My blog focuses on food, but it is a reflection of my life. It represents my life, through the lens of food, and right now, my life and my heart are broken. Someone passed away recently who was near and dear to many hearts, but mine especially. I thought there was a chance we might choose to walk through this life together, but instead he left this world and my life far too early. Now, I remain in his absence, trying to make sense of the impossible.
I did a lot of cooking for him over the last few months. If you look closely, he is peppered throughout my blogs posts. I would have written about him more explicitly, but I figured there was plenty of time for that, and I didn’t want to jinx our “blossoming romance” (as he referred it to). Warren loved my love of cooking. He certainly seemed to love the steaming plates of food I put in front of him. However, I think he also loved to watch me happily smash garlic cloves or see me grin over the whirring of my immersion blender. Being the thoughtful person that he was, Warren bought me a subscription to Cooks’ Illustrated, as part of my birthday present. As painful as it will be to receive that in the mail for the next year, I owe it to both him and myself to cook from it, and cook from it with gusto.
Below is a recipe for vegetable lasagna, adapted from the spring issue of my birthday present. I made it for Warren just a few weeks ago, and it was excellent, prepared just as the recipe was written. But I thought I could make it a little bit better, with some extra vegetables and a few other minor adjustments. I planned on making it again for him, but instead I made it in honor of him. Forgive me for not going into detail about it. It’s currently beyond my capacity, but I will say the Barilla brand no-boil lasagna noodles are imperative. I used them the first time as well, and while discussing the meal with Warren, I described them as “thin and tender, but not mushy.” Warren responded, “that’s how I describe you to other people.” I miss you dearly, Warren.
Vegetable Lasagna for Warren (adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated)
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
10 oz. baby spinach
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small carrot, julienned
1 large or 2 small zucchini, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
12 no-boil Barilla lasagna noodles
½ pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ pound Italian fontina cheese, shredded
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
· I would recommend prepping all ingredients before starting. Mix together mozzarella and fontina cheeses. Use a mandoline slicer for the carrot and zucchini (these vegetables are additions to the original recipe. Feel free to leave them out).
· Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
· In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add all of the spinach, and sauté until it is just wilted (about 4 minutes), and season with salt and pepper. Set spinach aside in a colander to drain. When cooled, squeeze out liquid gently.
· In the same skillet, over medium high-heat, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, diced onion and sauté for 10 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Allow all liquid to cook out of mushrooms, and let them brown. When nicely browned, season with salt and lots of pepper. Add to a large bowl, and add drained spinach. Mix vegetables together.
· In the same skillet, add last tablespoon of olive oil. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant (about a minute). Add crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, stir frequently and cook for about 15 minutes. Stir in basil.
· Pour sauce into a large measuring cup, and add enough water to have 3 ½ cups of sauce.
· In a greased 9x13 pan, pour ½ cup of sauce and top with 3 lasagna noodles, making sure they are not touching each other or the sides of the pan.
· Add one cup of mushroom-spinach mixture, topped with 1/3 of carrots and 1/3 of zucchini. Then top with 2/3 cup of tomato sauce, 1 cup mozz/fontina, followed by 1/3 cup of parmesan. It’s a lot measuring, but it makes for a beautiful lasagna.
· Follow with 2 more layers, starting with noodles.
· Finish with a fourth layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce (about 1 cup), last cup of mozz/fontina, and ½ cup of Parmesan.
· Seal the pan with aluminum foil. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil, and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove when cheese is spotty-brown. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, and serve.