I was looking back over my posts recently and I noticed that there's often a pattern to them: a nostalgic, slightly angst-ridden, weightier post, followed by a let-me-roll-my-sleeves-up and bake or cook or produce something tangible and practical to offset life's fragile moments post. One day I might wax poetic about my children's bittersweet milestones; the next, I'm making popovers, or bagels, or homemade doughnuts. There's a reason for this, I think. I often find comfort in cooking and cleaning--in setting the controllable parts of my life in order at the times when the other parts of my life seem the most out of control. For me, embarking on a cooking or baking project is not only a time to relax, but to connect with my kids. When I'm in the kitchen, measuring and scooping, mixing and chopping, I feel the most centered in my space. T. perches in her spot on the counter and we talk and play as she helps me. And even if L. doesn't directly participate (maybe he will, one day) he comes and goes from the office to the kitchen and back again. I love my kitchen, and in it I feel empowered and positioned as the heart of it all, with all that's most precious to me only a few footsteps away in any direction.
Nothing makes me feel more on top of things (and oh so together and in control) then when I prepare a casserole-like dinner ahead of time, freeing us all up for playtime in the afternoon. We spent Sunday afternoon with our neighbors, and since they have little ones who still take lateish afternoon naps, I didn't want to have dinner interfere with our fun and games. Earlier that afternoon T. and I assembled my personal specialty--a vegetarian lasagna, and when 5:00 came around I ran back across the street to our house, popped it in the oven, and by 6:00 we had dinner ready, the smell of simmering tomatoes and warm cheese rising out into the streets, and calling us home.
Aliki's Vegetarian Lasagna
2 or 3 large jars spaghetti sauce--how many you use will depend on how large you want your lasagna to be. It doesn't really matter which kind of sauce you use--I'm partial to the Barilla sauce, or to Rao's Homemade, but I've also made this at beach house family reunions with Prego tomato sauce.
2-3 cloves garlic. I always doctor up my sauce. So before you dump it all into a pan, saute a little garlic in olive oil, and then mix it into the sauce.
Carrots, broccoli, spinach--any veggies you like. Spinach is a must-have ingredient, but I also throw in chopped carrots, and sometimes chopped broccoli or zucchini. If you think your kids will eat it, then toss it in! On Sunday we chopped up rainbow carrots (have you had these yet? They are our favorites) for some extra sweet flavor to the sauce.
Aren't they pretty?
Barilla no-cook noodles. I swear by these. They look like this:
**Optional: Morningstar veggie crumbles
Shredded mozarella--enough to sprinkle over several layers, and on the top.
Asiago and/or parmesan cheese (for sprinkling purposes).
Here's what to do:
In a large pot bring the sauce to a simmer. You should also throw in any veggies you might be using at this point.
Bring a separate small pot to boil and put in the frozen spinach. When the spinach is cooked, drain, drizzle with olive oil, and set aside.
Once the sauce has simmered enough, and your veggies are more or less done, spread enough sauce on the bottom of a casserole pan to cover.
Layer Barilla noodles over the sauce. Spread an even layer of spinach over the noodles. If you're using veggie crumbles, spread them over the spinach. Sprinkle with cheese, then cover again with sauce. Cover with Barilla noodles, and repeat above steps. How many layers you come up with will depend on how large your lasagna needs to be, and how much of the various ingredients you have. Some nights I've ended up with only two layers, other night three or four.
No matter what, though, you should finish with a final layer of Barilla noodles, a layer of sauce, and a generous sprinkling of the cheeses, salt and pepper. Then cover with foil, and bake at 425 for about 45-50 minutes. Take it out and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving.
And tomorrow? Maybe I'll put up an angst-ridden post about the state of public education, or how I will bear watching T. head off to kindergarten, in pigtails, my heart packed away with her...