cooking for me is something like church. it’s quiet, nurturing, and there is something particularly gratifying about preparing food as a gift for the ones you love. i’ve been known to whip up pavlovas (nigella’s, of course), orange crunch loaves and piping hot dishes of butternut squash lasagna with a light pesto bÃ©chamel sauce.
with cooking, rather than baking, i’m a bit of an obsessive perfectionist (notice a trend?) so i tend to latch onto a recipe i’m quite fond of and cook it and cook it until it not only tastes, but feels right. i prepared giada’s butternut squash lasagna and served it to a friend who came over for dinner and much-needed catching-up. the recipe sounds heavy: bÃ©chamel, pasta noodles, cheese, but prepared correctly and with some minor adjustments, it’s surprising light and scintillating. the sweetness of the squash (processed with amoretti cookies) against the savory sauce and noodles is a delicious contrast and while white sauces tend to gnaw at my stomach, i’ve found that mixing milk with a little skim and stirring for a few moments longer to get that thicker consistency, does the trick. and yes, there is still a 1/2 stick of butter, but for a dinner that serves six. i used part-skim mozzarella cheese instead of full-fat, and the first go of the dish was divine.
my friend and i nearly fell out of our chairs, it was that good.
so the second go, i felt a little smug and when i was too lazy to get barilla noodles (the noodles, i’m learning are critical) and settled for ronzoni (huge, huge mistake) and thought i could cut the fat even more by using part skim milk for the bÃ©chamel, the lasagna was a bit inferior. because of the heavier noodles, the dish lost it’s light flavor for something more dense and tough and the bÃ©chamel, as expected, wasn’t as silky as it could be. i made a tray of the slightly inferior lasagna with my recipe for an orange-crunch loaf (think pound cake with the volume turned up) for this week’s brown-bag lunch.
but in a few weeks, i’ll return to my new favorite dish and try again.
so the lesson here is to keep fiddling, to always consistently work hard – to not rely on past successes so you can skirt by. to keep playing, questioning. to practice, practice, practice. and again, to remember to play. this year, although wonderfully exciting and auspicious, is one of the hardest i’ve known. sometimes it’s so hard to get through the day without screaming, so it’s when i’m in the kitchen, stirring custard until it’s primrose, squinting through the oven window to watch bread rise or pasta bubbling and blistering, it’s then that i feel something that resembles the word home, less like the word terror.
**always an inspiration: the barefoot impresario (nyt article on ina garten, my favorite chef)
**what i’m making this weekend.
clearly i am insane. how could i have forgotten about giada’s new cookbook??!!! christ!
if anyone who reads this works at crown or clarkson potter, please email me ASAP. felicia – at – feliciasullivan – dot- com. i’d be willing to give up my first-born for this and the ina paris cookbook. and you think i’m kidding. getting it! GOT IT TODAY – status: panting.