily follow. But I love that challenge.
As the sauce bubbled gently, Adam (finally home from work- yay!) began to create the cheese mixture that takes our lasagna to incredible heights. Your cheese sauce can literally make or break you. Fresh herbs, garlic, eggs, ricotta, parmesan, and a touch of nutmeg provide the flavor and the power to bring this masterpiece together.
Next- time for some fresh herbs- and lots of them. The usual suspects here: basil, oregano, and parsley. Luckily I live about five minutes from the largest indoor farmer’s market in the world. So I have access to super fresh, inexpensive herbs, vegetables, and spices year round. I know. I am a very lucky girl. Just a few minutes later, I took out one of my favorite wedding presents- the stick blender. A hand-held magic wand. I blended my sauce, not to a pulp, but just ‘til it looked saucy to me. I like to leave some of the carrot chunks in there, because the sweet surprise they offer is so lovely.
Phew, and then came time to build!! I grabbed the new fangled no-cook lasagna noodles when I went to the market this time. It saved me a step, and I find they work quite well. Sauce, noodles, cheese mixture, spinach, pork, more sauce, mozzarella, and repeat. And repeat. Of course I finished with cheese…I’ll have to explain my love affair with cheese at a later date.
The most excruciating time was the time spent waiting for the lasagna to cook. Those smells were tantalizing. But oh. My. Goodness. This lasagna was a melt in your mouth, satsify your cravings, mmmmm all over the place, kind of lasagna. The crispy lasagna candy on top- crunchy, cheesy, salty, divine. The pasta was cooked perfectly. The layers of goodness in the sauce totally sang through every bite.
It was so worth every single second we put lovingly into this project. And even more delightful since we got to share it with two hungry friends.
Now, I am warm. Hope you are too.
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