Lasagna, dammit.

Do I curse too much for someone writing a blog about food?  Fuck if I know.

Let’s make lasagna.

For the sauce, you’ll need:

  • an onion
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • a 28-oz can of tomatoes (whole peeled)
  • olive oil
  • a splash of red wine
  • spices (salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, cayenne, fennel seed)

Alternatively, if you don’t have time to make sauce or you’re a big turd (or both), you can just buy a jar at the store.  You’ll need about 3 cups of sauce.

For the rest of the dish, you’ll need:

  • a package of lasagna noodles (I use brands that don’t require precooking, but maybe you’re more of a purist than I am.  But if you’re gonna be a purist, you should just make the lasagna noodles from scratch, right?  Or, what, are you some kinda coward?)
  • a 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
  • 32 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese for grating
  • about 8-10 oz of spinach
  • an eggplant

You can swap out the eggplant for other veggies, of course – zucchini would probably be good, maybe peppers if you want a little crunch, sweet potato if you want your lasagna a little thicker and starchier – use your imagination.  Just, for fuck’s sake, don’t use mushrooms.

Ok, first the sauce.

  1. Before you do anything, slice your eggplant into thin (1/4-inch or thinner) slices, salt them well, and put them in a colander.  Set the eggplant to the side.  You won’t need it for the sauce, but if you’re making the whole lasagna in one go (as opposed to making the sauce in advance), you’ll want to salt the eggplant now to save time.
  2. Chop up your onion and garlic.  Doesn’t have to be finely minced (it won’t matter later).  Sauté them in a saucepan with olive oil and salt.
  3. Let the onions and garlic caramelize a bit.  Once they’ve browned, pour in a splash of red wine.  I used a Malbec when I was making my sauce.
  4. Throw in your can of tomatoes, including the water/juice in the can.  Stir that shit around and throw in your herbs and spices.  As always, you don’t need much cayenne, but use plenty of everything else – you don’t want weak sauce!
  5. Let the concoction simmer, stirring occasionally, for as long as it takes for the sauce to thicken up.  You shouldn’t reduce it to sludge (that would take forever anyway), but you don’t want it to feel watery.
  6. Be sure to taste the sauce every now and then, too, and add herbs and spices as you see fit.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool for a few minutes.  Then get out your

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…and blend it until it’s the consistency you want.

(Alternatively, you can pour the sauce in a regular blender and do your dirty work there, but why would you do that if you have an

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?)

Now:

  1. Remember the eggplant that you salted and let sit off to the side?  Get it and rinse it and press the slices dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees.
  3. Heat up a frying pan/skillet and pour in some oil.  You don’t need a lot, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
  4. Sauté the eggplant, cooking as many slices at a time as will fit in the pan.  Make sure the oil is hot – if it’s not hot enough, the eggplant will just absorb oil and it will look sad and you will feel sad.  Flip the slices over to make sure both sides get cooked, and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
  5. Once the eggplant is nice and golden brown on both sides, remove the slices and let them rest on paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining slices, adding a little oil between batches, until the eggplant is all cooked.

Quick note on timing – the sauce will take a while to simmer to the right consistency, so you’ll probably want to start cooking your eggplant while the sauce is still chugging away.

Once your sauce and eggplant are ready, it’s time for the assembly.

  1. You’ve got everything, right?  Your noodles, your sauce, your eggplant, your ricotta, your mozzarella, and your Parmesan?
  2. GOTCHA!  Don’t forget the spinach!  It’s the only green thing in the whole dish, you’ll feel guilty if you forget it.
  3. Layer as follows (you may need to press down on the whole thing every now and then to compress it):
    • A cup of sauce, spread evenly around the bottom of the pan
    • Noodles (break some if you have to, to fill out the pan)
    • A third of the ricotta, in dollops around the pan
    • A few fistfuls of spinach (it’ll cook down when it’s in the oven, don’t worry if it looks too voluminous)
    • Noodles
    • Another cup of sauce (spread it as best you can; it may be tricky on an uneven noodle floor)
    • Eggplant slices (cut as necessary to fill out the pan)
    • About half the mozzarella (you want a thick blanket across the whole pan)
    • Noodles
    • Another third of the ricotta
    • The rest of the eggplant (it may not take up the whole pan)
    • Another few fistfuls of spinach
    • Noodles
    • The rest of the sauce
    • The rest of the ricotta
    • As much mozzarella as you can fit on top
    • Grated Parmesan over the whole thing
  4. Hopefully now you have a weighty behemoth that rises above the rim of the pan a little (not too much, of course, that would be unwieldy).  If that is the case, and there’s cheese in contact with the sides of the pan, you might just rub a little olive oil along the edge to prevent sticking.
  5. Cover the pan in aluminum foil and stick it in the oven for 50 minutes.
  6. After 50 minutes, check if it’s done — if a knife slides effortlessly through the fray, it’s done.  If the noodles still feel undercooked, give it a few more minutes.
  7. DON’T EAT IT YET.
  8. Let the lasagna sit, under the foil, for at least 10 minutes or so.  That’ll help it set and finish cooking the noodles.

Now hoist a big slab onto your plate and eat it!

