I felt lethargic yesterday; not the usual type of ‘I didn’t sleep well’ or the ‘oh I have eaten a bad meal’ tired but truly exhausted, and spent. It was as if a sombre silence had crept into my mind like icicles spreading out across a lake in the dead of winter, slowly overwhelming me.
The cause is definitely uncertainty – a pin-me-down, helpless, weighted blanket-like cast over my shoulders. This felt unusual as I am a rather carefree and easy going person in my personal life and I have never felt uncertain about my ability to support my family or what the future will hold.
When I became a chef, I felt that it was the perfect job – I could go anywhere, cook everywhere and always have work. That has been true for most part – I’ve traveled the world with my skills and had a grand time of it. As a career I always saw it as being as certain as death and taxes, but now it isn’t so certain anymore.
We now find ourselves in a very uncertain situation that has to greater and lesser extent impacted us all. Some (like myself) have been displaced from their jobs and places of business with no knowledge of whether they have a job to return to. What will the future of food service look like going forward? I don’t know but I’m not sure that it will ever be the same again.
What I am certain of is that it is time for – COMFORT FOOD. I know I am not alone in this sentiment; we all need the certainty of a good meal and to be reminded of simpler times when friends and family gathered together over the dinner table to talk about our daily struggles and triumphs as well as argue jovially over politics and sports
Lasagna al forno certainly fits the bill when it comes to comfort. It’s decadent but not pretentious, serious yet flirty and just a whole lot of fun to make. It’s a cheeky little communal dish that’s great for sharing with your family as we all ride out the lockdown and dream of better days of being able to connect again person to person that’s not at arms length apart or via a Skype or Zoom conference call.
This is a great recipe to make in case you have bought too many vegetables and need to clear them before they end up in the bin and any remaining white sauce and tomato sauce can be used for a variety of other dishes the following day or two – just pack it in your reusable containers and refrigerate. These sauces are absolute time savers and enable you to whip up more delectable lunch and dinner items with simple adjustments. I have some suggestions in recipes below for how you can use up the remaining sauces. Now all you have to do is prep them the night before so that you can have time to focus on working from home and spend less time in the kitchen.
Béchamel (The White Sauce)
- 100 gm butter
- 100 gm All purpose flour
- 1.2 litres milk
- 1/2 onion
- 2 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
In a pan melt the butter, add in the flour & whisk for two to three minutes. You will begin to see the edges of the flour begin to foam and bubble as the flour is cooking but don’t let the roux (the flour and butter mixture) brown. remove from heat and set aside.
In a separate pot, bring the milk to a low boil, stud the onion with the cloves and bay leaf. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow 10 minutes for the milk to infuse with the onion. Once done remove the onion and slowly whisk your milk, cup by cup into the roux – doing this will prevent lumps from forming which would spoil your sauce’s texture and mouthfeel. Once all the warm milk is incorporated you should have a very smooth sauce. Slowly cook the sauce on low heat for 15 minutes , stirring frequently and season with salt and white pepper to taste.
Note: For cheese sauce (Mornay in fancy chef terms), add two cups of grated cheese and whisk until it melts and is fully incorporated. Use the remaining cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese or to dress some broccoli and cauliflower to fool your kids into eating their veggies.
Tomato Ragu (The Red Sauce)
- 2 pc onions diced
- 2 pc leeks sliced
- 2 pc celery sliced
- 4 pc garlic cloves minced
- 1 small tin of tomato paste
- A splash of white wine to deglaze the pot
- 1.5 kg tinned tomato
Heat some oil in a large pot and sauté your diced onions until translucent, add the leeks, celery and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Toss in your carrots, add tomato paste and stir through – the tomato paste will begin to stick to the bottom of the pot as it cooks. Once it starts to catch, deglaze by pouring in a generous splash of white wine. Add in your tinned tomato paste, bring it all to the boil and turn the heat down to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste and correct with sugar if your tomatoes are too sour or a little balsamic vinegar if your tomatoes are too sweet. Tweak to your own personal preference but remember to go slow and add a teaspoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper and set aside
Note: You can use the remaining tomato sauce as a base sauce for pizza, pastas, a sauce for meatballs or even grilled meats, it’s very versatile!
This is down to personal preference and also largely based on what you have in the fridge and need to clear out but I am partial to the vegetables you see below and prefer them for a solid veggie lasagna.
- Zucchinis diced
- Eggplant diced
- Capsicums diced
- Mushrooms quartered
- Pumpkin diced
- Carrots diced
- Spinach or kale (sautéed not baked )
You can sauté them off in a pan to help remove the moisture that’s going to come out during baking or you can just toss them on a baking pan with some olive oil, dried herbs (oregano, basil and marjoram ) and bake at 180°C for 25 minutes. I prefer this method as I can drain the water from the oven vegetables and add it to my béchamel, to thin it out a little before I assemble my lasagna – it also adds a bit of extra zing to the béchamel.
Note: If you’ve got some old asparagus sitting in the fridge, find another use for it. asparagus tends to get woody and more fibrous the longer it sits around as it loses water in your fridge from dehydration. It’s not going to make a good addition to your lasagna if it’s old.
- Lasagna sheets (non-boil kind – saves a lot of time and headache)
- Tomato Ragu
- Roasted vegetables
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Repeat as above until you have filled your lasagna dish 2/3rds full
Place in the oven and bake at 180° for 45 minutes.
Voila, our recipe for a vegetable lasagna you can be happy to serve to vegetable and meat lovers alike. So get cooking and bring a bit of community to your family’s dinner table today for your own sanity and the sanity of the ones you cherish and love. #youcanbakehappiness