On Friday, as Eli and I shivered our way into the weekend, we decided that it was time to fight back against the stinging cold. My best friend from high school was coming to visit, after all, and we had to do something to make this frozen land more hospitable. Boston, you left us no choice. We made the hottest, steamiest, most meltingly rich dish we could think of: lasagne.
We devoured it. And that was after we had already warmed our tummies with hot-from-the-oven bread smeared with muhammara, and a first course of wild mushroom soup. (Please forgive me, dear ones, for holding back on the soup recipe for now. Yes, it was satisfying, thanks to a handful of fresh thyme and a generous pour of spiced rum. Delicious even. But not quite as delicious as my friend Sarah's mushroom soup. Sarah has promised that the recipe - in German no less - is on its way. I, in turn, promise you that when I cook up a pot, you will be the first to know. The recipe will be yours. In English, of course.)
Alongside our bubbling main dish, we served roasted brussels sprouts and carrots, doused in olive oil and rolled in salt, pepper, and cumin. Joel, our weekend guest of honor, Eli and I could never have handled this feast with our three measly stomachs alone. Thank goodness for my sister, Kasey, and our friends, Sam and Elisha, who offered up their appetites and fine company to the cause. Though we soon found ourselves stuffed with creamy pasta and buttery mushrooms, we refused to admit defeat. We called a time out and sent for reinforcements. Varina from upstairs, Amy and David from down the hall, and their three little girls arrived just in time to help us tackle dessert. That warm apple tart and cinnamon ice cream were no match for the twelve of us.
I saw not one shiver, heard not one chatter of the teeth. I guess all it took was a hefty pan of lasagne and good folks all around to coax a little warmth out of this freezing February.
So take that, Boston winter. Now you know: We've got crockery for the cooking and cheese for the melting and we're not afraid to use 'em.
Swiss Chard Lasagne
Based on Urusula Ferrigno's Lasagne di Radicchio alla Trevisana, from her cookbook Truly Italian. Adapted by Rachel Milner Gillers. And again by me.
I received this recipe from my friend Rachel who suggested a couple of key substitutions. Following her advice, we swapped in Swiss chard for the radicchio, and feta cheese for the creamy blue.
3 bunches of Swiss chard (we used a combination of green, red, and rainbow)
3 T. of olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs, peeled and quartered.
1 box dried lasagna
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
6 T. butter
1/2 c. flour
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 c. plus 2 T. milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. sheep's milk feta cheese cut into cubes, plus an extra 2 oz. to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
De-rib the chard, wash well, and pat dry. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Bake for five minutes, until the chard is a little droopy and a bit crispy around the edges. Set aside.
Meanwhile, steam the fennel pieces over boiling water, about twelve minutes (until slightly al dente). Remove and finely chop.
Cook the lasagne in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Now make the sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion, and cook until golden. Next add the flour, garlic, and steamed fennel, and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the milk, and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir.
Place the saucepan back on the heat and bring to a boil, stirring continuously until thickened. Add the 8oz. cubed feta and stir well.
Finally, assemble the dish: Place a layer of sauce in an ovenproof dish followed by a layer of chard and a layer of pasta. Continue in this fashion until all of the sauce, chard, and lasagne have been used up. Finish with sauce on top. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 oz. of cheese.
Place in the heated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown on top.