3/29 – Vegetarians Read Books Too

Danielle and I hosted a Tuesday night book club this week.  Since our schedules have been too busy to fit in a Sunday Dinner Party lately, I thought I’d take this opportunity to post anyhow.

Week-night dinner parties require advanced planning to pull off.  I hate the stress of worrying about what time I get off work, when the guests will arrive, and the resulting craziness of trying to cut up carrots, pour wine and greet guests all at the same time.

To avoid this, I plan in advance. It’s been a long time since I’ve thrown a week night party, and I had forgotten just how fun and relaxed they can be when you do it right.

~ The Menu ~
Our book was Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn.  If you can find a food theme to play with in this book, I applaud you.  I could not, so I decided to go simple, and mostly vegetarian, to suit the range of attendee’s dietary restrictions.

APPS
– Crudites
– Asparagus with Prosciutto (had to thrown in a little meat)
– Baked Fontina

DINNER
– Veggie Lasagna

~ The Game Plan ~

  • Sunday Afternoon: Make lasagna and dip for crudites and refrigerate
  • Monday Evening: Prepare Asparagus by snapping off dry ends, wrapping in one piece of prosciutto, and lining up on a cookie sheet.
  • Tuesday 6pm: Bake Asparagus for 15 min at 400 degrees.  Prep cheese while Asparagus bakes.  6:20: Bake cheese while chopping up crudites. 6:50: set out apps and place lasagna in the oven.  Pour a glass of wine before guests come at 7 and put your feet up, since they won’t get there till 7:15 anyhow.

Baked Fontina
———————-
1.5 lbs Fontina Cheese, rinds trimmed off, and cubed into 1.5″ squares
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a cast iron skillet, or other Broiler-proof container (this is important, must be metal, your pyrex will explode…I speak from experience)
Broil 6 minutes until bubbly and browned on the top

Serve with bread and sliced apples

Vegetarian Lasagna
———————-
1 package fresh lasagna sheets (you can buy the box and prep as directed if you can’t find fresh)
1 lb fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped
6 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed out to remove as much liquid as possible
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
2-3 cups milk
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
16oz Container of Ricotta Cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp diced fresh basil, plus more leaves for the top of the lasagna
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups fresh marinara sauce (homemade or store bought is fine)
salt and pepper to taste

Step 1 – make bechamel sauce.
In a medium sauce pan on medium heat, melt 4 tbsp butter.  Whisk in 4 tbsp flour and cook for about a minute until you can smell the flour cooking.

Whisk in 2 cups milk and continue whisking continuously until liquid boils.  You want the sauce to thicken to the consistency of a heavy cream sauce.  If it’s too thick, just add more milk as necessary.

Once the sauce just starts to boil, turn off the heat and whisk in paprika and salt/pepper to taste.  Let stand to cool while you saute the mushrooms.

Step 2 – Saute Mushrooms.
Rinse and dice mudrooms into bit-sized pieces.  In a skillet with a lid (you can cover with foil to improvise if you don’t have a lid that fits) melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat.

Add mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes over medium heat, until softened.

Add garlic, some salt/pepper, and red wine vinegar and cover.  Let steam, still on medium heat, for 3-5 minutes.

Remove lid and continue to cook until any juice is evaporated, then turn off heat.

Step 3 – Mix Ricotta
In a medium mixing bowl, combine ricotta, egg, red pepper flakes, oregano, fresh basil, and a little pepper and mix until blended.

Step 4 – Assemble the Lasagna
In a high-sided pyrex lasagna pan, add 1 cup marinara sauce to coat the bottom evenly.

Arrange an even layer of lasagna noodles on top of sauce.  Cover noodles with a thick layer of bechamel, then sprinkle all mushrooms on top, then top with the feta cheese.

Arrange a second even layer of lasagna noodles on top.  Cover noodles with  ricotta mixture in an even layer, then top with the wrung out spinach.

Arrange a third even layer of lasagna noodles on top.  Cover noodles with second cup of marinara sauce.  You can drizzle on any remaining bechamel as you like.

Decorate the top with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves.

Step 5 – Cook
If you are cooking immediately, bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees
If cooking from the fridge, bake 40-50 minutes at 350
If cooking from the freezer (this freezes beautifully) bake 1 hour at 350 degrees (no need to defrost)

Results
———————-
This was my second batch of veg lasagna over the past few weeks.  My first attempt was polished off over the course of a ski weekend, while my traditional meat lasagna when politely untouched…A good sign from a group of carnivorous, college boys.

At book club, my guests polished off over 1lb of the the baked cheese, and still made it through seconds on the lasagna as well.

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