Monday, May 14, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

For Mother's Day dinner last night, I made Marcella's artichoke lasagna, a spinach salad with strawberries and fresh feta, and a banana cream pie for dessert. The lasagna is not the typical lasagna--there's no tomato sauce, no ricotta, and no mozzarella. The recipe, from Marcella Hazan's Essential of Italian Cooking, looks daunting--with many steps and references to other sections of the book. However, I took a few shortcuts, using fresh lasagna noodles bought from a local Italian store and also frozen artichoke hearts (I'm sure the fresh are much tastier, but these were A LOT easier to prepare, and cooked in creamy sauce, they were still very good.) Fresh pasta makes a huge difference in the flavor and texture of the dish, and while you still have to cook them (and wring them out!), you're only doing a parboil, and the whole process takes the same amount of time as cooking dried noodles, possibly less.

Artichoke Lasagna
(based on the recipe from Marcella Hazan)

Fresh lasagna noodles (enough for six layers--I used six noodles, but you might need more, depending)
Hearts of 4-5 artichokes, sliced thin (or one bag of frozen artichoke hearts from Trader Joe's)
Bechamel sauce (4 Tbs butter, 3 Tbs flour, 2 c milk, 1/4 tsp salt)
2/3 c parmesan (give or take, but use the real thing)
1 Tbs butter for the top

Place the artichoke hearts in a saute pan, add 3 Tbs butter, and enough water to just cover. Turn on high til they boil, then reduce to a steady simmer til all the liquid is cooked away and the artichokes are lightly browned. (This could take a while, so start before you do the pasta.)

Parboil the lasagna noodles (mine were big enough so I could only do one at a time, but they only cooked for about 30 seconds), then rinse each under cold water, wring out very gently, and lay on a clean towel (the kind for glasses, not the lint-y kind.)

In a small sauce pan, bring 2 c of milk just to a boil. In a larger sauce pan, melt 4 Tbs butter, and then add 3 Tbs flour. Cook for 2 minutes, and then add half of the hot milk, 2 Tbs at a time. Then add the rest of the milk and the salt, whisking til it's smooth. Cook on medium til the sauce is the consistency of heavy cream. Add more milk if it becomes too thick. Set aside about 1/2 c of the sauce.

Combine the cooked artichoke hearts with the rest of the bechamel sauce. Don't worry if they start to break apart -- it works better this way, actually. Then, spread about 1 Tbs of sauce over the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan. Fill the bottom with a single layer of noodles, trimming the pieces to fit. Then spread a thin layer of the filling on top, and sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese. Continue til you have six layers (you can do more or less, of course, but Marcella says you must have at least six layers, so I did.) These will be very thin layers--very different from the usual American-style lasagna. On top of the last noodle, spread the last of the Bechamel that was set aside and then sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Dot the top with the 1 Tbs of butter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 min., until lightly browned. If this doesn't start to brown after a few minutes, turn up the heat, but don't cook much longer than 15 min. I broiled mine at the end for added color.


Doug said...

Artichokes are such a wonderful addition to dishes like this. They're a worthy substitute for even the heartiest meat.

Your mom is a lucky woman to have you slave away in the kitchen! I'll be celebrating the day at a Musical.

Susan said...

That looks and sounds really good - except for the parm. cheese - I wonder if one could substitute swiss instead?

Kt said...

Hi Doug, thanks for commenting! Which musical?

I had to keep my mom out of the kitchen--she kept trying to do all the dishes! A very nice offer, of course, but on Mother's Day she can relax.

Hey Susan, are you anti-parm?? An aged/dry cheese would probably be best--this isn't a gooey lasagna--but a good Swiss would mix nicely with the artichokes, too.