fat free opinions on a food centric life

Lasagne with Béchamel and Spring Vegetables

I’ve been trying to write something here for days now.  I approach the task with the best intentions but know that it’s really only my conscience goading me.  No words come.  I scrounge for a memory worth sharing, then wonder if it’s one I’ve already written about and catch myself wanting to waste time sorting through archived posts to make sure.  It’s an old procrastination ruse, so I’m onto it most of the time.

Photos of recipes I’ve tried and liked are accumulating, waiting for something to be said about them, or the ingredients they were made with,  whether they’re in season, local, organic….or not.  Because you know, that matters, right?

I can’t muster up the energy because it all sounds so trivial.

I’m like an ostrich avoiding reality.  I’d rather edit photos (which qualifies at least as legitimate procrastination), or sprawl on my bedroom floor in front of the big windows on this blustery day watching the storm come in off the Pacific — probably the last we’ll have until next winter.  Mother Nature seems to have gotten March all wrong this year, with its entrance more like that of a lamb’s and its exit resembling a lion’s — at least in San Diego.

I could grab a book and lose myself for a while or think again for what seems to be the millionth time about whether the windows need drapes, and whether I should make them myself — except I’m not sure which closet that sewing machine is in and even if I did, my heart wouldn’t be into it.

A walk in the rain would also be nice, but the force of the wind is rattling the skylights and whistling down the chimneys.  I’d make it out the door and realize how silly a decision it was since I’m nothing like the thin woman clad in white who just sprinted past my window, nor like anyone the Brontës might write about, a thin figure whose dark dress is flapping about her ankles on the hauntingly beautiful Yorkshire moors and proof of a pained existence etched across her brow.

So ridiculously unfocused and thinking none of it really matters.

I’ve been thinking about perspective quite a bit this past week.  Counting my blessings.  Thinking about life, loss, what I take for granted (see foolish exhibits A, B, C, and D above) and what others in the world right now have lost and may never, ever recover.  I’m watching it on the news, in the photos that stream through a variety of websites, and can’t begin to understand.  How can anyone not actually experiencing the magnitude of such devastation understand?  I’m weighing the pettiness of any complaint, feeling short with others for their narrow mindedness, and all in all just very sad and angry.

It’s overwhelming.

So on this first day of spring and all it traditionally represents with respect to birth, new growth, and renewal, I hope the best for people in so many places on Earth right now devastated by things beyond their control.

If you’re someone who has thought about donating to a relief fund for Japan’s recovery, you may be interested in this piece by Stephanie Strom from the New York Times, “Charities Rush to Help Japan, With Little Direction.”

Donations can be made directly to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

More information about other ways to help are listed in “The Lede” at The New York Times“Japan Earthquake and Tsunami:  How to Help”

Lasagne with Béchamel and Spring Vegetables

1/2 lb. no-boil lasagne noodles

3 T olive oil

3 zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise

1 c. frozen peas

salt & pepper to taste

1 lg. sweet onion, sliced thinly

2 sm. leeks, split, rinsed and sliced thinly, white and light green parts only

2 lg. cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 c. ricotta

1 tsp. fresh lemon zest

1 T fresh chopped chives

pinch of cayenne

2 c. Bechamel

1/2 lb. fresh mozarella, sliced

1/3 c. Fontina, grated

1/3 c. asagio, freshly grated

1/3 c. pecorino romano, freshly grated

For the Béchamel…

2 c. milk

1/4 c. chopped onion

1 bay leaf

pinch of salt

a few cranks of freshly ground pepper

4 T unsalted butter

1/4 c. all-purpose flour

a bit of freshly grated nutmeg

a bit of cayenne

To make the Béchamel…

To a medium saucepan, add the milk, onion, bay leaf, and seasonings.  Over medium heat, bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally until reduced by a quarter.  Pour through a fine-meshed strainer and set aside.  Heat the milk in the microwave so that it’s not quite hot and have it ready to pour.