LEFTOVER TIPS

This is the rare dish that actually comes out pretty close to its original form when you microwave it.  Just sprinkle some water on it before you nuke it so it doesn’t dehydrate.

 

 

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Ratatouille

I think most people (at least, in America) who know that ratatouille is a dish only know it because of the movie.  You know, the one with the rat.

Well, ratatouille should be a staple of any vegetarian’s repertoire, because

  • it’s easy
  • it’s filling (so all those “but you need MEAT with your dinner!” people can suck it)
  • if — God forbid — you actually do like mushrooms, then I GUESS you can add them.  I’ll give you a weird look for sure though.

Just a heads up: this ratatouille will look nothing like the one in the movie.  Who’s got the time?

Here’s what you’ll need for a ratatouille that serves 4-5 people (or 1 very selfish person for a couple days):

  • Half a medium-large onion (Vidalia or yellow)
  • One large eggplant, or two medium eggplants
  • Two large zucchinis, or three medium zucchinis
  • Several cloves of garlic (about 10)
  • Three or four tomatoes (beefsteak or plum, or heirloom if you’re feeling fancy)
  • One or two bell peppers, if you’re so inclined (I usually skip them)
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs and spices (including, but not limited to: salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, sage, Herbes de Provence, coriander, and cayenne)
  • If you want to have some nice garlic bread with your ratatouille (and I assure you, you do), you’ll also want to have a loaf of bread (I prefer ciabatta; I just buy my bread already baked, although if you also have the time to bake a loaf of bread, bless your heart) and parmesan cheese

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t really matter what vegetables you use.  Eggplant and zucchini are pretty standard, but you can use pretty much any vegetable that you would conceivably roast.  But don’t use mushrooms, ’cause… come on.

  1. Cut up your eggplant.  You’ll want big chunks, the size of your finger or bigger.  Throw those chunks of eggplant in a colander and salt them.  Let those sit somewhere else while you proceed with the next steps.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375-400 degrees.  Get out the pan(s) of your choosing — I use cast-iron skillets, but a baking dish will do.  Just don’t use a cookie sheet.  Not that you would…?
  3. Cut up the rest of your veggies into big chunks, throwing them in the pan as you chop them up.  You may need two pans to hold it all.  It’s worth noting — unlike roasting vegetables outright, you don’t need to leave space between the veggies, and in fact you shouldn’t.  It just might take up two pans anyway.
  4. Throw in the cloves of garlic whole or, at the smallest, cut in half.
  5. Where’d you put the eggplant?  Well, bring it back!  Okay, you’ll need to squeeze out the eggplant before you throw it in the pan with the rest of the veggies.  I like to take paper towels and squeeze a handful of eggplant chunks at a time.  Maybe you feel like that’s a morally questionable use of paper towels.  I don’t care.  Squeeze out your eggplant however you need to, then throw them in the pan.
  6. Douse the vegetables in olive oil.  You don’t want so much olive oil that it puddles up at the bottom of the pan, but you definitely don’t want to skimp.
  7. Season the shit out of your vegetables.  Be generous with every herb and spice you throw in there, with the possible exception of cayenne (a little goes a long way, of course).  I know using Herbes de Provence as well as marjoram and thyme is perhaps redundant, but I don’t care.  And if there’s a vegetable in sight without a blanket of herbs on it, you probably should use more.
  8. Now mix them up!  Toss and turn those veggies until the oil and herbs are more or less evenly distributed.
  9. Stick the pans in the oven.  Don’t touch them, don’t even think about them, for a half hour.
  10. Has a half hour gone by?  All right, take the pans out of the oven and give the veggies a stir, make sure nothing’s sticking where it shouldn’t.  Now stick them back in the oven.
  11. If everything is cooperating, it should take another half hour or so for your ratatouille to be done.  To determine whether it’s done, take a fork or knife and try piercing a few eggplant chunks.  If your utensil is met with little or no resistance, then you’re good to go.  If it’s still giving some resistance, give it a few more minutes.  Why?  Because eggplant is best when it’s been cooked to mush.  If you disagree, then enjoy your weirdly chewy eggplant and go to hell.
  12. When the ratatouille is done, take it out of the oven.  Eat it while it’s hot!

But wait, we were promised garlic bread!

DAMN STRAIGHT YOU WERE.

Take as much bread as you want and slice it how you please.  Pull those piping hot garlic cloves out of the ratatouille — they should turn to mush with a little pressure, and if they don’t then you probably didn’t cook your eggplant all the way through either, you scoundrel — and smear them on that bread.  Is it smeared all over?  Cool.  Now drizzle some olive oil on that bread.  You don’t need a lot, just a smattering.

Now grate some goddamn Parmesan cheese on your bread.  You missed a spot.  No one wants just a little cheese in the middle of their bread, Scrooge.  Make sure it’s everywhere, even the corners.  Come on.

Ok, stick the slices of bread in the oven (you didn’t turn it off already, did you?) and let them toast up for a few minutes, until they start turning brown.  Alternatively, you can use a toaster oven (I just don’t have one).

Once your bread is ready, then you’re ready to eat!

LEFTOVER TIPS

If you have leftovers, reheating them on the stove or in the oven is far preferable to microwaving them, but do what you have to.  You may even have some garlic cloves left over with which to make some more garlic bread.  If so, I salute you.