This week was a better week for us meal-wise. Hawkins returned to Cadiz on Saturday night after a three-day vacation. Since he was at home, I didn’t do any cooking during the week, instead becoming a fixture at a few local drive-ins. Cooking for one isn’t a whole lot of fun. When he got back, he brought his girlfriend Sanci Cannon. Also joining the dinner party was my old friend Matt Martini, who used to do graphic design for The Record.
After a week off, with plenty of friends to cook for, I decided to shoot the moon with a rather extravagant dish, vegetable lasagna. I asked Hawkins to borrow a 9x13-inch casserole pan from his mother, but I guess he forgot. Thankfully, his landlord Dean Dall came to our rescue with the perfect pan. Dean, I really appreciate it, because I had everything mixed up and had nothing to cook it in. You’re my hero.
Anyhow, enough about pans. As the tribe assembled, I went straight to work on the vegetables. I used a five-quart saucepan for the vegetables because I had nothing else to cook so many veggies with. Start by dicing one onion, two carrots and two green peppers. Place them in the pan on medium heat with two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and cook until everything begins to grow tender. Season with a teaspoon of basil and oregano, and a half-teaspoon of salt and pepper. Add a half-pound of sliced mushrooms and a tablespoon of minced garlic. Cook until the mushrooms release their juices, and cook to a golden brown. Then I added three small zucchini, cut in half, and sliced with about four cups of fresh broccoli, cut into about quarter-inch pieces. Everything needs to be small so the noodles will lay flat in the pan. You needn’t cook the vegetables long; just wilt the vegetables ever so slightly. When done cooking, I poured the vegetables into a colander, to drain excess liquids.
The sauce of this recipe is not a tomato sauce, but rather Alfredo. Melt two sticks of butter in a pan on low heat, or in a double boiler. Once the butter is melted, add two pints of heavy cream, a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, a teaspoon of nutmeg and a half-teaspoon of garlic powder. Cook as low as possible or in a double boiler until the cheese melts. For color, add a half-tablespoon of parsley. When most of the cheese has melted, remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool.
Lasagna is labor-intensive, and it felt like I worked on it for about three hours. To make the mix for the cheese layer, take a pint of ricotta cheese and add three ounces of Parmesan cheese- not in the green can, if you can’t get freshly grated, at least use the grated stuff in a bag. It’s better that way. Blend a quarter teaspoon of dry basil. Two green onions, a half-teaspoon of dry oregano, two teaspoons of parsley and a cup-and-a-quarter of the Alfredo sauce. Blend everything well.
OK, we have vegetables, cheese- what am I forgetting, oh yes, pasta. I love whole-wheat pasta, and asked Hawkins to find some. He struck out, and Sanci said she had never heard of whole-wheat lasagna. If any readers know where I can buy some, let me know. We made do with regular pasta, and it was not bad. Make a pound of lasagna pasta according to the package directions and drain it well. Allow it to cool for five minutes, and begin to assemble things by greasing the lasagna pan with some olive oil. Place the noodles lengthwise across the pan. Cover the noodles with a layer of cheese. For extra vegetable flavor, I used a package of frozen spinach in another layer over the cheese. You can always use fresh spinach leaves. After the cheese and the spinach, lay down a thin layer of vegetables, and top it all with mozzarella cheese. Repeat until the pan is full. It took all the vegetables, and all the cheese mix, and several bags of grated mozzarella to make it.
Bake the lasagna for one hour at 375 degrees. When it comes out of the oven, it was about as hot as napalm. Let it sit for a good ten minutes for the cheese to grow firmer, and to allow the lasagna to be cut and served. Though this is a meatless meal, do not confuse this for health food or light fare. With all the cream and all the cheeses even the staunchest carnivore will find this to be very hearty.
We were all a little hungry that night, so I started us off with the stuffed mushrooms I wrote about a few weeks ago. Even Sanci, who despises mushrooms, admitted she enjoyed them. We had a lot of fun that evening, listening to Hawkins’ comedy records, watching my new favorite singer Leslie Feist in an episode of Conan O’Brien he recorded. We rolled our eyes at Saturday Night Live, and finished by watching the opening scenes of “Being John Malkovich.” One of the strangest movies, but with some of the best dialogue I have ever heard. With plenty of entertainment, lots of Italian food and the return of great friends, a good time was had by all. Good eating.