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