“Lasagna, Mom! I’m making lasagna. What Garfield loves eating!”
“But I’m not Garfield…”
And thus began the Great Lasagna Experiment. In light of looming young adulthood, my brother’s been a tad morose (heartbreak, I suspect, and if I ever hunt down said girl…), so I decided to make him fresh lasagna to cheer him up! As usual, there’s a quirky twist here – I tucked the meat away in the lasagna sheets, and slip summer vegetables in between the pasta.
Club-Sandwich-Lasagna (just because they look like subs/’wiches)
Basic pasta dough
2 cups all-pupose flour
3 eggs (small or medium)
2/3 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup ham shavings, diced
Summer vegetable stew/sauce
1 onion, sliced up
1 bundle enoki mushrooms
4 baby eggplants, chopped into rounds
2 tomatos, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
150-180g mozzarella cheese, either powdered or grated
20 – 40g enoki mushrooms, pan-fried to rich, caramel brown
The Pasta Rorschach Test, or should I say…pass-the (pasta) Rorschach test? *grins*
If you’ve watched Anne Burrell whip up pasta with her bare hands, you must think that it’s a piece of cake. Well, it is, until your flour well breaks and you’ll be waddling in sticky egg mix. So, the key here is to be rrrreeeallly careful and to quit thinking you’re a kitchen pro (especially if you have never made pasta from scratch) – use a big bowl to contain your well if needed. That said, form a well with the flour and salt (sifted, and mixed well).
Novice alert: mix the eggs, olive oil and ham bits in a bowl and whisk well – do this if you’ve never whisked eggs directly in a fragile, frail, fragile flour well. Pour the mixture gently into your well, and lightly whisk it, while delicately flicking flour in from the sides of the well. As the mixture solidifies, you can start using your hands to form it into a ball of dough. Fret not about uneven mixing or gross flour bits; as your form and knead it lightly everything will get swished around equally.
When the dough is a firm, smooth (non-sticky!) ball, coat it with olive oil and let it rest for an hour. I cover it with oil so it doesn’t stick to the sides of my mixing bowl – not absolutely mandatory. While waiting for the dough to proof, start on the stew. Heat a pan with olive oil, and on low heat, throw in the garlic. As the garlic sizzles, add in the onions and allow them to caramelise. The eggplant goes in next, followed by the tomatoes and finally, the mushrooms. Add 1 cup of water, and allow the stew to simmer. Of course, add salt, herbs (oregano, basil, dried peppers), pepper as desired.
Dough’s good to
dough go in an hour, you can now feed it through a pasta machine if you’ve got one. If not (like this no-frills-cook), roll it out on a dry, floured surface with a rolling pin, and cut out even, rectangular slices. Flatten and roll it out a few times over if you want thin, restaurant-worthy sheets. As you’re making separate sheets, be sure to keep them apart, or coat them in olive oil or they will start clumping together. Truth be told, my lasagna sheets were waaaay too thick – was too tired after scrubbing my kitchen clean of egg, and that explains why the final dish looked like a club sandwich lol. Lesson learnt: laziness produces ugly lasagna.
In a boiling pot, add salt and olive oil, and cook the lasagna sheets till then they turn a light yellow (2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of your sheets). Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius, lightly grease a baking pan, and fill it with 1 cm of the stew. Then, place the lasagna sheets on the stew and start building your Leaning Tower of Lasagna. Sneak some of that mozzarella in between the layers, together with the vegetables from the stew. To prevent the lasagna from drying out during baking, drizzle the sauce in between the sheets, and over them. Sprinkle herbs generously on the tops of those puppies and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the lasagna is an irresistible golden-brown.
Finally (I hear growls), place the fried enoki mushrooms on top of your fresh lasagna, and serve it. Or disguise it as a club sandwich. Your call.
They weren’t the prettiest things, and honestly the lasagna was downright ugly and strange. My family swore they looked like Chinese-style noodles (面粉粿). But this is, in truth, what cooking and creating is really like most of the time – imperfection. In a kitchen, perfecting a dish would entail a (literal) trail of failed experiments and flour messes. Such is life as well; we live in a world where editing and post-editing and censorship is rife, and endearing flaws, bitter moments and heartache have all been Photoshopped away – all of which make us human. These little quirks and bumps and ugliness we face is actually, really not all that nasty sometimes, and someday, produces beauty that is beyond anticipation.
Apart from cooking, and being away most of May and June, I spend most lazy afternoons job-hunting while dreaming of world change. Or someday teaching English in a village school in Thailand. Fingers crossed.
Edit: Just in case anyone’s wondering, making pasta from scratch doesn’t have to always be done with the flour well – that’s just the traditional way, and ensures that everything is evenly mixed without the dough clumping and sticking too early on. I haven’t done much reading up, but my gut tells me it’d work with a mixer as well, so long as the dough is not overly kneaded.