Is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party? That is the question that I have been pondering for the past couple weeks. I had invited about six friends over for a Saturday meal, including two, Jocelyn and Devin that we hadn’t seen in months. So I wanted to impress but also not be stuck in the kitchen all evening in order to have time to catch up. Naturally, in these situations, I always think: casserole!
My favorite “casserole” from childhood has to be lasagna. I like it even more than macaroni and cheese if you can believe it. (Maybe I’m exaggerating. What do you think, Mom?) But if you’ve read this far, you’re probably already wondering, “He’s talking comfort food here. Where’s the wow-factor?”
I made an absurdly fancy multi-step lasagna from Fields of Greens, a cookbook “from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant” in San Francisco. So there! The dish requires a tomato sauce, a ricotta “custard,” an herb béchamel, fresh artichokes, provolone and of course the lasagna noodles. With all the separate steps, to get the tray ready for the oven took me almost two hours. It smelled and tasted deliciously. But somehow, sadly, the pictures look just like any old lasagna.
I served it family style at the table, so everyone could help themselves and I wouldn’t have to be running around constantly. People loved it and ate almost everything.
The following afternoon, Hegui and I went to see Jocelyn and Devin at their place downtown. We talked about the meal. She said something along the lines of “I’d never thought to serve lasagna at a dinner party. It was really good.”
So I ask you once again: is lasagna elegant enough to serve at a dinner party?
artichoke leek lasagna
for the veggie filling:
2 leeks, whites only, sliced thin and thoroughly rinsed
4 artichokes, cleaned with hearts and stems sliced (for cleaning instructions, click here)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
¼ cup dry white wine
3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs: I used lemon thyme, parsley and oregano
for the ricotta custard:
3 to 4 cups ricotta (I doubled the recipe here—naughty)
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup grated parmesan
A few pinches fresh nutmeg
½ tsp salt
Pinch black pepper
for the herb béchamel:
2½ cups whole milk
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
Pinch black pepper
Sprigs of fresh herbs: I used parsley, lemon thyme, sage and oregano
for the tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped fine
¼ tsp dried thyme
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red wine
2 large cans chopped tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste
for the lasagna:
1 box lasagna noodles (not the no-boil kind—they get too squishy)
1 cup parmesan, grated
1½ cups provolone, grated
…and items prepared above
Start by making the tomato sauce. This is fairly straightforward. Sauté onions in olive oil until they become translucent, then add garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Sauté a bit longer. Add red wine and cook until liquid evaporates. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook at least 20 to 30 minutes. Adjust flavors with salt and pepper as desired.
Prepare the veggies by sautéing leeks in olive oil with salt until they become tender and translucent. Add dried herbs and pepper. Add artichoke slices and garlic. Continue cooking, covered, until artichokes are tender. Add lemon juice then white wine. Fold in fresh herbs. Adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.
Quickly make ricotta custard be mixing all ingredients together.
Prepare béchamel much like any roux. Add butter to a saucepan on high. As it begins to melt, sprinkle with flour and mix together. Once fully absorbed, slowly add milk while stirring constantly. Add sprigs of fresh herbs (tie them together to make fishing them out later easier.) Once it thickens, add salt and black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Prepare lasagna noodles following package directions. In a large baking dish, scoop some tomato sauce on the bottom then a layer of three noodles side-by-side. Pour some more tomato sauce over the pasta. Then add sautéed veggies. Sprinkle half the cheeses. Add another layer of pasta. Spread ricotta custard over that then more pasta. Add another layer of tomato sauce, the remaining cheese and another layer of pasta. Spread béchamel over that final layer (after removing the herbs). Cover and bake about 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 to 15 minutes.
That’s it! Simple…