December 31, 2002

Pasta Hack

Today I make lasagna. I don't know, it just feels like new years somehow -- in a simple, easy, homelike, fireplace, warm, steamy, spice-smells sort of way. I've done some really complex new years dinners, and my friend meriko goes nuts with hers. But for some reason my default is something comfortable.

I'm going to make the lasagna "properly" in the sense that it's going to be a long-cooked meat sauce from scratch with both beef and pork. A bechamel sauce as well, along with ricotta (which I love with a loving love) and mozerella. There's a bunch of "cooking prep" that goes into a lasagna, and none of it's very difficult. But a large number of little bits can really throw folks off.

The "hack" part of this is something I'd heard about a while back and have since completely embraced. I put the pasta in raw. There are special "put in raw" brands of lasagna noodles, but some cooking magazine did a test and found it didn't really matter what kind you used. Years later I actually tried this approach and it works fantastic. You leave your tomato sauce a bit loose (or add a bit of water before using, maybe half a cup) so there is extra water to help cook the pasta, and you cover the lasagna for the first bit of cooking (which lots of recipes have you do anyway), but really that's it. The only real downside to this is you have to snap the pasta rather than cut it if you are trying to get it to fit into an odd-shaped container.

I've done this with other baked pasta dishes, such as baked ziti, which is really just tube pasta baked in tomato sauce with cheese and whatever else you find interesting. I think the last time I found mushrooms interesting. I haven't yet tried this with macaroni and cheese -- but I theorize that if I made the cheese sauce looser it likewise would be able to cook the macaroni while baking.

But I hesitate to tamper with my mac and cheese. Carol's kids have turned into big fans of it, and like to help make it. And even several "guest kids" have voiced their approval -- after some initial hesitation because it wasn't "the normal kind." Mr. Kraft you have a lot to answer to.

Michael and Sydney (the aforementioned offspring) are great eaters. They've got their normal food dislikes (hey, we all do, even me), but for the most part they'll at least try anything. They love broccoli, duck, shrimp, real BBQ, rice, beans, salad. Sydney's first "real French meal" was a cassoulet I made, complete with a massive range of meats. Michael is currently angling for me to make him a "fancy dinner," which I'll probably do before too long (I'm thinking quail). Carol claimed they are now actually "spoiled" with respect to food but I just like to think of it as enlightened. Of course, I'm not the one who has to put up with "But Mom, how come you don't make broccoli like Tom?" "Damn you, they used to be happy even when it was just steamed!" Oops.

To wrap this back to the original topic, a few years back we spent new years with another family -- one whose kids are picky eaters (their Dad, a close friend of mine, has a standing $10 offer for the first person who can get his kid to eat chicken). We made homemade pasta (the kids all liked helping, and I don't know a kid who doesn't eat pasta). I put together a complex lamb and reduction sauce main course for the adults (using some of the pasta twirled up as a base -- I wish I'd taken pictures, it was freakin' great looking). But of course, Michael and Sydney wanted the lamb too, and the sauce, and the green beans, and even were eyeing the morel mushrooms (neither of them like mushrooms, but these looked more spooky, I think). There was quite a bit of "if she" (referring to one of the other kids) "doesn't want lamb, can I have hers?"

Sigh. Now I almost wish I had some lamb. But, to the pans -- it's sauce time -- and the pasta hack.

Update: Also made a fugasse which is a flatbread made basically with a soft pizza like dough. But you roll it out oblong and flat, and then slash it into a 'tree'-like shape (I use a pizza cutter to do this) and pull the tree out (I don't really know how better to describe this, and hopefully a picture will eventually appear). You end up with an octopuss/tree/fan/butterfly shaped flat bread. You cook it at high heat (I use 450 on a pizza stone) so that the outside is very very crisp. After pulling it from the oven, I drizzled some pepper infused olive oil and coarse salt over it.

Posted by dowdy at December 31, 2002 08:13 AM