*Or, Mastering the Legacy of Mush and Goo
When I was a kid, my mother was a fairly conventional 1960s housewife (well, except for the Valium) whose cooking style, too, adhered to convention; she’d cook pretty much the same seven dinners every week, according to the day: Mondays were hamburgers and mashed potatoes. Tuesdays were veal chops and green beans. Wednesdays were franks and beans. Fridays were chicken soup or roast chicken (but this changed to salmon patties and twice-baked potatoes, after one of her Mah Jong friends clipped a recipe from Good Housekeeping and passed it along).
Only on the very rare occasion did Mom diverge from the predetermined pattern, if she saw a particularly intriguing recipe in Chatelaine, perhaps, or if my aunt cooked something she tasted and really liked. Then Mom would pick up the ingredients during that week’s grocery shopping, and we’d have something new for a change.
One week, she decided to tackle homemade lasagna. Never mind that she had never made it before. Never mind that it was a multi-step, fairly complex process. Never mind that my aunt–the inspiration for this experiment–was a professional caterer and could make a lasagna with one hand tied behind her apron. My mother decided we were going to have lasagna, and, dammit, that’s what she made.
Well, sort of.
I returned home from school that day to a scene worthy of the set of Psycho: kitchen walls splattered with thick, wayward splotches of red, the stovetop covered in equally abundant patches of tomato sauce that had spewed from a teeming pot of sauce; topless, half-emptied cartons of cottage cheese and grated mozzarella littered across every surface, and detritus of carrot shavings, onion peel, and celery stalks strewn over and beside the wooden cutting board.
It did smell heavenly, though. My sisters and I waited patiently, watching Happy Days reruns, as we dreamt of thick, saucy hunks of lasagna, the long, ruffled noodles padded with meat, cheese, and my mother’s own sauce. But any aspirations of heavenly hunks were quickly dashed when my mother cut in to the first piece. The noodles (having been parboiled according to package directions, before being layered with the sauce and cheese) had practically disintegrated in the casserole dish, leaving only a mass of mushy, oozing goo. She didn’t attempt lasagna again for quite some time.
When I finally got my own apartment as an undergraduate, I was determined to conquer the fractious pasta. I cooked up a huge batch of my favorite spaghetti sauce with ground beef, chopped celery, peppers and carrots, accented with oregano and lots of basil. I had my cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan) at the ready. And, unlike my mother, I was savvy enough to take advantage of modern conveniences: I purchased pre-parboiled noodles, so that they could be laid, stiff and uncooked, right into the casserole dish with the sauce and cheeses. I layered, I smoothed the top, I popped it into the oven, feeling pretty satisfied with myself.
About an hour later, I was drawn by the heavenly smell. But any aspirations of success were quickly dashed when I cut into the first slice. . . which was a mass of mushy, oozing goo. Needless to say, I had no desire to cook lasagna again for quite some time.
One of the imperatives of my “Total Health” course is to eat more greens (and more on the course, below). In searching the Internet for greens recipes, I came across the ubiquitous Potato and Kale Enchiladas on the Post Punk Kitchen discussion forum. Now, I know it must seem lately that I’m shilling for Moskowitz & Romero (no, not the Las Vegas act; the vegan cookbook authors) given how many times I’ve mentioned their recipes on this blog recently. But since kale is my favorite leafy green, and since the recipe was right in front of me, I decided to use it–sort of. Having no tortillas in the house, I dug out a box of rice lasagna I’d bought on a whim months ago. Did I dare to try another lasagna experiment? What the heck; I decided to live on the (stiff, ruffled) edge.
Potatoes and noodles? Yes, it’s an unconventional twist on that traditional dish. But I’m here to tell you, it worked. Not only was the kale-potato filling hardy enough to support the layers of noodles, the lasagna itself complied and baked up perfectly; firm, cooked throughout, with neither mush nor goo anywhere in sight. It cut beautifully into semi-solid, clearly defined squares. And the combination of potato, kale, tomato sauce and pumpkin seeds was a delightful, unusual and winning carnival of tastes.
This was a terrific dinner, one that would satisfy even the most avowed lasagna-lover. The HH thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe his exact words were, “hmmmn, not so bad for vegetarian lasagna”), and The Girls were happy to help with the leftovers (“It may not be steak, but it was still good, Mum! And you might recall that we love kale.”) Next time you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen, I recommend giving this this one a try.
Potato and Kale Lasagna (based on PPK recipe)
1 recipe Kale and Potato Enchillada filling
Lasagna noodles of your choice (I used rice lasagna)
About 3-4 cups of your favorite Arrabiata spaghetti sauce (such as this one)
About 1/4 cup (125 ml.) additional toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Lightly grease a large rectangular pan or lasagna pan.
Prepare the kale and potato filling according to directions. Heat up your spicy tomato sauce.
Spread about 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the pan; top with a layer of the lasagna noodles. Top with half the kale-potato mixture and cover with another 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with noodles, kale-potato mixture and end with sauce. Bake in preheated oven until warmed through and slightly crispy on top, 25-35 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, sprinkle with remaining pumpkin seeds and return to oven to warm the seeds.
Allow to sit at room temperature 10-15 minutes before slicing (this helps the lasagna retain its shape when cut). Makes about 8 servings. May be frozen.
Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll get recipes as soon as they’re posted, plus cookbook updates and news about upcoming events! (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”)
Total Health Coda: You may have noticed that there was no update last Wednesday, as we missed our class that day. The makeup was yesterday, followed by our regular class tonight. Yesterday’s topic was Ayurvedic cooking, something I’ve always found fascinating but never knew much about. According to the dosha (body and personality type) test, I am almost perfectly split between the two opposites, Vata and Kapha. In other words, I’m conflicted. In other words, sort of a split personality. Or, as the HH would say, I’m just a Libra.