Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Behold make-ahead cold weather goodness:

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I wanted lasagna. A homemade, gooey, bubbling-with-marinara, weighing 10 pounds-or-something-that-feels-like-a-brick lasagna. I didn’t care how long the prep time was as long as it yielded enough for lots of leftovers and/or the freezer.

Traditional lasagna wasn’t in the cards this time around. Although I usually like one slice of a lasagna bolognese with a bechamel sauce, having the rest for leftovers is like eating an entire French Silk pie to yourself. So I searched for the perfect marinara-based version out there, eventually deciding to go with a roasted vegetable recipe from Ina Garten.

Like most lasagna recipes, it has many steps. The vegetables, as you can imagine from the name, are indeed roasted before assembling the dish. There is also lots of cheese to grate, along with a separate ricotta/egg/goat cheese mixture to whip in the mixer. If you’re like me, you also might end up making everything more difficult by adding your own steps along the way. Since this recipe calls for a vague “marinara” sauce, offering the jarred brand Rao’s as an option (no way I’m spending over 10 dollars on grocery store sauce, gourmet of not), I decided to make a quick 30 minute marinara on my own from two 28oz jars of crushed tomatoes. I used this version from Martha. I also wanted to make my own homemade lasagna noodles, mainly because I had extra defrosted swiss chard that was the perfect amount for green pasta. I used Marcella Hazan’s spinach pasta recipe from her seminal cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. So both of these steps probably added another hour and a half of prep work. See how I create small complications for myself along the way?

My thoughts on tweaking the recipe:

-I erred on being very exact with the amount of eggplant and zucchini that were roasted, and the dish really could have used a bit more vegetables. I say add a little more to the roasting pan, and if you don’t use everything it will work with another lunch or dinner. If you don’t add a few additional slices of eggplant and zucchini, I wouldn’t use the entire 2/3 cup of olive oil suggested. I would go for a 1/2 cup, maybe a little more if you feel that the eggplant is too dry.

-If you want a little more vegetables, I would saute 1/2 a container of sliced button mushrooms and adding that to the mix here.

– When assembling the dish, it seems like the amount of ricotta mixture looks a little overkill. I used all of it and it was fine.

-If you use fresh pasta sheets, there is absolutely no need to boil the noodles before assembly.

-If your casserole dish is on the smaller side, you might want to turn this into two lasagnas. (especially if you have extra amounts of sauce and vegetables) I was able to put this into a 9 x 11 and a 8 x 6 dish.

-If you live with carnivores that cannot live without a little meat in their dinner, this also works with sausage crumbles. Take 2 sweet Italian sausage links out of their casing, cook until brown, and top on each marinara layer.

-The overall dish is salty, which my household likes so we were ok with it. If you want to tone the sodium conten down somewhat, make sure your marinara isn’t overly salted. Also hold back slightly with the vegetable seasoning.

Recipe Credit: Ina Garten via The Kitchn

Kitchen Mess: 4 out of 4 stars. You’ll liable to get flour and marinara on the floor with this one. Get help with the dishes and you’re good to go.

Recommended For: Dinner Parties, Easy-To-Freeze Meals, Sunday afternoon meal prep.

Not Recommended For: Anyone avoiding cheese and/or nightshades.

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In Defense of Imperfect Kitchens

I’ll always feel guilty for selling my grandmother’s dutch oven at a yard sale.

Before any sentimentalists start judging, please understand that it was during a time when I was moving halfway across the country. Any nonessentials in my life were getting purged out of, well, necessity. I was also in my mid-20’s, which in this era of delayed domesticity meant that I was a full half decade away from residing in a semi-functional kitchen. At that point, bringing a dutch oven to a city where kitchenettes and takeout were almost the norm (NYC, where else?) seemed absurd.

Also, as my reasoning went at the time, I could let go of the dutch oven because it had a chip on one edge. The traditional fire orange glaze had been marred at some point, leaving a small hint of cast iron at a corner. To an optimist this gave the dish character and strength. To a semi-pessimist it demonstrated a need to be gently placed in the giveaway pile. Rest assured, it found a new home very quickly.

If circumstances were different- if I hadn’t moved my belongings in a minivan, if I had figured out how to rent a place with a functional kitchen earlier in my adulthood- I would like to have that dutch oven in my current kitchen. It would serve as a memento of another time in my life; the small chip a reminder of the passage of time and the people I loved who have been gone for quite some time now. Plus it can be nice to honor the imperfections that live amongst us.

In the era of Instagram, I find myself ogling too many pristine kitchen photos. Photos of impossibly perfect locations where the design is award-winning and the food is local, fresh, and picked straight from central casting. If there is a sign of anything being out of place, it’s out of place in an elegant, barely accidental aesthetic. The one strategically placed crumb, for example, or a linen napkin faux-carelessly tossed in the corner of the frame.

After years of living in small, NYC rental kitchens lacking details like prep space, storage, and full-sized sinks (including one without an oven), my current kitchen is, luckily, finally functional. Unfortunately it is also very used, outdated, and unphotogenic. The objects housed there are mostly in the same condition. My cutting boards aren’t glowing with a healthy wooden sheen, my plates were not lovingly picked out from an upstate NY antique shop, my serving dishes are never ever ready for photo shoots. Still I want to keep my unique, possibly homely, overused but functional kitchen items around. Why? Because they have served a purpose and continue to serve a purpose, an important one, which is to make meals for me and my family.

One not-beautiful part of the kitchen is our rice cooker, which is almost 5 decades old. My father in law brought it with him as he traveled to make a new life in the US as a college student. My husband refuses to get rid of it, mainly because he swears it does a better job than any of the newfangled, computerized, self-timed versions out there. It has the worn-out but still-usable look of an old classic novel that was your grandfather’s in middle school. The cord is most definitely a fire hazard, which is why I stay in the kitchen while it’s on.

 

Another uninspiring kitchen object is the mixer. It’s not what you would automatically picture in a Kitchen Aid- this one isn’t bathed in a bright color such as royal blue or cheery yellow, only a stainless steel exterior. It is strictly utilitarian in it’s purpose. It has a dubious past – the mixer’s origins are from an ex-boyfriend from an ill-fated period. At the time I broke it off unceremoniously, he was furious- with good reason, I’ll admit – but for some reason he wouldn’t take the mixer when he left. “It was a gift, you keep it,” was his response. I wanted him to take it, to have a reason to remove it from my house, but I also saw no purpose in removing it myself. It had a purpose. Instead I tried to remove the history of the object while keeping it in my possession. It has no history, I would tell myself. Any signs of a story was removed with a (fictional) removal of the (never-present) color shellac coating. In the end it turns out erasing the past is easier said than done.

I still feel like my my grandmother’s dutch oven would fit in perfectly with the other quirky kitchen objects in my possession. Luckily I have other ways of holding on to her memory. In the meantime I’ll continue to find a way to appreciate the worn-out, lived-in items in my present-day kitchen. A place where small enamel chips are a badge of pride, and imperfections are a part of a our own history and humanity.