In our house, lasagna is birthday food. All throughout high school, my birthdays were celebrated with a heavily streamer-ed house, a handful of very best friends, bags of Swedish fish and cherry sours and Cheeto puffs, and a pan of my mom's lasagna. They made me happy; they make me happy remembering them now.
The lasagna achieved somewhat of a legend status in some circles (read: our circle). Just look at us in the above photo! We were stoked! In my opinion, it remains the best way to celebrate a birthday. That being said, my grandmother turned 90 last week. It was time to up the ante.
Smitten Kitchen's Lasagna Bolognese recipe had haunted me ever since I first saw the post. Layers of the thinnest handmade noodles, slow-simmered bolognese sauce, and a lovingly-made bechamel sauce. Layered until infinity. When it comes to big family dinner parties, my mom and I are the ladies to turn to, and we thought there would be no better occasion to bust out this lasagna than a ninetieth birthday party. We borrowed a pasta machine from her best friend and it was time to go.
I've made some hard dishes in my lifetime, dishes that have made me sweat and want to scream. I think this was the hardest dish I've ever made. Not because of skill, not because of technique, just because of time. This is a true labor of love-- and however cheesy it sounds, you can taste the love when you take a bite. My mom and I crafted this majestic lasagna over two days. We cranked out thin noodles and simmered rich ragout on the stovetop. One of us frantically whisked bechamel into glossy submission while the other boiled the noodles in the tiniest batches and then dunked them in ice water. We built it up, the developed, gorgeous layers the peak representation of lasagna AS A CONCEPT. One cheese only-- parmesan. That felt groundbreaking in itself. You don't need a million cheeses or baked ricotta, you just need a million hours and knee replacement surgery from the pain in your joints caused from standing for so long!
Listen...I love cooking, I LOVE COOKING, but this was rough near the ends. I was physically feeling the pull of my DVR holding the finale of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3. While there was still one more vegetarian lasagna to be made, I needed nothing more than to collapse in a chair and watch Shangela get robbed. It was TOUGH. But I would be lying if I said it wasn't totally worth it. There's nothing better than serving a dish of love to a table of people you love. And then them complimenting you endlessly!!!!! Including the day after via text!!!
If I ever dare to make this behemoth of a dish again, it will be for someone I love intensely. It will be on an occasion where I want to work hard in the most satisfying way. It will be when I want to experience, in droves, all the sensations that make cooking such a delight.
Happy 90th, Nini.