Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vying for my husband’s affection – with lasagne.

But then, my lasagne is always perfect. Though perhaps I’m biased.

Vying for my husband’s affection – with lasagne.

Starting the layers; sheet,
meat, sauce
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved my mum’s lasagne. Growing up, we had a family tradition where someone would get to choose what the family meal was on their birthday; I remember most years choosing lasagne. As a kid, I never really knew why I loved it so much – I mean, it tastes great; it’s made by my mum – however, there was always something else about it that just made it what it is, but I could never quite put my finger on it. As an adult, I worked it out; it’s texture. There are the soft, thin layers of lasagne sheets; the saucy, chunky, meatiness of the filling; perhaps my favourite part, the creamy gooeyness of the white béchamel sauce; and the slight crispiness of the cheese melted on top.

Once I moved out of home, I got mum to show me how to make it and these days, it’s one of those few recipes that I don’t have an actual recipe written down for; I just grab the ingredients I need, and I just *know* how much of each thing I need to make it perfect.  Some onion, garlic, mince, tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, oregano, mixed Italian herbs and some bay leaves make up the sauce. Just simple butter, cornflower and milk gives me a great white or béchamel sauce. And lasagne sheets. I use commercial lasagne sheets these days as they’re perfectly fine, but if you want to go the whole hog, make them fresh yourself. I’ve done it once, but it was such a hassle, I’m not sure I’d do it again.
Bubbling and golden out of the oven

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, makes fresh lasagne sheets almost every time. I don’t know how she does it. I mean, I know the method of making them, but for the quantities of lasagne she makes, that’s a lot of lasagne sheets. And I have to feel for poor Emperor D. Being of Italian descent, his mum makes the most amazing pastas. Her pasta sauce is just divine – my sister-in-law has tried many times to replicate it, but apparently has not quite tasted the same. But her lasagne is very different from mine.

I always tease Emperor D about whose lasagne he thinks is better – his wife’s or his mum’s. I shouldn’t be so mean, but I never tire of hearing him emphatically exclaiming that mine is very good, while at the same time diplomatically stating that ‘they’re each very different’, as if comparing apples with oranges. And they are quite different. Emperor D’s mum comes from Sicily, in southern Italy, where it seems they do things a little different to other parts of Italy. But then, most regions of Italy do the same dish with slight variations. I’ve asked her about a particular dish – minestrone for example – that I’ve seen in a cookbook, and she’ll look at the recipe and say, ‘that’s not minestrone – not how we do it. That minestrone is from northern Italy’. I’m amazed that she can tell there’s a difference, let alone what part of Italy it’s from.

Buon appetito!
Emperor D’s mum makes lasagne with only a meat sauce, very thinly layered between thick homemade sheets of fresh pasta. There’s no béchamel or even cheese on top. It’s nice, but for me, I like the structure, the textures and the taste of my own better. And to say that I prefer something of my own cooking over something of Emperor D’s mum is saying a lot – she is an amazing cook and I have no hesitation in saying that I prefer her versions of other dishes I do. But when it comes to lasagne, which my mum has made with love since I was a little girl, I find that the original – the version I’ve grown up with – is still the best.

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