My absolute favorite dish in the entire world is lasagna. For years, I requested this dish for my birthday. Today, if someone asked me what I would like to have made for my birthday, it would be lasagna.
My mom made a vegetarian version with tons of vegetables, mozzarella, Parmesan, and ricotta. My favorite part of the dish was the ricotta cheese which she dolloped on top of the lasagna before it went into the oven to bake. Once it came out of the oven, the ricotta mountains would form a crispy outer crust, while enveloping the creamy inner dreaminess.
Many years later, I met Claud. One evening, he told me he wanted to make lasagna. I was so excited. He started making the sauce and the kitchen smelled heavenly. He began with browning onions and ground beef. I was confused. This wasn't the lasagna I expected. I asked him how much ricotta cheese he used in his version. As he poured in a full bottle of red wine into the sauce, he looked at me and dropped this bombshell, "I don't use ANY ricotta." What!!?
Lasagna with a salad
Making the bolognese
Adding the wine
Making the béchamel sauce
That was not even the worst of it. Next, he told me we would not actually be eating this lasagna until the next day. I held back the tears and walked out of the kitchen brokenhearted. I wanted to call my mom and see if she could whip me up lasagna for that evening. Soon after, I realized I was being a big fat baby. Claud had never let me down before with anything he made to eat. Why would he start now?
The following day, as dusk approached, I asked Claud when we would be finishing the lasagna. He returned to the kitchen to make a sauce with butter, flour, milk and cheese. Then, he layered everything together in a casserole dish: Bolognese, noodles, Bolognese, bchamel, noodles, until he reached the top. Then, he sprinkled on a layer of cheese over the last bchamel layer.
I suffered for the hour it cooked in the oven while the fragrance wafted throughout the house. The lasagna emerged from the oven with the top layer of cheese browned to perfection. I grabbed the plates and cutlery only to hear it needed to rest for at least twenty minutes before we cut into it. Oh, seriously? An eternity later, the lasagna was ready to eat. Claud placed an enormous portion on my plate next to a little simple salad with balsamic vinegar.
1 pound package of lasagna noodles (no need to precook)
Bolognese sauce (recipe follows)
bchamel sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 350. In a casserole dish, pour in one layer of Bolognese sauce, then noodles, then bchamel, then repeat. Once you reach the last layer of bchamel, sprinkle on the cheddar cheese. Bake for one hour. Let it sit for at least 20 minutes. Enjoy.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 pounds ground beef
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tarragon
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper (you may need to add more salt and pepper to taste at the end)
1 bottle red wine (any dry red wine will do)
4 cans of tomato sauce
1 can of tomato paste
Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan on high heat for about a minute. Add the onions and brown them, stirring occasionally. Saut those for about 15 minutes, until they are a bit brown on the edges. Add the garlic and saut for about five minutes more. Add the ground beef and brown it for about 15 minutes. Add the bay leaves, tarragon, mustard seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper. Cook this for 15 minutes more. Pour in the bottle of red wine and immediately scrape the seasoning from the bottom of the pan. Add in the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Bring this to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook for four hours, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste as necessary.
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of flour
4 cups milk
4 cups of cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the flour and mix to form a paste. Slowly add in the milk until it becomes a creamy sauce. Slowly add in the cheese. If it gets too thick, add in some more milk. It should create a creamy cheese sauce that is easy to spread. If it gets too watery, add in a little flour to achieve the desired consistency. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste.
The layers of creamy, cheesy bchamel and the deep, rich Bolognese collided as I cut through the first piece. The sauces mixed together on the fork along with a big helping of lasagna noodles as I lifted it to my mouth. This time, I choked back tears of sheer delight. It was the most delicious food that had ever crossed my lips. I looked across the table towards Claud. I was madly in love...with this lasagna.
The two day wait for this one bite of ecstasy was well worth it. The dish was so simple. Yet, it needed time to mature to perfection. You start with ground beef, onions, and a few cans of tomatoes... simple. You combine this with herbs and spices and a bottle of wine. Then, you just wait and let the heat work its magic. All you need to do is stir it occasionally. Anyone can make delicious Bolognese. It takes no skill. It only takes time and a little love.
Many wonderful things in life are simple and just take time and love. Over the years, I have learned how to make this lasagna myself. Half of the fun is watching the sauce develop into perfection. The other half is having your house smell like the most delicious place to live. The wait becomes irrelevant because the joy exists in the process of cooking it.