Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lasagna With Friends

A couple weeks back, after a disturbing kitchen event I'd rather not detail, I went through and cleaned all our cabinets and shelves. I wiped all the surfaces and put all of our not canned or jarred edibles (flour, sugar, pasta, cereal, popcorn -- everything) in air tight heavy duty storage containers.
Though I generally can make just about any square peg fit my choice of round hole, I simply could not find a container to fit an oversized box of lasagna noodles -- our favorite brand Rustichella D'Abruzzo -- so I pooped them in the freezer for safe keeping.
Now, freezer space is always at a premium in my kitchen so this offending box seemed like a perfect excuse to invite friends for lasagna.
Not content to simply serve up an oven baked pan of hearty noodles like a wayward college dinner party, and eyeing my yard full or fresh produce I set up a tray of appetizers. The tomatoes have finally come in full stop -- we are getting arm fulls of red ripe fruits every other day. I took the last couple days produce, cut them in half drizzled them with plenty of olive oil, springs of thyme and unpeeled garlic cloves. I set the tomatoes in a 325º over for 45 minutes and them peeled off the handily puckered skins. The tomatoes cooked for another two hours until they were roasted to a deep rich almost tomato paste flavor. I slipped the now roasted garlic from its skins and put the tomatoes, thyme, garlic in a jar and covered them with more olive oil. Oven dried tomatoes perfect on crostini as appetizers, on a mozzarella salad, in a sandwich filling or as a quick pasta sauce. These are a new house staple.
To round out our appetizer tray I took the one precious melon we have managed to grow this year, wrapped the slices in thin slivers of prosciutto, and drizzled the savory snack with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Olives, delicious delice de bourgogne cheese (topped with home canned candied kumquats) and a bit of our sauce of the summer, arugula hazelnut pesto finished our selection of nibbles.
I rarely make a starter but somehow I couldn't walk by the mussels at the fish counter, and besides I still had more tomatoes to use up. I sautéed 1 chopped onion and 6 minced cloves of garlic in olive oil until translucent. Next I added in crushed red peppers, dried thyme, chopped parsley, 4 chopped tomatoes, a splash of red wine and a knob of better and simmered the ingredients for about 25 minutes for a nice sauce. I brought the ingredients up to a boil, added in freshly scrubbed mussels and covered the pan. After about 5 minutes at high heat all of the mussels had opened and were just the right starter with loaves of crusty bread to soak up the flavorful broth.
The lasagna was supposed to be the star but I have to admit my layered creation of white sauce, parmesan cheese, and sautéed mix mushrooms --though it got good reviews -- was overshadowed by the seafood first course.
A sweet creamy ending, and a proven winner. Basil flavored panna cotta topped with candied kumquats and served with pinenut rosemary cookies and ear grey shortbreads.
Not a bad dinner for what started as an excuse to clean the freezer.

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