America, baking, cooking, entrees, recipes

The Facts of Life

08.30.08 | 1 Comment

Procreation is a topic supercharged with biology, emotions, politics, and religion even though it is one of the most natural, everyday things. People often say that creation lends meaning to their own lives, that it fills them with a previously unknown depth of love. The start of something from nothing, the fusion of two into one, the synthesis of matter and the bestowing of life seem to put a previously selfish experience in a broader yet more personal perspective. In one moment, after a seemingly eternal gestation period, the building blocks finish melding and fusing together and form one cohesive entity that finally pops out, a 15-pound screaming mass of cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles.

I’m sorry, did you think I was talking about babies?

I thought it was pretty clear that I’m talking about lasagna.

Ohhhhhh, lasagna. I’ve extolled its virtues here before. It’s truly one of those medicinal foods, soul foods, scrape-your-plate-with-your-fork-tines-and-suck-the-juices-from-your-napkin foods. Lasagna does not have manners—it transcends them.

Lasagna has many versions—low-fat (ha ha), dairy free (say what?), low-carb (excuse me?), quick bake, et cetera et cetera. Lasagna is one of the cases where things just get worse after version 1.0.

Before the other night, I, sadly, had never even made my own noodles, let alone crafted a lasagna. True lasagna from scratch is not a project for the short of attention span, the short on time, or the short of staff. Lasagna is to food like savings bonds are to money. You pay first, then you wait a long, long time until you can’t think you could possibly wait any longer, and then it finally pays you back with seemingly more than you put in.

Tragically, I am not the owner of a pasta roller, so lasagna from scratch has been a little out of my realm. But my friend Theora’s dad, Dave, and I both attend services almost daily in the kitchen, kneeling before the oven, draping ourselves in garlic leis, throwing salt over our shoulders and baptizing ourselves with sprinklings of extra-virgin olive oil following a bruschetta communion. So the three of us decided to embark on the spiritual crusade of constructing, from scratch and 6-pound 10-ounce can of tomato puree, the devotional sacrificial lasagna.

Making lasagna is kind of like skipping the elevator on the Eiffel Tower—there are a lot of steps. I started with two batches of the noodle dough—2 cups of semolina flour, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and ½ cup of water (but it really needed like ¾ of a cup).

Dave and I traded off on the kneading (it had the consistency of cement for awhile), let it rest, kneaded it some more.

While it was resting, I diced the vegetables for Dave’s sauce recipe. This is a recipe that Dave developed himself and tinkers with all the time. And let me tell you, this sauce is a revelation. My mom used to make red sauce from scratch, but (sorry, Mom) I was never very into it. I could’ve chugged a few ladles of Dave’s sauce straight from the stock pot, but I refrained—my parents taught me manners.

Unlike me, Dave doesn’t mind giving out his recipes, because he let me steal his and said I could post it here (see the bottom of the post). I don’t even develop my own recipes and I still don’t want to share them, but that’s fodder for another narcissistic entry.

After getting the sauce up to simmer standards, Dave showed me how to use the pasta roller.

That is one nifty contraption.

And when I had my go at it, I didn’t even mess it up. (Except for when the crank handle fell on my foot. Ow. That’s why you don’t wear flip flops when you cook. At least it wasn’t a knife.)

Then we let the noodles dry (Dave was designated noodle-turner, don’t want them getting bed sores), Theora mixed two and a half pounds of ricotta with two cups of basil leaves and an egg or two, and she also cooked four very fat Italian sausages which I sliced.

Two hours and a trip to Target later, it was assembly time.


Noodles. Ricotta. Sausage.

Et cetera

Et cetera

And then, in addition to the 2 ½ pound tub of ricotta, we sprinkled in 24 ounces of shredded mozzarella and 4 ounces of shredded parmesan. And then, at Theora’s brilliant suggestion, we weighed it.

Fifteen pounds. With a total of seven diners, that would mean a little over two pounds a person. Now you’re speaking my language!

Into the 350-degree oven it went for a little over an hour.

It was a very long, hungry hour.

And after that long, hungry hour, Dave turned off the oven and let the lasagna sit for a long, hungry five minutes.

And then he took it out at took its temperature.

And let it sit for another long, hungry five minutes.

Oh, the AGONY.

And then he carved up steaming slabs of sedimentary joy.

Which we served with some onion mozzarella focaccia Theora made. The only true accompaniment for carbs and cheese is more carbs and cheese.

And when forks and tongues had cleaned the plates better than the dishwasher, there were still at least 7 pounds of lasagna left.

And I was healed. Amen.

Kvitka Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 glorious quarts

1 6-lb 10-oz can tomato puree
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons fresh Romano cheese
3 6-ox cans tomato paste
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon anise seed
½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
2 tablespoons Shilling Italian seasoning
2 medium onions, ¼ inch dice
2 green bell peppers, ½ inch dice
12 mushrooms, ½ inch dice
6 gloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
1/3 cup fresh basil

Add all ingredients through Italian seasoning to a heavy 8 quart stock pot over medium heat. Stir to combine.

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and bell pepper, sauté 3 more minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until just starting to soften. Add to tomato puree, stir to combine and allow to simmer uncovered for 2 hours. Add water ½ cup at a time if sauce seems too thick.

Add 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves during the last 20 minutes of cooking time. Meat can be added later if desired. Best when served on the second day.

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