Monday, May 6, 2024

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 28, 2023 - The Secret to My Lasagna

I am a heretic. At least, to certain traditionalist sectors of the culinary world. For you see, the secret to my lasagna, a secret which is about to be revealed to you, with neither expectation of thanks, nor remuneration, is… not to boil the pasta. 

It’s true. I never boil the pasta before assembling the lasagna. It is so much easier. I literally frost the hard lasagna noodles right out of the box and lay them side by side in the pan. 

I don’t do anything else differently, though. Nor am I claiming to be an epicureal innovator. I’m only a lasagna rogue when it comes to the noodle prep. 

Really it’s just because I’m a little lazy that I figured it out. It just occurred to me that the moisture in the sauce would be sufficient to soften the noodles in the oven. The only times it hasn’t worked perfectly is if I don’t completely cover the noodles with sauce. Any exposed bit of noodle ruffle poking out might stay crunchy.

This simple step saves quite a bit of time really, and it’s faster as well because it’s so much easier to assemble them dry.

My husband knows this, but he still intends to boil the noodles whenever it’s his turn to make a lasagna. He is set in his ways. That’s part of why I wonder if boiling water is not more valuable as a part of the ritual of cooking than it is a necessary step of the cooking process. Rituals have value.

What will be most noticeable are those who have a strong reaction to this idea. Those who might even get angry or feel as though it’s their role to lash out at me online for my stupidity and disrespect for tradition. 

Now, where have I heard that before?

But it’s really interesting to me that it’s not necessary to boil the noodles first. I’m sure there are others who have discovered this on their own as well, I’m certainly no Magellan of Mullers. But it perks my antenna that my lasagna turns out no differently from lasagna made with pre-boiled pasta. It makes me wonder...

Why have they been telling us to do this? Why is this a thing if it’s not necessary at all? Does that mean that the act of boiling has value, the ritual some purpose? Maybe. Jamie might say so. But that’s beside my point.

My point is in taking note of your reaction to the suggestion and how you respond to it when it comes to making your own lasagna. Will you try my method? Will you resist it? Will it nag at you? Or maybe you don’t cook so it doesn’t matter to you at all. 

One of my favorite mentors once introduced me to the ‘work smarter, not harder’ approach to tasks, projects, life, etc. It’s a brilliant aphorism because it completely explains itself in four, highly uncriptic words. 

But like most bumper sticker wisdom, the simplicity of its description does not represent the difficulty of its application to our lives. It's far easier said than done.

Making lasagna without boiling the noodles makes my life easier and has no negative impact on the food. In fact, it’s always nice and firm right from the oven. I definitely experiment with the various ingredients, though. It probably comes as no surprise to you that I like experimenting with the traditional model of things. In fact, I recently made a pesto chicken and goat cheese lasagna for a church spaghetti supper that was a big hit. Not a boiled noodle in the pan.

There’s more to ponder in this, of course. More to wonder where else in our lives we might find to experiment with tradition in ways that end up being just as good, maybe even a little bit better in some unexpected ways, while skipping some of the older parts of tradition which no longer serve us, or at least, deserve a reevaluation of their merit. 

We are in a new time. And we are now freer to experiment with the model. We have inherited tradition and history from our forebears and they now belong to us. And while we must handle them with respect and responsibility, we should also ask of them to demonstrate their continuing value. What rituals are no longer necessary? Skip them. What of the old ways still holds up? That should be the majority of your lasagna.

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