Friday, July 10, 2009

"L" is for Lasagna

Lasagna is a flat noodle about two inches wide, often with ruffled edges. To create this delicious dish, boiled lasagna noodles are layered with cheese and sauce. The cheese variety and type of sauces used is strictly up to the cook. Most sauces, however, are some derivative of meat, tomato or Bechamel sauce. Bechamel, named after the inventor Louis de Bechamel XIV, is pronounced “bay-shah-MEHL”. This Italian word describes a basic French white sauce consisting of flour, butter and milk.

While the noodle style determines the foundation of this dish, there are thousands of other interesting and delicious variations. There’s meatless and cheeseless Vegan Lasagna, Polenta Lasagna, Tofu, Wild Mushroom, Veal, Chicken Florentine, Turkey and Vegetable, Balsamic Sausage, Broccoli Rabe, Crab and Lobster, and even Passover Egglplant Lasagna. The list is endless.

What’s great about this particular dish, is that its creation is virtually “idiot-proof.” There are a few tips to keep in mind, however. For example, do not add oil to your boiling water. Simply stir the noodles consistently to keep them from sticking together. Adding oil keeps the noodles from absorbing the sauce while baking. Leave the noodles slightly undercooked. They should be flexible but firm. The reason is that the noodles will continue to cook while baking and absorb some of the sauce. Refrain from rinsing the noodles, as well, as this washes away flavour. The no-boil noodles work well, but are thinner than the traditional ones and so yield a thinner tasting dish. This dish is time consuming to create, so make a large batch and freeze the remainder. Butter the baking dish before you line it with sauce. This will keep your noodles from sticking and falling apart.

Marrying wine to your Lasagna follows the same rule as any other pasta dish. Consider the sauce and type of flesh added. White sauces call for white wines. White sauces with heavy cheese need big, oak aged whites with enough weight and texture to stand up to the fattiness in cheese. The ‘ol style oak fermented and/or aged Chardonnays are an excellent choice. Tomato based, vegetarian, veal or chicken versions work well with light to medium-bodied, fruity red wines offering good acidity, such as Chianti (not Reserva), Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Burgundy, etc. Lasagna with meat sauce and/or game requires full-bodied reds. “Super Tuscans” are an excellent choice. These reds came into vogue in the late 1980s and gained international attention. The wines were sold as table wines because their use of international varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, made them ineligible for official wine categories. A super Tuscan can be produced from just about any grape variety, such as from a pure Sangiovese to a complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah with a hint of Pinot Noir. They are often expensive, so serve them with Lasagna when you’re interested in impressing your guests. For everyday Lasagna, a full-bodied Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon will do the trick.

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