Lasagna Mia!

This past Saturday at 12:01 a.m. I sat staring at these letters during a tight Scrabble match at the Weary Traveler:

Yijuxy?

On their own those letters have a lot of scoring potential- but having them all at once, not so much. I came in last. But that’s okay, I was too busy enjoying my Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, the banter with Dan and Dr. Hotbody and eavesdropping on the guy behind us who had a completely backwards and twisted definition for karma (No, I don’t think you acquire good karma by getting drunk before asking your co-workers to cover your shift for ‘personal reasons’ so that you can continue drinking.) After the tavern Dan and I listened to his Rick Danko record and then it was off to bed.

The next morning unable to sleep I grabbed the closest book to me which happened to be Eat, Pray, Love. I read this book a few summers ago and found the India praying section to be a bit long-winded, but I love reading about food so I opened up to Italy. I read about gelato, olives, asparagus, pasta, pastries and pizza and repressed Americans and before long I had to wake up Dan for a walk down to Batch Bakehouse where we purchased 12 dollars worth of baked goods, including a gruyre-filled croissant and one of the best scones that I have ever had in my life (it had walnuts, raisins and cinnamon glaze). From there we walked to the Willy Street Co-op to pick up ingredients for dinner- I had a hankering for lasagna. We bought whole milk ricotta! And 2% milk! And Nutella (still unopened and sitting on the shelf)! No repressed American here!

After a run, (do Italians believe in exercise?) I started dinner. I had intended to follow a recipe from my January issue of Bon Appetit. When I glanced at it I noticed that it was vegetarian and had swiss chard and mushrooms. When I sat down to read the actual entire recipe it lost me at ‘Turkish bay leaf.’ It might be time for me to admit that I don’t have a lot of patience for following recipes- this is always true for baking and sometimes true for cooking. I also realized that the recipe didn’t call for tomato sauce. What?! And they wanted me to blanch the swiss chard before sauteing it. I’m out. Let the creative process begin.

This is my adaptation of a recipe for lasagna loosely based on a recipe from Bon Appetit that wanted me to travel to Turkey in order to obtain a bay leaf. I call  it, ‘Lasagna Pile,’ in honor of the fact that I have no clue how to evenly spread ricotta over the rough terrain that is all of the other ingredients (why don’t they keep lasagna noodles in 9′ by 13′ sheets?) and as an homage to the great song, ‘Dutch Pile’ by the Happy Schnapps Combo.

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Lasagna Pile

serves 1-6, depending on if you plan on entertaining Clay Matthews

Béchamel sauce:

 2 cups 2% milk

4 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Swiss chard, spinach and mushroom layers:

 1 bunch Swiss chard

handful spinach

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1 1/3 cups chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, chopped, divided

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Coarse kosher salt

1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced

Lasagna:

8-10 whole wheat lasagna noodles

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese (preferably organic),

8 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen)

For béchamel sauce:
Bring milk to simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking almost constantly (do not let roux brown). Gradually whisk milk with bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and nutmeg and bring to simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes.

For swiss chard and mushroom layers:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, half of garlic, and crushed red pepper. Sauté until onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in chard and spinach and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium- high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

For lasagna:
Cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Brush 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel sauce thinly over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spoon some tomato sauce over the noodles. Spread half of chard mixture over pasta and sauce, then half of mushrooms. Drop half of ricotta over in dollops and spread in even layer (good luck with this). Sprinkle with half of Parmesan cheese; spread 3/4 cup béchamel over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, sauce, remaining chard, mushrooms, ricotta, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup béchamel. Cover with 3 noodles and remaining béchamel. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil. Let stand at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake lasagna covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

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For photos of this recipe, please see Wordless Wednesday: Lasagna pile. I served the lasagna with a baguette from Batch Bakehouse, steamed  kale, and red wine.

Bon appetit! And don’t forget to do something unrepressed this weekend!

Roughies, to-do lists and The Band

Last night visions of a to-do list danced in my head and I woke up parched and humming “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” by The Band. Unable to sleep, I got out of bed while the sun was still down and briefly admired the quiet and snowy pre-dawn world. Then it was time to take action. Before tackling the sleep-depriving to-do list, I decided to make a smoothie (or, as Dan likes to call them, a roughie). While my mom may have instilled in me an inability to sleep soundly when there is lots to think about, she also taught me to love smoothies for breakfast, so maybe this is the trade-off. And even though there was (is) lots to do this morning, the roughie came first because, as I learned in my days as a kayaking guide and camp counselor, you have to take care of yourself first before you can do anything else. So, the order of business: 1. Smoothie, 2. Fold laundry, 3. Make coffee, 4. Make lentil soup, 5. Walk around in circles starting many different projects and not finishing any, 6. Get distracted by the computer…

I like smoothies because they are refreshing, fun to make and I enjoy knowing that I am starting the day off with some protein and a few servings of fruit. Here is how I like to make my smoothies:

I always start off with Sugar River Dairy low-fat plain yogurt.

Crafted in Wisconsin

Next I add a banana, orange juice, organic frozen blueberries and organic frozen raspberries or strawberries and cinnamon. I love how the layers look in the blender.

Roughie layers

Wild card ingredients: Tofu, spinach, random fruit, coconut chips, flaxseed meal, flaxseed oil.

Blend it on up and enjoy!

Boosh

While a strong argument could be made for pizza night, as my dad has been saying for my whole life, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. That’s all for now, I’ve got my Clay Matthews t-shirt on and a list that needs to be sacked. Cheers!