Thursday, June 17, 2010

Time to make the lasagne

Here's one of Rodney's sago palms, lover of the sun that it is, opening its bizarre flower. It's amazing to watch. The leaves open as beautiful, nearly perfect circles, more or less once a year. When these luxuriant green rings are open and the flowers spread themselves into our view, the hurricane season is upon us and anything could happen.

The days are long and hot now, as we settle into the deep heart of summer. REALLY hot. The temperatures are running in the upper 90s. Factor in the humidity and we're touching 105 most days. It's too hot to put anything in the oven, but people are still hungry. My workaround involves the grill. And we haven't had any food at Eat Here for awhile lately. It's been all sea turtles or beaches or figs. So: time to think of friends coming to visit (maybe Katie? maybe Sunday?) Time to set the table. Time to make the lasagne.

We do a lot of grilling. Mostly we grill the same things everyone else does: hot dogs, burgers, veggies, chicken. But we're lucky to have one of those ridiculously large gas grills. This piece of hardware has allowed me to test the outer limits of The Grill: what can you do? what can you NOT do? Beyond the limits of the classic barbecued and grilled standards another possibility beckoned after we got the grill and it didn't take me too long to learn how to turn the back porch into a semblance of a summer kitchen. I've used the grill for everything from ham to pineapple upside-down cake; because you can control the temperature pretty reliably it's easy to do. If you don't have this luxury you can still make the dish in your oven.

This recipe is in no small part the result of a revolutionary idea from my friend Sue: You Don't Have to Cook the Pasta First. (Thanks, Sue!) Begin with a tomato sauce you love, whether it's homemade or from a jar. If you need a recipe for sauce, there's a fine one in the Moosewood cookbook, and I'll tell you how I make mine at the end of the recipe. I start with a vegetarian sauce for its versatility and because it lets the other flavors shine through. Because my family people aren't vegetarians I also usually make meatballs, but that's a recipe for another evening, my dears. Short version: start with a tomato sauce* you love, and plan to have plenty of it on hand. This is the secret to not pre-cooking the pasta: you gotta have moisture from the sauce.

In addition to your excellent sauce, prep the veggies you want to include. I usually use things like squash, zucchini and broccoli, usually chop into something like a small dice, and usually steam them to bright colors of yellow and green. But use whatever you have in the abundance of your own garden. If you don't have a garden this year (and I don't) use whatever you like or have on hand. This is one of those dishes made for gathering around. The contents aren't as important as the company.

The cheese mixture is another crucial component. I use an 8-ounce container of low-fat ricotta, about a cup of grated mozzarella, and a quarter-cup of Parmesan. Mix this together in a bowl with 1 or 2 eggs (if they're small I use 2); season with salt, pepper and a touch of nutmeg. I also include finely chopped fresh parsley, about a quarter of a cup, but that's optional.

Cover the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with sauce and add a layer of noodles. Add a layer of cheese and the veggies you have ready; top with sauce. Repeat this until the pan is full, then cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake. (Aluminum foil tip: spray the downward-facing side with Pam or something like it. This will allow the foil to release without sticking.)

To do this on the grill I preheat with all the burners on, looking for a steady temp of about 350 degrees. When the whole thing is assembled I turn off the burner directly under the pan, turn the others on low, close the lid and monitor closely, letting the indirect burners create even heat, as in an oven. It takes about an hour and a half to cook through, but that timing is variable and depends on your own grill or oven. Either way, about 15 minutes before I think it's done I take the foil off and top with grated cheese. The only recurring challenge is the size of the pan: it never seems big enough and I usually end up making a second pan. Good luck with that part.

Almost certainly you have your own lasagne recipe. It's probably better than this one, so please share it.

*Tomato Sauce
Saute finely diced onion, green pepper and garlic in a bit of olive oil until softened and almost transparent. Deglaze the pan with a touch of red wine. Add 1 large can of tomato puree, a large can of whole or crushed tomatoes and a can of tomato soup (I know, I know). Season this mixture. (I usually use a LOT of fresh basil and a LITTLE fresh or dried rosemary - again, consult your own garden.) You'll need fresh or dried basil, rosemary, oregano and marjoram. I use a touch of kosher salt and one of sugar, but this is up to you. I also use ground red pepper, but if you like a milder sauce you can use black pepper to taste. Simmer the whole thing for an hour or so, then taste and correct for seasoning. Or open a jar. :)


  1. YUUUUUUM! ya have me inspired!! Hope all is well dear woman Was thinking about you today, I am using one of your quotes in some promo material for the Book Launch.

    "Each time we ask
    for help
    we are
    granting them a
    of grace."

    so share all the wisdom so many people have blessed me with... woo hoo

    sending love...F

  2. Florence, thanks so much for comment, and I'm honored you'd use those words!

  3. Angie- That sago flower? It's actually the male cone. I wrote about this last year.

  4. Dear Ms. Moon, I might have known you'd be able to provide details not dreamt of in my palm philosophy! I have some other sago photos to post and will reference your post when I do. Love, love!


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