Thursday, August 7, 2014

Conquering Lasagna

Lasagna holds a special place in my heart. It has always represented something grand to me. I remember that in the summer of 2004, my mom came to Baltimore to spend time with my sister and I. In a bid to indulge in the fact my sister had her own apartment, I decided I was going to make lasagna for everyone.

First thing, I should mention is that my mother is borderline lactose intolerant. She does not eat anything milk based except for the occassional ice-cream. So if ever there was a flawed plan of action, it was this lasagna making adventure. The other part of the matter was my inability to follow a recipe. Heck, I still can't read a recipe for the life of me without tweaking it one way or the other. But this particular time, I just overbought certain things and underbought others. The pasta was unevely cooked. The oven felt insulted and started smoking.  It was an unmitigated disaster no matter how much I tried to rescue the situation.

A year later, I would write about this experience in my non-fiction class. One of the conversation that I had with my teaching assistant was how to write about an experience in a non-typical manner and pull it off. You see, I wanted to write "How Not To Make Lasagna." They wanted me to focus on writing how to make lasagna. The one thing I have always had as a writer is a quirk for writing from an unexpected perspective. It was a good thing to be challenged for that class.

Ever since that unmitigated disaster, I have shied away from making lasagna. Until last week that is. A couple of weeks ago, I had started craving mac and cheese. All wanted to do was make a mac and cheese casserole with fancy cheese. So I went shopping for recipes to make the white sauce because I wanted this to be decadent experience. In the midst of searching for the white sauce, I ran into the recipe for Martha Stewarts Mac and Cheese. Otherwise known as Crack n Cheese because once you eat this, you won't go back. I scanned the recipe and decided that I wanted to make it with gruyere cheese and a sharp cheddar. So I bought the cheese but I forgot to get the pasta so the cheese sat in my fridge unused. That is until my thoughts ran from mac and cheese to lasagna.

My experience eating lasagna comes from eating frozen Stouffer's Lasagna years ago. I infamously cannot stand frozen food. There are very limited purveyors of frozen food that I will eat. The Stouffer's Lasagna was one of the few. Based on my limited experience eating lasagna and watching it made on countless TV shows, I decided that all a good lasagna needs is a splendid white sauce and a beyond amazing ragu sauce. I could use the white sauce from Martha Stewart's Mac and Cheese recipe. The ragu was no worry at all. I wanted it to be just ground beef with a hint of tomato and spices.

Making this recipe was a labor of self love because it took a lot to make two sauces. The white sauce is particular is very finicky because you can heat it to much or risk burning the mix. Plus, you have to keep moving the sauce around while it is cooking. That said though, the greatest moment of the night was taking out the lasagna from the oven and watching the sauce bubble over into the tray. After all the work I had put in, I was too tired to eat it. Looking at it though was a good enough reward until the next night's dinner.

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