February 26, 2009

A start

I think this all started with cookbooks. I didn’t cook. Well, not much. And not much well. But I found myself wandering through the cookbook section of a local bookstore making new friends in print – and staying there - for about 15 years now.

Mollie Katzen was one of the first to come home with me. I was enchanted by her drawings and the printing and then the recipes in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I knew nothing of the Moosewood gang. I didn’t even notice the book didn’t have a single piece of flesh in it. It was filled with vegetarian dishes.

I made pesto for the first time because of her. Without a food processor. And for that matter without a mortar and pestle. I improvised with the bottom of a glass and a shallow bowl. And after that, I bought a food processor. And pesto took seconds, not hours...

(Which, come to think of it, I also lost in the “custody battle” to someone who doesn’t know a food processor from a wooden spoon – and who thought a kitchen was wherever the microwave was.)

But the sense of wonder in putting those ingredients together, like alchemy, was powerful. And the perfume of the basil…it was good.

It all came together in Lasagna al Pesto. I made it over and over. And then I moved on to try other things – a roast…then a turkey…was there no end to this magic called cooking? And the lasagna, like all new trends, faded from my consciousness.

Last fall we headed to Calypso again – a group of women who come together once a year at a friend’s cottage. Many of us only see each other that weekend. And apart from catching up with each other’s lives, and our host’s penchant for making us set goals, and uncorking many bottles, we eat.

Our friend Wendy was thinking of lasagna for the Friday night arrival dinner. And somewhere from the back of my addled mind came “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest”. So I shared it with her…and she shared the lasagna with us. And brought it back to life for me. It was a good weekend.

My self-assigned goal by the way, was to collect the recipes from our years of dinners at Calypso…this is my start.

Lasagna al Pesto – adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

1 lb. fresh spinach
1 cup minced onion
3 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
½ cup grated paremesan
1 cup of pesto
2 lbs (4 cups) ricotta cheese
¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds
20-24 green lasagna noodles (I have used plain and green, and mixed them too)
1 lb mozzarella cheese, in thin slices

Clean and stem the spinach. Chop it finely.
Saute the onions in 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy skillet until they’re soft not brown. Add salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Stir the spinach into the onions. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add half the grated parmesan, the pesto, the ricotta, and the sunflower seeds. Grind in some black pepper. Mix.

If you are using dried noodles, boil them about 2 minutes, then rinse them under cold water, and drizzle them with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil.

Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of an oiled 9x13 inch pan. Spread 1/3 of the filling onto the noodles. Place 1/3 of the mozzarella over that. another layer of noodles, another 1/3 of filling, another 1/3 of the mozzarella, more noodles, the remaining filling, remaining mozzarella, and one final layer of noodles, the remaining parmesan. And then drizzle the top with olive oil.

Cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes.

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