Lasagna - An Elegant One Dish Meal
However you choose to spell lasagna, ending it with an e or an a, this layered noodle dish is a popular Italian specialty. The big debate arises over what is nestled between the layers of tender sheets of pasta and whether the provenance of those structural noodles is fresh from an Atlas roller or slipped from a blue box. I've gone both routes, and if all the other elements are done to perfection, the choice of pasta is almost irrelevant. In my opinion, fresh pasta should be showcased with minimal adornment, lasagna has too much going for it to highlight the pasta.
My personal choice is simple layers of pasta with fresh ricotta cheese that has been mixed with beaten egg, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, minced fresh parsley and salt and pepper. Each layer separated from its brother with a light coating of red sauce and thin slices of whole milk mozzarella cheese. The entire dish laced on the bottom, between layers and over the top with a perky fresh tomato marinara sauce. I love vegetables, but keep them out of my lasagna and I prefer a meatless rendition, if I'm having my druthers.
I have friends who are partial to a rich ragù that I've adapted from The Frugal Gourmet. They've indicated that the combination of layers of ricotta alternating with layers of ragù is a winner in their book and to please everyone, about once a year, I put one of these meat and cheese combos together.
This was the week. My friends, Paul and Betty, were celebrating their first wedding anniversary and I wanted to offer a toast to them for many more happy years ahead.
We started the meal with shrimp cocktail. The large, sweet, fresh shrimp recently off the boat from Key West. Followed by an adventurous little salad of torn green leaf lettuce, thinly sliced Vidalia onions, diced vine- ripened tomatoes, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and spicy hot, toasted walnuts. The pan-roasted walnuts dusted in sugar and ground chipotlé were a bold companion to the piquant cheese and the two somewhat brash components lent just the right character to the sweet mild greens that had been lightly dressed with a mellow Asiago dressing.
Foccacia, warm from the oven, with rosemary and kosher salt, was good for mopping the zingy cocktail sauce (fresh horseradish is a must) with the shrimp, the dressing on the salad and any traces of red sauce from the lasagna. The dense, cake-like crumb, sweetened by a heavy dose of olive oil within and served with herbed olive oil for dipping, could have been dessert by itself.
But we ended the meal with a simple presentation designed by a clever chef in Treviso. Freshly churned lemon ice drizzled with vodka. The light fresh tart taste of the lemons was a fitting end to a rich meal. And the unexpected appearance of the ice cold vodka, straight from the freezer, lent just the right air of decadence to the finale.
The meal was complemented with a feisty young red Zinfandel and a pleasantly mellow Cabernet. Rich French Roast coffee added the final touch to an extremely enjoyable, casual meal with good friends.
Get-togethers like these are rich rewards for spending a day in the kitchen. As you might have guessed, this was not a 30 minute meal!