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Lasagna

OK, I know I’m going to get a lot of mail saying “Well, of COURSE, you dumbass”, but I’m going to risk it. I remember helping my mother make lasagna. I remember my Auntie Glenna making lasagna. I swear they cooked the noodles beforehand. I’m pretty sure I’ve made lasagna, and, well, I cooked the noodles beforehand. It was kind of a pain, keeping the noodles from sticking to one another while doing the whole assembly part, but if my mother did it, and my Auntie Glenna did it, then it must be the way things are done. (OK, I could get some wiggle room on the way Mom did things, but Auntie Glenna was an unearthly power to behold. She could, and did on a number of occasions, make anything, from her four daughters’ (and my sister’s) wedding dresses (yes, bridesmaids too), to indestructible piƱatas, to a knitted (perhaps crocheted?) fully-stocked bomb shelter in the 1960’s. So if Auntie Glenna did something in a particular way, then damn it, that’s the way it should be done.)

A few years back, somebody came out with lasagna noodles that didn’t have to be precooked. I figured they probably didn’t taste as good (it’s easy to dismiss stuff out-of-hand from this ivory tower), and we never really even tried them. (We to include my wife. We both cook. We both live in this ivory tower. We both tend to dismiss things out-of-hand.)

So it came as a complete surprise to me a few weeks ago, when, reading a lasagna box to find out how much of a pain it would be to make some lasagna (because, after all, it is a pretty tasty dish), that the recipe called for breaking the noodles to make them fit. Not cutting, but breaking. Now, I’ve got a college education (yes, an accredited institution of higher learning), and I immediately caught the implication there. It’s really really hard to break a cooked noodle, so the recipe author didn’t precook the noodles.

Intrigued, I secreted away a box of lasagna noodles in my grocery cart, and headed back for ricotta, some shredded pizza cheese, a package of sweet Italian sausage, a bag of sliced pepperoni, and two jars of Paul Newman’s (God bless his soul) Marinara sauce. That stuff is good enough where I don’t put a whole lot of consideration into making my own sauce any more. And I can make a pretty good sauce. Besides, if the lasagna came out screwed up, I could blame it on a dead guy.

I read the instructions again, and there was nothing about precooking the noodles. So I went ahead with my grand experiment, mixing the ricotta with a couple of eggs and some parsley for color, precooking and slicing the sausage (after removing the casing, which gives Peg the willies), and assembling two pretty good-sized pans of lasagna. Then I put it into the oven and waited.

The suspense was palpable. I was certain (well, nearly so) that there was an unwritten rule in lasagna making that it’s SO obvious that the noodles need to be precooked that they don’t even BOTHER to include that part in the recipe on the box. So for an hour I waited, ticking off in my head all the excuses for such stupidity that I could use when the lasagna came out of the oven, crusty brown cheese, firmly set ricotta, and bubbling-hot marinara sauce ensconced in crunchy, inedible, uncooked lasagna noodles. I could fall back on my engineering background, where nothing is assumed, nothing is left to folk-lore, and everything that needs to be done in a specific manner is so documented. (Not that that is actually the truth, but we can usually fool the lay people with our “disciplined engineering approach” and “proven scientific methodology”).

I was pleasantly surprised. The noodles actually cooked in the lasagna, absorbing liquid from the sauce and ricotta, and it came out quite nicely!

I repeated the experiment tonight on a smaller scale just to validate the first experiment, and I’m happy to say that the lasagna was delicious.

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