Making Lasagna

What it means to cook from scratch something delicious, and think about sharing with loved ones

food wood italian dinner
Photo by Micheile Henderson on Pexels.com

This is a hard time for everyone, over a year in lockdown without a chance to meet and hug family and friends, death and sickness all around us and lots of chances of reading or seeing deeply sad news everywhere.

Some have turned to the hyperactive version of themselves, learning every possible trade and feeling lost if one day goes by without adding one line to their resumee, while others one the opposite side have “hibernated” like bears not before having eaten for five and then basically waiting for a Covid-spring to come so they can wake up and go back to their lives.

And others like me swing from one to the other, depending on the day, the anxiety level and how much I manage to sleep at night. Some days I gather the strength to deep-clean and vacuum the bedroom, others I barely make my morning masala chai and that’s the biggest accomplishment of the day.

Usually my work days are busy, between 8 and 10 hours answering emails, preparing presentation, giving presentation and attending Zoom calls back to back lasting from 30mins to 3 hours. I need at least one hour doing nothing but playing Candy Crush (yeah, I know), before I can even think about cooking something for dinner and reading some friend’s email or taking care of personal stuff.

These days, though, are vacation days in the UK: for some reason despite not being a Catholic country we have more days off than in Italy. So I had a chance to put on my out of office autoresponder on Thursday evening and try not to check my work inbox at all these days.

This doesn’t mean anxiety is going away all of a sudden: it has kind of a “sticky” quality, this one. She is there, ebbs and flows of dispnea and shortness of breath, tachicardia and difficulty focusing. But tomorrow is Easter, and for the first time in many months we will be allowed to meet with other friends outside.

That’s reason to rejoice and celebrate, and although it will be quite cold (where I am it will be around 10 Celsius), we will have a barbecue at some friends in Ascot. I decided to bring my lasagna, and an Italian Colomba to enjoy in good company.

So today has been a full half-day of cooking: from making bechamel sauce, to take out from the fridge the ragù I prepared yesterday, and lay out all the pieces that are then assembled to make a delicious lasagna.

I follow the original recipe, the one my mum and my grandma always prepared, and the smell of nutmeg is the perfect reminder of those days when we all gathered in the kitchen to watch expert hands prepare a dish we would have later enjoyed all together.

By the time I finish the 3 trays (feeds 6 each, I know I have a tendency to cook for an army…perhaps a topic for another post ;)), it looks like a tornado swiped the kitchen and the sink is overflowing with dirty dishes, pans and spoons.

But even taking care of the kitchen after cooking, as I explained in another post, is an integral part of the full experience of cooking: it’s cathartic to patiently removing dirt and grease from all the utensils used, rinse off the soap and put them to drain next to the sink. And yes, I do have a washing machine but that is for the everyday dishes and cooking: cooking for a feast requires a different energy to clean dishes and the kitchen itself.

The rewarding feeling of completing a great task, creating a delicious meal and savoring when it will be enjoyed in good company is priceless.

Happy Easter!

False friends in the kitchen

shallow focus photography of squash soup
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

This morning I was reading something on one of the profiles I follow, @katiesturino 

She was writing about her frustration with using pumpkin to cook a pasta dish., which results in a not-so-good -tasting dish and made her question her cooking abilities.

I think there are some ingredients that look ‘friendly’ (come on, October is pumpkin season, who doesn’t love a pumpkin) but in reality are very tricky.

First you have to find a really tasty one, and it’s not easy until you cook it usually… by then it’s too late. And even when you find a tasty one, its consistence is not easy to work with (tip: better in a risotto than in a pasta dish if you are not too experienced, or like the picture above in a soup).

So I would suggest to anyone who is practicing their first dishes, or perhaps want to impress a guest at dinner (the person you are spending your lockdown with, that is), to try with easier to work with ingredients.

Some foolproof ingredients you could start with are zucchini, for instance: you can sautee’ them with a little olive oil, a garlic glove and some parsley (at the end) and add them when ready to some cooked pasta, toss in and sautee a bit more, add a hint of parmesan if you like and voila’, simple and tasty dish even for beginners.

Another ingredient that always works well is asparagus (with risotto this time), or again for a pasta I would also do a handful of small round tomatoes, cut in half and sauteed in a little olive oil, salt and toss in the cooked pasta, add basil and enjoy.

Leave the most “risky” ingredients for a time when you are sure they are as tasty as possible, or when you can experiment.

Avoid false friends, in the kitchen and in your life 🙂