“What would y’all like for dinner tonight?”
“Lasagna,” says one, with five other heads nodding. Oh wow. Lasagna in this kitchen?
Ground veal and pork; eggs from a local farmer; ricotta and mozzarella made right here 100 kilometers away. Fresh lasagna sheets; homegrown tomatoes, basil still blooming on my kitchen windowsill; onion, garlic, and fragrant Italian parmesan. The ingredients are so humble here, but exotic by US standards. I am intoxicated by the ricotta so soft and new. The tomatoes are from our neighbors’ garden–they brought us a box of tomatoes and cucumbers freshly picked, just the other day. The eggs are in large trays in the store; this morning I selected a carton for a half dozen (they only have cartons for 4 or 6 eggs), and then fill it one by one with eggs I imagine are only a day old. They still have the occasional feather on them and are room temperature. “We will eat in magnificence until we get salmonella poisoning,” I think to myself as I put on the required plastic glove and select 3 half-dozens.
In my kitchen, I stand ready before my buffet of shining ingredients. As I pull the top drawer to grab a knife for onions and garlic, it bumps into the window. The window is a large, french window whose two sides open outward to your left and right. Glass panes inside wooden frames; a large, brass knob that twists open and shut in ancient mechanic style.
Throughout the day we usually leave our french windows open. We don’t yet have a screen to keep out the bugs, but we need the ventilation. A little hive of honeybees has recently detected a constant food supply in our kitchen, so we now have flies, mosquitoes and honeybees visiting us as we cook. We are becoming friends.
I stand with the window, aromatic basil, and honeybees to my left as I face the oven with the utensils drawer below it. I pull the drawer. It bumps the window. It used to be a bother to me that I cannot open the utensils drawer and have the window open at the same time. But now I have found my groove; I gently pull the drawer and let it move the window itself.
While browning the garlic, onion and meat, I beat bright orange eggs in the ricotta. I slice through mozzarella ball as big as a child’s head.
I add the tomatoes and sauces and herbs to the meat, and let it cook for several hours. I have time to tidy up.
Skins of onions and remnants of garlic have to go in the compost. Plastic wrappings for the mozzarella and ricotta go in “plastic.” A sack that held the parmesan is plastic on one side and paper on the other. I tear it in half, and put the plastic and paper in their corresponding bins. We have been instructed how to recycle and the whole region has become rigid about the process. Our landlord told us we have incurred for him 2 fines, not recycling well enough. So, I have become slow, methodical, and have accepted that it is just a big part of the day, putting each part of each piece of trash in the right bin or bag. I tear the plastic hook off the paper box, putting the hook in “plastic” and the box in “paper.” I shake spinach leaves that have turned into brown slime into the compost bag, clean out the bag, and then place the bag in the plastic bin. The worst was pouring tomato sauce that had grown mold in the jar down the drain, rinsing off the metal lid and placing it in “metal,” rinsing out the jar and putting it in “glass,” and then seeing chunks of moldy tomato in the sink, and so scooping them up and putting them in compost. I washed my hands fifteen times and said a prayer to guard me from mold-disease after that.
The fragrance of the simmering meat sauce wafts through air and is carried throughout the house. Children come out of their rooms and inquire, “What’s cooking?” I chop fresh basil from our window box, and work in the final touches of fennel seed, pink salt and multi-color pepper. Layers of meat, then pasta, then cheese, over and over. Thin layers. The pasta sheets were made this morning by a local supplier and they don’t need to be boiled before layering. Into the oven and the house explodes with the scent of lasagna. I clean down the kitchen counters and transform them from the preparation station to the serving station. I ask kids to put away clean and dry dishes.
Ron and I were supposed to go out on a date that night. I had told the kids I was making them dinner, and please could they make a salad. They could eat at 7pm or when everyone was hungry and then please put Sebastian down to sleep. We’d be out until about ten.
But instead, by 5pm kids were asking to dig into the lasagna. I too couldn’t resist. After easy deliberation, Ron and I decided to have our dinner right here in the house with a big bottle of Chianti and candles lit–a lovely a date and a perfect end to the day.
Braving Lasagna in My Italian Kitchen
“What would y’all like for dinner tonight?”