I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I have certainly been cooking enough and have a backlog of recipes waiting to share, but I’ve been distracted by case calls 122 miles away multiple times a week, a hunky Canadian visiting, and…(drum roll please)… getting accepted to grad school! I can barely believe that this Fall I’ll be living with my boyfriend – like normal couples do, ha! – in Halifax, Nova Scotia as I finally begin to study Astronomy.
When I was a senior in high school sifting through mountains of University pamphlets and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I thought a career that allowed you to study something as beautiful and extreme as the stars would be perfect. I was told, however, that to be taken seriously as a astronomer one had to nab a degree in Physics first. Never being very good at Physics, this was pretty discouraging news to my 18 year-old self. Still, I decided to give it a try.
I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. After getting past the boring basics, though, Physics becomes really interesting and – at times – absolutely crazy. Nuts. Looney. Anyone who’s read Brian Greene’s books probably has an idea of what I’m talking about, but for those who haven’t: try to imagine such things as quantum foam, understand something as eerie as entanglement, or just watch a “star in a jar“. Sonoluminescence still gives me goosebumps simply because it is so cool.
The old “truth is stranger than fiction” adage definitely applies to Physics, but the cool factor only just balanced out the equally crazy math (at least for me) and I found myself completely burned out when I graduated in 2006. I always intended to continue with my plan of studying Astronomy in graduate school, it’s just taken me a while. Now, almost eight years later, I’m going to finally be studying what I’ve wanted to all along – I can’t wait!!
(adapted from Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian by Becker, et. al.)
8 lasagna noodles
1 medium eggplant
6 oz. fresh mozzarella
6 T unsalted butter
6 T AP flour
3 C milk
¼ C tomato paste
1 t salt, divided
¾ C parmesan cheese, grated
* Note: this recipe deliberately makes extra bechamel sauce which you can store in the fridge for up to three days and use in other pasta dishes or over vegetables.
- Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a large 8-quart saucepan and add noodles. Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.
- While pasta is cooking, slice eggplant into ½” thick slices. Steam the eggplant in batches over boiling water until very soft, but still intact – about 10 minutes. Spread cooked slices on a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.
- For the bechamel: melt butter in a saucepan over Medium-low heat until it begins to foam. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes to remove the taste of the raw flour. Do not allow the flour to darken.
- Remove bechamel base from heat and gradually whisk in milk. Continue to whisk until sauce is smooth and lump-free. Return sauce to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened – about 10 minutes. Lastly, add tomato paste and ½ t of the salt, whisk well, and set aside. Give the sauce a good stir every few minutes to keep a skin from forming.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and prep a 12 x 9″ lasagna pan with butter or cooking spray. Begin stuffing the noodles by laying a noddle out on a clean work surface, adding a Tablespoon or so of the bechamel sauce, a slice of eggplant, and a slice of mozzeralla. Fold the top of the noddle over to cover the stuffing and add to pan. Repeat with the remaining noodles.
- When the pan is full with the stuffed noodles, pour ¼ Cup of additional bechamel sauce over the top of the bundles and sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes and then increase the temperature to 400°F and cook for 5 minutes more or until a nice golden crust forms on top. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
This vegetarian lasagna is gooey, rich, and satisfying enough that even those of us who enjoy meat won’t miss it here. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of flavor depth, however. Even though I significantly reduced the amount of butter and salt from what the source recipe calls for, about 90% of what I tasted was a combo of cheese and butter – which sounds obvious, but I guess I was just hoping for the eggplant to shine through a bit more. In the future I’m going to try roasting the eggplant slices instead of steaming them and do as my friend recommended and add a layer of spinach or kale (or some other dark leafy green) to the stuffing. The recipe now is an excellent starting point for an amazing dish, but I guess now that I’ve grown to love more veg in my meals I missed having more of it here.
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