I started making dinner around nine this morning. After yesterday's summer-like heat, this morning there was a very chilly breeze shaking up the leaves and cooling things down. The perfect day to make a sauce…
First thing I did, after breakfast, was to slice up tomatoes and roast them in the oven, drizzled generously with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I had two 13 x 9 pyrex baking dishes and a slightly smaller le cruset pan. I roasted them for a couple of hours, maybe three, in a 325 degree oven. The smallest pan had cherry tomatoes and yellow grape tomatoes – they finished up first. The other two pans stayed in another 45 minutes or so.
When they were done to my liking, I dumped them in a pot, making sure to scrape in all the oil. Here's what it looked like:
Then I added half a medium yellow onion, chopped, and a big tablespoonful (or two) of the roasted garlic I made recently:
(The roasted garlic had been in the fridge, so the olive oil was kind of solidified and looks like chicken fat – but it's not. It's olive oil – the HEALTHY kind of fat. So be not afraid!)
Next – I poured in a slug of red wine and about a quart of beef stock. I'm shooting for a darker, richer kind of sauce, not a bright, fresh, summery sauce. Just so you know. Anyway – the liquids added:
I brought this mixture up to a slow boil and then dropped it down to low and simmered it for a couple hours, stirring it every now and then.
After the first hour, it looked like this:
Can you smell that????
Go ahead, lean closer…
Hungry yet? I hope not, we're not even close to done.
After a couple of hours, shut off the heat and let it cool a bit. Then move the tomato mixture into a large bowl and put your Stainless Steel Foley Food Mill on top of the original stock pot like so:
And ladle in about half the tomato mixture.
Now crank that handle around – clockwise – to smush all the cooked-down flesh and the liquids out of the mixture and into the pot. You want to leave nothing behind but seeds and skins and bits of onion.
And the sauce now lookes like this:
So, next thing I did was to add another pint or so of the beef stock a good slug or so of more red wine. Set the pan on low heat. And then Julia and I went outside to raid the garden.
I called this "Summer's End Lasagne" because originally I was going to make Eggplant Parmesan. Bill said there were several eggplants out in the garden, and I didn't bother to actually look at them. I just figured there would be enough. Which, of course, was silly of me. For one thing, we didn't grow BIG eggplants anyway. And I knew, somewhere in my disorganized head, that "several" really wasn't going to amount to much. But I didn't feel like shopping for backup eggplants, so I just figured I'd do SOMETHING with whatever I had. And I knew I had plenty of lasagne noodles (and other pasta shapes) kicking around, so the sauce would not be made in vain. Anyway, so instead of eggplant parm, this became more of a gathering of whatever was still growing out there in the garden. In October.
Here's what I collected:
Some vegetables and some herbs.
First – the eggplant:
Three little skinny little Japanese eggplants, and three plump little Italian eggplants. Not really enough for eggplant parm. But that's okay. I took off the green and sliced them up into "coins." I left the skins on – the fruit is too young for the skin to be tough.
Side note: BEWARE OF THE THORNS!!
The Italian eggplant has nasty little thorns at the stem end – like little needles. And yes, they hurt. See how sharp and vicious they are? Steer clear of them!
Anyway, in addition to the eggplant, I found two little baby zucchini:
Adorable, huh? I trimmed the stem ends off and the blossom, and cut these into coins as well.
I also decided to add some fresh herbs to the sauce. So I picked these:
They are, starting at 12:00 – sweet basil, arugula (okay, not an herb), parsley, summer thyme, oregano, and a little sprig of rosemary. The arugula is nice and peppery, and it's still growing out there, so I plucked some.
I cleaned all the greenery and picked leaves off of stems and put all the leaves into the food processor, ladled a bit of olive oil from the tomato sauce in there too, and processed them til they looked like this:
I suppose I could have chopped it all with a knife, but to be honest, I was making this whole thing up as I went along, and I wasn't sure how I was going to use my herb mixture yet. I think maybe I was thinking it would be a sort of pesto texture. It wasn't, by the way. And I ended up just scraping it all into the sauce.
I let that simmer while I got the rest of the ingredients ready. Which wasn't much. I hadn't really shopped for this meal, so I went with what I had. We had sliced provolone and sliced muenster cheese, so I took that out of the fridge. My parents were here this morning and brought bagels and cream cheese from Dunkin Donuts. There were five little single-serving portions of plain cream cheese left in the fridge. I took them out, too. I mixed the cream cheese with two eggs and some grated romano cheese. I took the boxes of lasagne noodles down from the cupboard above the stove, got one of the 13 x 9 pyrex pans from the morning's tomato roasting, preheated the oven to 325, and started assembling.
I spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan, then a layer of lasagne noodles. I used the no-bake kind, but really, if you cook it long enough and have enough liquid, you can just use regular lasagne noodles – the heat and moisture will cook the noodles, and they'll absorb the sauce as they cook. On top of the noodles, I ladled a little more sauce and then a third of the cream cheese mixture. I spread the mixture across the tops of the noodles, and then added half the eggplant and zucchini coins. Then some slices of provolone, sauce, noodles, sauce and cream cheese, eggplant and zucchini, cheese slices, sauce, noodles, sauce and cream cheese, the remaining slices of provolone and muenster, and the last of the sauce. I spread the sauce out over the cheese so it would all be covered, and here's how it looked:
I covered it with foil and put it in the oven.
I let it cook for another 45 minutes or so, and then it looked like this:
The edges of the lasagne noodles and cheese were dark and almost crispy – which is how I like noodles and cheese. The inside was all melty and oozy and the vegetables were soft.
The result is a dark and intensely tomatoey sauce, lush with the earthiness of the olive oil. It's sort of the goth twin of a marinara. Or maybe not at all. I don't know. I'm stumbling here – I can't really describe it any better than that. So just go ahead and make the stuff and make some lasagne with it, or eggplant parm, or serve it over spaghetti with a side of meatballs. But try it. And let me know what you think.