|(L) Layer one. (R) Fresh out of the oven. © Ryan Schierling|
There's a reason for that. In 2003, I spent the better part of a day making a vegetarian lasagna for my then-girlfriend. This wasn't just a thrown-together, slap-dash hot dish. Each layer was a work of art, and I had poured my heart into it. I put it into the oven, tipped myself a drink and smiled a little, nodding my head proudly. This was going to be the best lasagna I'd ever crafted.
When the kitchen timer on the oven buzzed zero, I had pot-holders at the ready. I opened the oven door and paused for a moment with my eyes closed, breathing in deeply to savor the comforting, rich, straight-up-nonna's-kitchen aroma that had filled the room. I pulled the oven rack toward me with my left hand, only to watch in horrific slow motion as the rack tipped and the 9x14" glass pan full of all that was good in the world suddenly lurched forward. The leading pan handle hit the end of the oven door right at the window and – as if carefully scripted in a near-physics-defying move – the entire pan flipped over and shattered, upside down on the tile floor.
I let out a blood-curdling "NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"* and slammed the oven door so hard it came off the hinges. Birds took flight from nearby telephone wires. Neighbors with open windows feared the worst. My face turned blood red, I dropped to my knees and with clenched fists thrust skyward, I cursed the heavens furiously in Italian.
I don't know Italian.
Eight years is long enough to forget a lot of things, apparently.
Our little Austin garden has fared pretty well into December. We have three types of lettuce still sprouting leaves and the D. Landreth Bloomsdale spinach seeds we planted as an experiment in early November have gone crazy, prolifically producing large, puckered leaves that finally forced our hand this week. We had to use it, or potentially lose it.
We've been checking out local R.L. Reeves, Jr.'s "Scrumptious Chef" site for a while now. His prose is prolific, passionate, and occasionally pointed, and his coverage of Austin humble to highbrow is what originally caught our attention. A while back, I clicked on the "Vegetarian" header on his site, just because I didn't remember it being there before. The recipe at the top of the page was "How to make Spinach Lasagna with Brie and fried garlic ragu."
We gave it a shot.
|(L-R) Bloomsdale spinach. Fried garlic. The cheeeeeese. © Ryan Schierling|
There were only a few other deviations from the well-laid plans. One was in caramelizing the onions. We chopped the sweet onions instead of slicing them, and cooked them at low heat (gas mark 2) for about 4 hours. No high heat necessary to get a deep, rich, dark brown reduction of sweet onion. We did a 1/2" chiffonade of fresh spinach instead of a rough chop. Another addition was salt. While absent from the recipe, I imagine Mr. Reeves, Jr. used salt to taste in his ragu. Depending on the brand of tinned tomatoes you're using, and when they were canned, salt (and sometimes a little sugar) is necessary to get them to taste like they're supposed to. Our ragu, with whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, was flat and lifeless without a few good two-finger pinches of kosher salt.
Other than that, everything was done to the letter, and my first lasagna in eight years was a thoroughly satisfying, entirely gratifying experience. If we happen to run into the Scrumptious Chef out and about, the first round of drinks is on us.
|Spinach lasagna with Brie and fried garlic ragu. © Ryan Schierling|