Friday, November 27, 2009

"The French Laundry Cookbook" - Eric's Staff Lasagna

Date I made this recipe: November 25, 2009

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
Published by: Artisan
ISBN: 1-57965-126-7

Recipe: Eric’s Staff Lasagna – p. 116

Thomas Keller was a guest judge on last week’s Top Chef episode. I don’t know whether to be impressed or depressed by the fact that this great chef is judging a cooking contest on a reality TV channel.

Thomas Keller owns and operates The French Laundry restaurant in California; it is considered a Mecca to many. Thomas Keller is a hero to many culinary aspirants. Sadly, Thomas Keller is unknown to likely three-quarters (if not more) of the population. That is not a good thing.

Thomas Keller should know that although I admire all the recipes made with lobster and fish and whatnot, I did not make them. I don’t really like fish, Thomas Keller, and lobster is out of my budget. The fact that there are several recipes for these ingredients in this book cracks me up, Thomas Keller, seeing as how your restaurant is in Napa Valley—emphasis on “valley.”

And so I did not aspire to recreate a Thomas Keller original because that would be way too hard; rather, I made the lasagna recipe made for a staff meal by Eric (no last name given).

Now lasagna is something I have a handle on and this recipe is close to but in no way compares with the master chef in my family, my Aunt Rose. And so whereas I am no Thomas Keller in the making, neither is Eric (no last name) my Aunt Rose. My Aunt Rose could cook the pants off these guys in a New York minute (never mind that she lives in New Jersey).

This lasagna recipe was okay – neither good nor bad – and I can’t believe I am saying this because I’m not a fan of salt but it could have used more salt. And some sugar in the sauce (although I added some myself).

Why sugar, you ask? Because tomatoes are tart and unless you add something to cut the acidity, you will be mightily puckered up by the end of dinner. I always start off small, adding a quarter teaspoon at a time until my taste buds are satisfied. I could have gone with a little more here but it still worked out fine.

The other thing that Eric (no last name) did that didn’t really dawn on me until the very end was that he only used the mozzarella on top of the lasagna. While it certainly created a cleaner flavor, let’s be honest here: is there anything more fun that pulling on goopy strings of melted mozzarella cheese? I think not!

Here’s what else I think: this dish is probably best made in the summertime when tomatoes are at their peak but hey, what are you going to do? The man was on TV in November and so one thing led to another and voila – here we are! I can’t control the timing of these things.

So eat and enjoy your lasagna but do add some salt and sugar to the sauce as you go along. It’ll make my Aunt Rose happy!

Eric’s Staff Lasagna – makes about 9 servings
½ cup olive oil (I’d recommend a little less—you don’t want this to be oily)
1 ½ cups minced yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup tomato paste
8 cups cut-up peeled tomatoes (about 12 to 14 medium tomatoes, cut into rough 1-inch pieces)
¼ cup chopped oregano or ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped basil)
As well as some sugar (a couple teaspoons or to taste) and definitely some salt!

1 ½ pounds whole-milk ricotta (Note: I bought a 2 pound contained and used it all. There is no such thing as too much ricotta)
3 large eggs
½ cup chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound lasagna noodles
½ pound mozzarella, grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook gently for 4 to 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes (the tomato paste will separate from the oil and the oil will turn a vivid orange). Add the tomatoes and stir to combine.

The sauce can be completed on the stove top or in the oven. The oven method requires less attention but a longer cooking time. For the stove top, simmer the sauce gently for 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot every 10 minutes to prevent scorching. (Ann’s note: Yeah, right, like I’m going to bound into my kitchen every 10 minutes! I am a busy gal and you probably are too so take it from me when I say that you can put this on the lowest setting and leave it alone for at least a half hour, if not more, without stirring and scraping and the sauce will be fine. If not, a little charcoal never hurt anyone!)

For the oven method, preheat the oven to 325. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer on top of the stove, cover the pot with a parchment lid, and place the pot in the oven for 3 to 4 hours.

When the sauce is done, it should be thick, slightly chunky, and reduced to about 1 quart. Add the oregano (or basil) and let cool to room temperature (about 1 hour) before assembling the lasagna.

Meanwhile, for the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta and eggs until completely blended. Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste and mix until well combined. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain the n oodles and allow them to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350.

To assemble the lasagna: Spread a think layer (3/4 to 1 cup) of sauce over the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Place a layer of noodles (no more than one quarter of them) in the pan, slightly overlapping them. Spread half the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles and top with another layer of noodles. Reserve 1 cup of the remaining sauce and spread the rest over the noodles, completely covering them. Arrange another layer of noodles on top and cover with the remaining ricotta mixture. Top with a final layer of noodles and spoon the reserved sauce over them. Toss the grated mozzarella with salt and pepper to taste (to give the cheese more flavor) and sprinkle it over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the mozzarella is a spotted golden brown and the lasagna is hot throughout. (This line actually reads “is a spotted golden grown…” in the book. I think that is a very cosmic typo consider this recipe calls for fresh tomatoes!).


Anonymous said...

what an unbearable and catty article!

Anonymous said...

Agree that this is a bad article. I made lasagna according to Keller's recipe and it was fabulous. This recipe is not an accurate copy of his recipe, did not mention the construction of the parchment vent used to cover the lasagna while cooking, and inaccurate cooking time.