Cooking lessons from the master

An apple pie cools on the counter and I am armed with mushrooms and cheese from the farmers market and a few loaves of bread from our favorite bakery. T and the cats settle in on the couch awaiting the start to our Godfather marathon. These are the days that sooth us during ridiculously busy lives.

I learned most everything I know about red sauce and pastas from an Italian friend, by way of Jersey. None of the specifics she taught me are written down. She never meausred anything. Maybe these aren't the kinds of recipes you can capture. Maybe this kind of kitchen magic is learned only through experience, or osmosis, or luck. DJ taught me the "a little of this, taste, a little more of that" method. She taught me that tasting while you cook is the most important ingredient in any recipe.

I stand at the stove stirring a pot of all-day red gravy and recall that friend from long ago. I can almost hear her voice directing me: add salt and pepper to every element as you go, don't cook the garlic too long or it will burn, cook the tomato paste before adding liquids, deglaze the pan with red wine, add yolk and nutmeg to the ricotta, and cook the sausages and meatballs in a vat of red sauce while the lasagne bakes.

None of my pans are deep enough to handle one of DJ's lasagnes. I pull out a disposable foil pan and line it with more foil, and then butter the bottom and sides. Layer after layer, I build a lasagne so high I have to remove the top oven rack to make room for my masterpiece. Red sauce thick with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and garlic; sheets of pasta; mozzarella, provolone, asiago; ricotta, egg yolks, fresh parsley, parmesian, and nutmeg; more sauce tucked between each blanket of cheese and pasta. A final sprinkling of fresh parsley completes the dish. Hidden in the oven for over an hour, the layers meld and become one perfect hotdish.

I am careful to plate each slice of lasagne with an equal portion of stovetop sausage and red gravy, and I know that if DJ were still here she'd approve.


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