Friday, January 13, 2012

This Year, Aspire to Eat Real Food

We’re 13 days into 2012, and television and print stories still lead with advice on best diets, cleanses, losing weight and resolutions. Our society has made eating so complicated, when it’s really so very straightforward. Michael Pollan said it best, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Our challenge for you this year: forget the fads, and simply aspire to eat real food.

We’re going to talk more about what is real food? next week, and over the next few months we'll help you in your journey to lead a balanced, sustainable lifestyle. In the meantime, here’s a delectable recipe to launch you on your real food journey.

This vegetable lasagna is a heart-warming, toe-curling, make you sigh with pleasure comfort food. This is real food.

While McKenzie was visiting Bellingham this week, we celebrated a bright year ahead by putting on our favorite playlist, pouring a glass of wine, gathering our friends in the kitchen and preparing this meal together. We laughed, told stories and tasted our way through the evening. We hope you will too.

It does take some time to prepare. But it’s worth it.

Just make the tomato sauce.

Make the cheese sauce.

Grill the eggplant and saute the mushrooms.

Assemble and bake.

Enjoy a small piece of lasagna with a vibrant green salad and savor the pleasure of sharing a meal with those you love.

Vegetable Lasagna 

We’ve snuck a lot of extra nutrition in this lasagna by using whole wheat noodles and whole wheat flour in the cheese sauce.  If you can find whole wheat, please don’t be tempted to substitute regular noodles and white flour.  The nutty richness of the whole wheat compliments the lasagna beautifully.

Makes 8 servings

Basic Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup red wine
24 ounces tomato puree

Basic Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 cups whole milk, warmed
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil
2 eggplant, thinly sliced longwise
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles*
½ cup grated provolone or mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Make Basic Tomato Sauce: 

Heat olive oil in medium-sized pot over medium-low heat.  Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, bay leaves salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown.  

Add red wine.  Bring to a simmer and cook until wine has reduced to a few tablespoons.  Add tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 – 45 minutes, or until sauce is thick and fragrant. 

Make Basic Cheese Sauce:

Place a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add butter.  Cook until butter is melted and foaming.  Add flour.  Stir briskly with a wooden spoon until a smooth paste is formed.   Continue to cook 3 – 4 minutes, stirring.

Add warmed milk, 1 cup at a time, whisking briskly, until sauce is smooth.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook and stir until sauce is thick.  Stir in parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Prepare the rest of the ingredients:

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat.  Brush eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Grill for 3 – 4 minutes each side, or until eggplant slices are tender.  Remove to a plate and set aside.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms (do not add any oil, butter or salt).  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are caramelized but not dry, about 5 – 6 minutes.  Remove to a plate and set aside.

Assemble lasagna in a 10 x 20 inch lasagna pan:

Place about ¾ cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Top with lasagna noodles.  Add another ¾ cup tomato sauce.  Place 1/3 of the eggplant over the tomato sauce.  Over the eggplant, layer about ½ cup of the cheese sauce.  Add 1/3 of mushrooms over cheese sauce.  Top with another layer of lasagna noodles.  Repeat three more times.  Over the last layer of lasagna noodles, spread ¾ cup of tomato sauce.  Top with cheeses.

Cover tightly with foil.  Place on a baking sheet, in case sauce bubbles over.  Bake for 30 minutes with foil on top.  Remove foil and bake for another 30 minutes, or until cheese is browned and lasagna is bubbling.  If the cheese starts to get too brown, replace foil.  Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.       

*We don’t cook lasagna noodles ahead of time.  It has always seemed like an unnecessary step, and not cooking them actually turns out lasagna with a better texture—one that holds together beautifully and doesn’t fall apart with the first bite.  As long as you provide plenty of liquid for the noodles to absorb, your noodles will be perfectly toothsome to the bite. 

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