They're the flavors, scents and memories without which it wouldn't much feel like Christmas. Or Chanukah. Or Kwanzaa. Or Solstice. Or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year.
They're a delightful delectable combination of flavors that provide both a sense of comfort and an aura of celebration. They're comfortable and familiar, warm and inviting and yet they never fail to deliver that sense of "this is special". They're the culinary equivalent of coming home.
For some of you the quintessential holiday food is the main course: the turkey, the ham, the roast beast around which you gather your loved ones to celebrate. Others lean toward the sweet side: pumpkin pie, holiday cookies,or a buche de noel. Or perhaps it's the vegetables of the season, whether they appear on your table as latkes, beet salad, roasted brussels sprouts, or green bean casserole.
For me, it's lasagna.
Growing up, I took lasagna for granted; my dad made it all the time. Sometimes he'd add mushrooms, onions, and zucchini for a vegetarian. Others he used the same secret combination of ground beef, veal and pork that made his meatballs magnificent. But always there was ricotta. Always there was marinara. And always there was besciamella.
So when I spied "vegetarian lasagna" on the menu at the dorm early in my freshman year of college, I thought I was in for a real treat and I loaded up my plate.
'What?' I choked down my first bite. 'This isn't lasagna. It's an impostor -- a melange of mushy leftover vegetables, smothered in canned tomato sauce and covered with cardboard disguised as pasta.'
I chucked the rest and disgusted, headed to the salad bar. And when I talked to dad that night, I made him promise me that next to the Thanksgiving turkey there'd be a lasagna with my name on it.
And thus began a holiday tradition. For the next 15 years, if we were celebrating something -- anything -- as a family, there was a lasagna in attendance. Lasagna became food-code for home, for happy, and for love.
Over the last several years, I've reproduced many of my family's traditional dishes in my "adult kitchen."
But not the lasagna.
In September I discovered Maryann's Ricotta e Besciamella Lasagna and I knew instantly it was going to be the perfect canvas on which to experiment. So this weekend I took a deep breath, gathered the ingredients and took the dive. I prepared it as published, adding a layer of sauteed Italian sausage tossed with toasted pine nuts and shredded Parmesan. I was surprised at how easy it was to prepare... the hardest part was the waiting.
My dinner guests loved it. And I'll enjoy the leftovers for lunch all week.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mo would have been proud. Thank you Maryann, for giving me the tools, the technique and the confidence to live up to his legend and share his love.
In the archives: A year ago today, I was sniffling & sneezing.
More praise for Maryann's luscious lasagna from Kimberly Ann of Nostalgic Homemaking.
Technorati Tags: Food | Recipe | Italian | Key Ingredients: Tomato, Ricotta
December 15, 2007