Rinse out the sauce pan and melt the butter over medium heat, stirring in the flour and over low heat stirring, allow to cook 2-3 minutes to get the floury taste from it.  After it’s bubbling, whisk quickly while pouring the milk into the flour mixture.  It will immediately begin to thicken, so keep stirring until all of the milk is incorporated.  Over low heat and stirring occasionally, continue to cook for 20 minutes until very thick.  Set aside until ready to use.

To make the lasagne…

Prepare the zucchini first by heating the oven to 450 degrees F.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, arrange zucchini slices in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the slices are dry and beginning to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Turn the oven heat down to 350 degrees F.

Saute the leeks and onions in a bit of the olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes, and remove from the heat.  Mix the ricotta with the lemon zest, chives, pinch of cayenne and salt in a small  bowl and set aside.  Have the frozen peas ready.

Spray a 9×13″ pan lightly with oil and spoon a liberal amount of the Béchamel into the pan.  Spread over the bottom surface area.  Layer the no-boil pasta over the top of the Béchamel — about 1/3 of the noodles.  Spread a third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, a third of the onion-leek mixture, over the ricotta, a third of the frozen peas, and 7-8 strips of the zucchini.  Sprinkle a bit of the minced garlic over the zucchini and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Repeat twice, ending with the last zucchini strips.  To finish, layer the fresh mozzarella slices over the top of the zucchini, add the grated asagio and pecorino romano, and finish with the remainder of the Bechamel.

Bake about 40-45 minutes or until the lasagne is bubbling and beginning to brown.  Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before serving.


Notes:

  • Béchamel is a versatile sauce which can be used to make great macaroni and cheese, or sausage “gravy” and biscuits to name a few simple dishes I grew up with.  My mother called it “white sauce” though, and that works for me.  Think equal parts butter to flour and then add milk and seasonings and she was ready to go with it.  I know she’d scratch her head over the cooking time in this recipe, as did I, because I thought it would be burnt, but it wasn’t.  Very, very thick?  Yes, so there’s no “drizzling” with this as the original recipe directs.  It’s tasty stuff, though.
  • the kitchn has a great piece on “Soup to Souffle:  6 Ways to Use Béchamel” for more ideas on what Béchamel can be used for
  • This absolutely wonderful recipe was adapted from “Spring Vegetable Lasagne” as published in Frank Sitt’s Bottega Favorita:  A Southern Chef’s Love Affair With Italian Food.  The flavor is mild and satisfying without that cheese overload I don’t appreciate in some of the more traditional lasagne recipes I’ve tried over the years.  The peas and zucchini work nicely together with the sweetness of the onions and leeks.  Very nice.
  • The original recipe calls for whole milk ricotta, a whole pound of fresh mozzarella, and whole milk for the Béchamel, but I used low-fat milk, ricotta, and only half the quantity of mozzarella.  It was quite tasty.
  • I haven’t had great results with some brands of no-boil noodles, but the 365 brand from Whole Foods surprised me (no I’m not being paid to say that).  Often when I bake pasta, I use regular noodles without boiling, and they work fine as long as the filling is moist enough.  I don’t think that would work in this recipe because it’s not floating in the sauce (which is fine by me).  To use regular noodles, boil them until al dente, drain, and lay on a clean towel until used in the recipe and bake as directed above.
  • If you don’t want a pronounced garlic flavor, then saute the garlic with the onions and leeks to mellow it out.
  • I was tempted to add some sauteed mushrooms to this and decided not to, but know I’d love it.
  • This is one of those forgiving recipes I’m sure you could do just about anything with with respect to ingredients and quantities.  There are quite a few steps, but it really doesn’t take that much time to construct.
  • Make it ahead as written, allow it to cool at room temperature, then cover and chill.
  • To freeze, cool and cut into about 6 big sections, then wrap well.  To serve after freezing, thaw in the microwave before reheating.  Very tasty like this as well.

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