Hello from my island
thank you for joining me here
If you like the crisp edges of lasagne, the soaked croutons, the whipped cream that gets icy around the chocolate scoop - you’re in the right place.
I want to hear what you made for dinner last night before I tell you how I am. I want you to try this brand of ice cream sandwich because they’re soft and mild like the ones we ate as kids. I want you to skip the small-talk and share the secret to your lux lentil soup (is it a knob of cold butter in the pot right before ladeling?). I want to FaceTime you from my kitchen to tell you that David Tanis’ brilliant 19-ingredient North African Meatballs can be approximated with just two: merguez and tomato sauce. (The spices he seasons his lamb mince with are already in the sausage!). I want you to roll your eyes back into your head when you take the first bite, and I want you to ask for the recipe.
I’m a recipe gossip. If you’ve landed here, you’re probably one, too. It makes sense that those of us who love eating, cooking and feeding people are hungry for recipes and clamoring to share the good ones. Passing them along spreads pleasure beyond our own tables and opens the gates of reciprocity. We get to peek into someone else’s appetite.
So that’s why I’m writing to you now: Because my garden is heaving with lettuce, my kitchen is cool, and I’m on maternity leave with an audience of three under four who’d prefer milk to any of it. So thank you for taking an interest. You may be credited with my sanity later!
While I’m out of restaurants I’ll share something from my home every couple of weeks. Recipes, notes and good things to eat from the pan. These won’t be “developed” with a culinary content calendar, they’ll come from my life: simple, sensible stuff with a focus on what’s delicious to me.
It’s the little things that make something sublime: the juices caramelized in a sticky halo around a roasting chicken; the puffed pork fat, a caper crisped in its drippings; the raggy crouton soaked with pan juices; the edge of the crumble, where apple has bubbled into buttery jam. It’s these things - the best bits - that motivate us to cook and make second bites irresistible.
So we cannot leave them to chance. We must learn from our appetite and master the moves to make it stir. This isn’t hard or technical. It’s about knowing which details make a difference so we can stretch jus as chicken roasts, crisp potatoes, caramelize tomato sauce, and confidently take a flourless chocolate cake out of the oven with a molten middle knowing that it will set just enough to cut a slice.
Coming out of restaurants I’ve found it easy enough to skip ingredients and steps in a method, but I cannot forgo the morsels that make cooking two or three times a day an easy pleasure. I hope to share some here.
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Crisp edges & soft noodles
Light? A lasagne? Yes. But also crisp edged and juicy like you love it. A filling of grated zucchini, tomatoes and basil tastes fresh because nothing is cooked before it’s put together. All the flavors from the veg get sucked straight into the pasta, which becomes soft with the taste of summertime, and softer still with the spoons of ricotta. The result isn’t swimming in juices, it’s full of them.
Speed isn’t the primary virtue of this lasagne, but it’s an important one: Between cooking the pasta and putting the lasagne in the oven, the whole thing takes under 5 minutes. It's better at room temperature, and it’s so much better than pasta salad.
Accentuate crispy bits by attending to the topography of the final layer: Hang the pasta over the edges of your dish and create peaks that’ll catch the broiler.
Makes 12 x 9 dish
1 box frilly lasagna (1lb / 453g)
1 tub ricotta (15oz / 425g)
Chunk of parm
1 large zucchini
1 tin peeled, crushed tomatoes (14oz / 400g)
1 punnet small tomatoes or 2 large heirlooms
16ish Basil leaves
SALT (Kosher) - writing it here so you don’t forget to season each layer in addition to the ricotta!
Heat the oven to 450. Boil the pasta in salty water until it’s cooked (a tiny bit al dente is fine, but don’t overcook the noodles or they’ll have no room to take in flavor later). Drain and toss with olive oil. The noodles don’t need to cool before you proceed.
Drizzle olive oil into the dish you’ve chosen, and tilt it around, finger-painting the oil into the edges and up the sides. Grate parm all over the dish and cover its base with the sheets of pasta. Slice your tomatoes thinly and stir 1/2 tsp salt into the tub of ricotta. Then, in no particular order, and with Pollock as your muse: splodge 1/4 of the tomato sauce, scatter 1/4 the tomato slices, dobble 1/4 of the ricotta, grate (on the cheddar holes) 1/4 of the zucchini, tear and scatter a few basil leaves, grate parm and sprinkle generously with salt. Nothing needs to be spread or even, but try to get vaguely the same amount of filling between the layers (which should be 4 if your dish is a similar size to mine). Repeat.
Place the final layer of pasta unevenly, hanging some over the edge and rippling the sheets in the center. Add a final layer of the filling then revisit your noodles to accentuate the rumple. Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the top is brown. If the top doesn’t call you to cherry-pick edgy lasagne crackers and blistered ricotta, switch off the oven and broil the top (watching closely). Let it sit for a while before you eat.
Eat with arugula and more grated parm.