Tuesday, September 30, 2008

*veggie table.

Even in the smallest provinces, it is usually possible to find someone with a passion for food. If you're lucky enough to live in a metropolis where one of those people is on every corner, you can probably pick up a baguette or bánh mì that someone has just pulled out of the oven or assembled according to your specifications. Those of us in smaller locales have an entirely different sense of what it means to "have it your way." (Side note: MAJOR props to the BK for purveying a veggie burger. Not that I really needed any fast-food encouragement, but the prevalence of cow was all that was really standing between me and the drive-through window before. Now? Obstacle-free!)

That said, there are some terrific restaurants in the vales surrounding the Woodside. The local celebrity is one Frank Stitt, and because I am wily, I was able to snag a galley of his newest cookbook from our food editor.

It's hard to know where to start, really, what with the café macaroni and cheese and the inventive pizzas all clamoring to be crafted, but JBSH asked if I wanted to try the veggie lasagna.

Get this: I did not know what I was in for.

Shocking, right?

Luckily, it turns out I am not alone in my lack of grace, attention span, and attention to detail in the kitchen. JBSH had procured all of the ingredients for the feast ... except for the lasagna noodles.

Whilst he scooted to the market, I grated cheeses.

Fontina, pecorino, and parmigiano across the top, oozy fresh mozz below.

Yeah, that mozzarella was from the SECOND trip back to the greengrocer. JBSH no read-y so well. While he did that, I mandolined zucchini

and managed not to lose any fingers in the process. The fluted blade was already on the contraption, and I didn't want to hunt for the flat one, so I decided to just call it an artistic choice. Yet again, the light at 11 Bonita was miraculous. It could make John McCain look youthful.

The process was a strange combination of both simple and labor-intensive. None of the steps were particularly difficult, there were just a lot of them. Blanch and puree the peas, roast the zucchini, grate the cheeses, sauté the onions and leek, mix together the ricotta and lemon zest, and ... drum roll, please ... make the bechamel.

This did not go precisely as planned. I finely chopped some onion, threw in a bay leaf and some garlic, and stewed it all for the requisite 15 minutes in 2 cups of milk.

Then I dutifully strained it and put the appropriate amount of butter and flour on to cook together (no lumps, natch). Then, according to the recipe instructions, I whisked my little heart out while I added the infused milk back to the mixture. At which point it seized up like glue. Instant wallpaper paste.

The recipe said it needed to cook for 20 more minutes. JBSH took one look at it and went to talk to the neighbors. He'd already turned the lasagna noodles into pasta ribbons, so I think he was ready to wash his hands of the whole business.

Bravely, I soldiered on. I stirred the cayenne and nutmeg into the bechamel and called it done. Then I started layering (the natives were getting restless. And even though I was happy to see the Republicans getting the brunt of their ire, I knew the tide could turn when they got hungry enough). "Bechamel," noodles, roasted zucchini, pea puree, leek/onion mixture, and ricotta mixture—three layers of each, then topped with the grated cheese and drizzled (in this case, glopped) with more bechamel. Into the oven to bake, and then ...

It's official. You absolutely cannot mess up anything with that much cheese on top. It was creamy and delicious, with all those green things distracting your brain while your cardiovascular system sopped up the buttery, cheesy goodness.

Artistic plating courtesy of JBSH. I believe the purpose of the extra-large serving dish is to allow you to eat the entire elephantine portion without guilt. Which I did, gluttonously.

There was radioactive red velvet cake for dessert, but one bite was enough for me. There was a shortening aftertaste I couldn't stomach, but I'm picky about my sweets.

Jenny, ask Dean where I went wrong with the sauce. Just, you know, anonymously. Tell him it's for a "friend." I don't want him to know that on an average day I'm liable to get halfway through an egg salad recipe before I realize I don't have any eggs. I save that shame for the Interweb at large.


Juarez Family says:
at: 3:44 PM said...

Ah, that was a wonderful veggie tale.....

That was some good stuff. Let's do the chicken scalapini (however you spell it) next!!

K. says:
at: 3:50 PM said...

okey doke! any excuse to make that creamy polenta ...

John-Bryan Hopkins says:
at: 5:18 PM said...

I feel full all over again....sauce or not......i didn't think anything but that it was perfect!



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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.