Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mission Impastable

I've always loved a challenge, and where my cooking is concerned, I've found over the past few years that regular challenges help me improve my skills and result in some really fantastic dishes.

Sometimes, though, the challenge is just to look at an old favorite in a new way.

Take lasagna, for example. I don't make it often because I've rarely been satisfied with the results. Occasionally I'll try a different twist on the recipe that ends up pleasing me, but overall I find I'd rather eat someone else's lasagna than my own.

But a few weeks ago, a new friend asked if I made a good vegetable lasagna, and having to answer so indifferently kind of poked at my ego. Why haven't I ever tried to make a better lasagna?

Having thus spurred myself into that critical "I can do better!" attitude, I consulted with a couple of friends, figured out a plan of action, and set a date to invite the aforementioned friend over to sample what I hoped would be a new and improved version.

The other, unspoken part of this challenge, of course, was to make the lasagna as local as possible. So I started by sautéing a handful of local vegetables: garlic, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, and (not local) carrots along with a small bunch of shredded fresh basil from my pot. And though the pasta wasn't locally produced, the sauce, the ricotta cheese, and the mozzarella were, and I added all of them in lavish quantities.

The initial results were encouraging: the layers were fully packed with cheese and vegetables and sauce, and the aroma coming from the oven as it baked was heavenly.

But did I meet or surpass the challenge?

When you consider that my friend, a die-hard meat eater, repeatedly oohed and ahhed over the rich flavor, velvety texture, and abundant fullness of the lasagna... and then had a second large piece in lieu of the salad greens also on the table... I think you could say that I more than met the challenge.

Mission accomplished!


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