Sunday, February 21, 2010

40 years, an Anniversary Party costarring Homemade Lasagna!

Today is my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Can you wrap your head around that number?  Because I have trouble.

Think about this: forty years ago was February 21st, 1970, a week after Valentine's Day, about six months after the moon landing, two and a half years after the summer of love.  They were 19, and only just.

That morning the two of them stole out of then-sleepy-little Modesto to even-tinier Carson City, Nevada to elope because neither's parents believed that they could possibly know at nineteen years old what they've spent the forty years since then proving: that the two of them just belong together. With only his sister and her then-husband as witnesses, and not even enough money for a whole bouquet for my mother to carry down the aisle, they entered into the relationship that has defined them and in which they've spent more than 2/3s of their lifetimes.

I've lived with this knowledge my whole life, that my parents met at 18 and were off on their life together before either of them was more than a teenager, but it wasn't until I found myself at that age (and then suddenly past it) myself that I realized what a tremendous and unlikely feat they managed to pull off marrying so young and making it last so well.
 Last night, in honor of their union and in celebration of them, Dana and I hosted a little Anniversary party here at the house.  I say little but we had somewhere around twenty-five adults and a passel of kids, a group that did not even comprise all of their close family.  For the occasion, we whipped up a lasagna we'd made once before, the recipe for which we received from our friend Sol, and Dana toiled over this unbelievable cake that I'll let her relate to you.  So unbelievable, though, that though it's six months early I've put in a request for a version of it for my birthday. You're going to die. ( just occurs to me that while this flows off the tongue fairly easily, it looks rather macabre in print.  I'm really not trying to prophesy your death.  I promise. Please don't actually die.)

Anyway, the lasagna we made is really really good and, as I've learned both times I've made it, incredibly heavy.  We're talking like ten pounds at least.  This is a dish made to feed a crowd* and it will.  Granted, not the 25+ people that we had sitting on every possible surface in our house last night--to accomplish that task, we also counted a pizza, a plate of chicken skewers, half a tri-tip, bacon-wrapped crab, hummus, caesar salad, and a loaf of garlic bread among our ranks--but it'll fill up a good dozen stomachs.
I'll toss the recipe below but I wanted to take this opportunity to raise my glass once more to my dear parents whose long happy years together have given me something to shoot for, and whose unflinching joy and relentless happiness continue to provide me hope for my future.  Mom and Daddy, may your good times never end.

Family-size Lasagna
recipe adapted from Marisol Baca

for the sauce:
  • 1lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2lb ground pork
  • 1 medium spanish onion, diced
  • 4-5 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8 ounces Crimini mushrooms, scrubbed
  • 2 cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and cut up (I use the Cook's Illustrated trick of taking kitchen shears to them while they're in the can)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 Tbsp Italian seasonings (basil, thyme, oregano, parsley)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

cheesey goodness mixture:
  • 4 cups (1lb) cottage cheese or ricotta (didn't I tell you that this is a decadent recipe?)
  • 8 cups (1.5-2lb) shredded mozarella, 1 cup reserved (didn't I?)
  • 3-4 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper

  • 1-2 cups of baby spinach, washed
  • 1 package of oven-ready (no-boil) lasagna noodles, see note below

Preheat oven to 375F

In a large pot (I used a 3.5l pot and it was just barely big enough.  I advise a step up from that.) over a medium flame, cook the onion in the olive oil until clear then throw the garlic in and brown it in the oil.  Add your dried seasonings to the pot then add and brown the meat.  Drain off any collected fat and then add the tomatoes and paste.  Cook on medium-low for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the ricotta or cottage cheese, 7 cups mozzarella, parsley, and egg in a bowl.  Mix together well and set aside.

Note on the no-boil noodles: If you take the package's word for it and put them in dry, you'll get hard bits of noodle in your final dish.  Instead, fill a shallow baking dish with hot water and soak the noodles for 3-5 minutes.  This gives them time to soften up pre-baking and turns out a nicely firm but not crunchy lasagna.

To assemble: put 1/4 of the sauce into a large baking dish then layer noodles, cheese mixture, and then spinach in that order.  Repeat up to the edge of the pan being certain to end on a layer of sauce.  Top with the reserved Mozzarella and some fresh parsley or basil.

Cover dish with foil and bake covered for 40 minutes then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until heated through and cheese is slightly browned.


*: On the first occasion of working our way through this dish--a week's endeavor which was an unexpected result of friends' plans falling through--we each must have gained a good five pounds.  This I write as a warning to you, lovely reader.

Gather about you your friends and your family and make sure they are hungry.  Do Not endeavor to eat this alone.


Luciana said...

Happy anniversary to your parents, theyr photo is very beautiful, and this recipe is excellent...compliments...a kiss...Luciana...

nancy said...

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! Congratulations on your many happy years together! (And enjoy the lasagna!)

Dana said...

I happily raise my glass to your parents, and to that lasagna. Yum.

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