Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Latest from Nikki-Lasagna and Lettuce

The lastest from Nikki:
I have a new friend... a Moleskine notebook from my friend, Heidi (101Cookbooks). I shared with Heidi the difficulty I have in articulating what I do in the kitchen in regard to food preparation. It's proven to be quite a challenge for me. Heidi has encouraged me (and provided the necessary tool) to write everything down as I'm going along. Simple advice, yes, yet totally profound to me. In the past, I rarely wrote things down, and hardly ever paid attention to how much of each ingredient I was using. Folks often ask me for recipes for meals I whip together and, sadly, I can only provide them with a list of ingredients. This works for some folks, others, not so much. The fact is, I view recipes I come across as springboards for creativity, inspirational lists of ingredients that I can't help but modify, adjust, swap out, etc. Writing recipes for the Inverbrook blog has been nothing short of a wonderful blessing and opportunity to develop a whole new skill. My daughter, Azia, and I are having a terrific time documenting the goings on of meal preparation here at the Graham residence. I hope you all are enjoying it as much as we are!

Below you'll find a recipe for Asparagus, Leek, and Shitake Lasagna. I came across a similar recipe on epicurious.com and modified it greatly. I was inspired by the list of ingredients that I just happened to have on hand. Next time, I will make some tweaks and adjustments to what I did the first time round (I noted those below). Thanks to my trusty notebook, I have that all written down. :-)
I also included a recipe for the salad we had with this lasagna. A simple green salad served with a pineapple, mint vinaigrette and fresh pineapple chunks cut from a pineapple that I couldn't resist while I was out shopping. (I'm pretty sure I lived on a tropical island in my last life. ;-))

Asparagus, Leek, and Shitake Lasagna


3 leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced thin
2 TBL extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches Inverbrook asparagus, ends snapped and cut into fourths
8 oz. Shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1-2 TBL fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

4 TBL (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter
4 TBL all-purpose flour
3 C whole milk (you could also use a combination of broth or stock in place of about a cup or so of the milk for a slightly lighter version)
Pinch of nutmeg (be generous if you like nutmeg)
1 bay leaf
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

1 C (give or take) freshly grated parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
16 oz. no boil lasagna noodles or boiled equivalent (I used a no boil, 100% durum semolina product from Trader Joe's to save time, but I have a note to use whole wheat lasagna noodles next time.)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Saute the leeks in the olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the thyme, sea salt, pepper, and shitakes and continue to saute until the shitakes just begin to release their juices. Turn off the heat and stir in the asparagus. Set aside.

Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour whisking to blend. Continue to whisk over low heat for at least 4-5 minutes, just to get rid of the floury taste. Turn the heat to high, and slowly add the milk, whisking all the while until the roux is well incorporated. Continue to whisk, turning the heat down once the mixture is simmering. Add in the nutmeg, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and simmer until thickened, stirring all the while. Once it has thickened, turn off the heat and set aside (give this sauce a stir every couple of minutes so it doesn't develop a "skin"). You can remove the bay leaf at this point if you want. We have a tradition at our house of not removing them so that whomever finds it in their dish gets to be the lucky finder of the bay leaf.

Spread about a 1/2-3/4 C or so of the sauce on the bottom of a 9 1/2 X 13 inch baking dish.
Place a layer of noodles on top of the sauce. Add a very thin layer of sauce to the top of the noodles.
Add half of the leek, mushroom, and asparagus mixture to the top of the sauce.
Top with about a 1/3 C of the grated parmesan (use more if you have it and want a richer lasagna).
Add another layer of noodles on top of the cheese.
Add 3/4-1 C, or so, of the sauce to the top of the noodles, spreading evenly.
Add the other half of the leek, mushroom, and asparagus mixture to the top of the sauce.
Add another 1/3 C of the grated parmesan to the top of that.
Add one more layer of noodles to the top of that.
Top with more sauce (about 3/4-1 C) and the rest of the cheese.
(Feel free to change the assembly of this to your liking, keeping in mind that if you are using no boil noodles, they need some moisture to cook properly in the oven.)
Cover with foil, keeping the foil off the cheese.
Bake for 30-40 minutes (or until heated through and bubbling on the sides), removing the foil for the last 5-10 minutes so the top browns nicely.

Serves 8-10


Pineapple, Mint Salad

Leaves from three long mint stems (Claire grows the best mint in the world, I'm convinced)
Accumulated juice from 1 whole, fresh, cut-up pineapple (cut into bite sized chunks) that's been sitting in a bowl at room temperature for a while
1/4 C olive oil (or to taste)
1 TBL agave (or to taste)
1-2 TBL white wine vinegar (unseasoned rice vinegar will work too)
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

1 bag of Inverbrook lettuce, washed and spun dry

Fresh cut pineapple chunks (mentioned above)

Process the mint, pineapple juice, olive oil, agave, vinegar, salt, and pepper until well incorporated. For more pineapple flavor, or if yours isn't particularly juicy, add in a chunk of pineapple before you process the mixture. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Toss the lettuce with the dressing and top with as much of the pineapple as you desire.

Serve and enjoy.

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