Talk to me about Italian food…

What I’m about to type is going to cause a stir, I know, because I’ve come to learn that people are passionate about this.  I’m not a fan of Italian food.  Catch your breath and stop cursing me.  Before you question my sanity and unfriend me on facebook, hear me out.  It’s not that I don’t like Italian food, it’s that I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it.  It’s not my first choice of cuisine when deciding where to go out for dinner, but if it’s chosen for me, I’m ok with it.  I am a lover of cream sauces and slow cooked meats and roasted vegetables and wine reductions and butter and while I feel like I should be able to get all of these things with Italian food, it never seems to live up to what I expect it to taste like and I always end up adding salt and pepper—which is something I rarely do in restaurants—in the hopes of making my mouth as happy as my eyes and nose (because, really? what looks better than a plate of steaming pasta and smells better than sautéed garlic and onions?).  Maybe I have been completely spoiled by French food, but I always feel like something is missing from Italian dishes and whatever that thing is stops me from really enjoying them.  And before you ask, yes, I have been to Italy and yes, I have been to wonderful Italian restaurants in Chicago and New York (and I’ll tell you that the best Italian meal I’ve ever had—especially the meatballs—was in Pittsburgh).  Judge me if you must, but there you have it.


Given all of this, I am not sure what would possess me to decide to make lasagna for a couple of friends last week. There are only two things that could remotely pass for Italian that I’ve made in my kitchen: focaccia and pesto, both of which I learned to make in college.  Back then pesto either didn’t come in jars or we couldn’t afford it, but now that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have an entire line, there’s really no need to buy a bushel of basil when a pesto craving hits.  Anyhoo.  I got it into my head that I really wanted to make a pesto lasagna for a simple dinner while catching up with friends.  I figured that lasagna would be easy and hearty and the pesto would be a bit of Spring on a cold February night.  Um…yeah.  All I could think about as I debated between no-boil and regular lasagna, realized that I didn’t own a pot large enough to boil an entire package and had to do three different batches, scalded my fingers as I tried to lay out and trim wet hot noodles and squeezed water out of mozzarella balls is that I was right for only eating Stouffer’s lasagna before, because it is hard to make and ungrateful and unrelenting and so not worth it.


In the end, it turned out…fine.  All of the flavors were there, the pesto was light and garlic-y, the pasta was cooked to the right consistency, but as we ate, I kept thinking there was something missing; salt? spices? more cheese? I had that same feeling I have in restaurants of not being satisfied with the end result, even though everything looks and smells as though it is going to be divine.  Plus, I went to bed hungry and wishing I’d made Indian food…


Pesto Lasagna from Aida Mollenkamp via (my tweaks in red)



For the pesto (I used 1-½ jars of pre-made pesto):

Ø       4 cups basil leaves, loosely packed, washed and tough stems trimmed and roughly torn

Ø       2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 ounces)

Ø       1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Ø       3/4 cup heavy cream

Ø       1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Ø       8 medium garlic cloves, peeled

Ø       1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Ø       2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the lasagna:

Ø       1 pound fresh lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

Ø       1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1-ounce)

Ø       Fresh mozzarella

For the pesto: Combine half pesto ingredients in a blender or food processor, and process until evenly combined, about 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and process until evenly blended, about 1 more minute. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired.

For the lasagna: Heat oven to 375 degrees F and arrange rack in upper third.

Meanwhile, alternatively layer a scant 1/4 cup pesto and 1 sheet of fresh lasagna noodles in an 8 by 8-inch baking dish, trimming noodles, as needed, to fit. There should be about 10 to 12 layers (I added some cheese in the middle at about layer 4). Top lasagna with cheese and bake until bubbly around edges and cheese is melted, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let sit at least 20 minutes before serving. 



One Response to Talk to me about Italian food…

  1. Pingback: Baked Ziti at the Ronald McDonald House « Pestle Mortar

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