Thursday, October 04, 2007

File under "why didn't I think of that": free-form lasagna

On a recent Wednesday, L.A. Times food writer Russ Parsons wrote about "free-form lasagna", squares of fresh pasta layered with seasonal ingredients, sauce and cheese, then baked for just a few minutes.

Regardless of the number of Italian grandmothers that Parsons's column angered by calling such a simple thing "lasagna," the concept is brilliant. And fast. And adaptable. And are all about the pasta, unlike lasagnas that are baked so long that the pasta melds with the sauce and filling, essentially disappearing.

I tried it last Sunday night.

First, I made a batch of fresh pasta and rolled it to level six on my machine. (Level seven is the thinnest setting on my pasta machine---I didn't get the one that goes to eleven, which I regret. To understand the importance of eleven, listen to this MP3 from "This is Spinal Tap".) I cut the strips of pasta into squares, tossed each one into salted boiling water for a few seconds until it floated, transferred each square into cool water that had been dosed with a little bit of olive oil, then onto a towel to wait for assembly.

Next, I assembled the fillings. I chose zucchini, a Portuguese-style cheese from Spring Hill Creamery (Petaluma, CA), and slow-roasted Roma tomatoes. To prepare the zucchini, I sliced it on a mandoline and then sauteed the pieces in olive oil until lightly browned on each side. I tossed the cooked pieces with herbs (thyme, basil, marjoram) and seasoned with salt and pepper. To assemble the dish, I layered the elements thusly: pasta, zucchini, pasta, cheese, pasta, tomatoes, with a grating of Parmesan to top it off.

I was very happy with the result. Like Parsons promised in his article, it allowed the fresh pasta to show off its flavors and textures, with the fillings as an accent. The intense slow-roasted tomatoes were perfect with the subtle pasta and humble zucchini.

The free-form technique yielded benefits throughout the week for me. Namely, several lunches at the office. I refrigerated the uneaten portions of the cooked pasta in a sealed container with layers of waxed paper between each piece. At lunch-time, I assembled a free-form lasagna on a plate and popped it in the microwave. It was not as good as if it was baked in the oven, to be sure, but still among the best lunches I have eaten recently.

The technique holds great promise for other seasons. In the winter, one could layer roasted butternut squash and ricotta with sage leaves, then drizzle the assembly with sage-garlic brown butter. Or work with wild mushrooms and a cream sauce. Or any number of combinations.

Read the whole article for more commentary from Russ Parsons, a few pictures and three recipes.

Random link from the archive: My Washoku Introduction

Technorati tags: vegetarian : Food


Ana said...

it's really good using squares of fried polenta instead of noodles too.

Judith said...

Hi! I'm just dropping by to let you know about a food blogging event I'm hosting, called "A Vegetarian Feast." The first round is thanksgiving themed, but broadly it can include any vegetarian dishes that use fall ingredients or make you think of Thanksgiving. If you're interested in participating or mentioning the event on your blog, you can find details here. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Marc,
It's your NE cousin Linda, you have me drooling! When are you coming to NYC/NJ for a visit? (and to hopefully cook on my Viking)

: D

Rachelle said...

Yeah, no kidding. Sometimes its the simple things that are really the best. I made my own rendition of this last night... awesome! Thanks for passing on this idea.

shelly said...

Loved the Spinal Tap reference. That really is one of the best bits of dialog from that movie.

Marc said...

shelly -- that's one of my favorite parts of Spinal Tap too.

Now that I think about the "eleven" reference again, I realize that it is something that could be uttered in some kitchens about a stand mixer (the new KitchenAid 11) or the commercial-grade stove in a trophy kitchen. "What's special about this stove is that the front right burner goes up to eleven. There's always a chance some superstar blogger will come over for dinner, and I'll need to crank it up to eleven to make the meal memorable."