Tomato, Tomahto

My step-sons are way way into Garfield comics. And Joe told me he thought Garfield was like the funniest thing ever, when he was a kid.

Well I thought he was funny too but not like they do. Maybe it’s a boy thing. They almost always get a new Garfield book when we go to the library and then they battle over who checked it out so that they know who gets to read it at bedtime. It’s such a kid thing.

Well what I am way way into is comfort food that is comfortable in it’s own skin because it’s healthy without skimping on the good stuff. Like lasagna with a whole bunch of veggies.

I made a really amazing version of this classic last night, and I think Garfield would have approved even though it wasn’t your traditional tomato and ricotta style dish.

The kids approved too, considering how many unlasagna-like things were in it. Pine nuts, kale, onions. And squash. A big heaping serving of it: as much as the noodles or more. Because I like to go easy on the noodles, even though they are really my one true love. They even asked for seconds.

And you know, what would a lasagna night be without a big bowl of Caesar salad, complete with homemade croutons (made from a few rolls leftover from the first time I baked with my sourdough starter) and freshly grated parm. I normally don’t eat this kind of salad because I like salads with a lot of stuff in them, but we had it last week when we went for dinner at a friends and I just needed more, you know? If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. I made myself feel better about how bad it can be for you by making the dressing myself. The boys wanted seconds on croutons too, of course.

And I couldn’t say no because I’d been eating them straight off the pan for like 10 minutes before dinner.

There might be some lasagna purists out there among you, who say that it should always be the traditional thing. And maybe you would say that this is just a casserole with some noodles in it. But I say to you “Don’t be so quick to judge! Lasagna loves you no matter what.” So you should try this dish, no matter what. After all, potato, potahto. Let’s just drink a glass of wine.

What? Those aren’t the lyrics?

Butternut Alfredo Lasagna
Makes one 9×13″ pan

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and sliced in 1/8″ slices. You could sub another squash here, but the butternut makes nice big slices so that’s why I went with it.
1/2 box lasagna noodles
1/2 bunch kale of choice, or about 4 loosely packed cups, roughly chopped or torn
1 jar alfredo sauce (Yeah, I cheated. Sorry.)
2 medium sized onions
2 cups grated parmesan, more or less depending on your tastes
freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/2 a nut
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
salt to taste
white wine, about 1/2 cup

Heat a large skillet oven high heat, and when it’s good and hot add a splash of olive oil. Toss in the squash slices, add a pinch of salt and the grated nutmeg, and let them cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and some of the pieces are getting browned. Put into a bowl and set aside.

While the squash cooks, prepare the noodles. Just follow the directions on the box for al dente, but subtract like one extra minute so they are very al dente. After draining them run cool water into the pot so that they don’t stick together while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

After taking the squash out of the pot reheat it and add another tiny splash of oil. Toss in all the onions and cook till nice and brown and soft. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let it reduce by about half. It will go pretty fast, so add more if it evaporates too quickly. Then add the kale. Cover and let steam for a couple of minutes, until it’s just soft, then give it all a good stir and turn off the heat.

Coat the bottom of your dish with a couple of table spoons of alfredo sauce and top with a layer of noodles. Next add half the kale and onions, 1/2 the pine nuts, then a handful of grated cheese following that with a layer consisting of 1/3 of the squash. Spread the pieces of squash out to make a flat surface for the sauce to go on, then spoon about 1/2 a cup of alfredo, more if you need it, on to that and spread it thin. Next go back to noodles, and do another round all the way through, using the remaining half of the kale. Once you get to the top layer of noodles, add the remaining squash, top with whatever sauce you have left in the jar and the rest of the cheese. Give it another good grating of nutmeg all over and let it sit for 1/2 hour or so, at room temp, so the noodles can absorb some of the sauce.

While the lasagna sits, heat up the oven to 350ºF. Put the lasagna in the lower third of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until it’s bubbly and getting browned on top. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. I know it’s hard to wait, but seriously the lasagna will be sooo much better if you do. Mostly because you won’t have burned your mouth with molten hot cheese and you’ll be able to taste it.

It’s even better the next day. Promise.

Comfort Win

I am not the ashamed to admit that I am unafraid to serve my kids some convenience foods. Sure, our diet is undeniably “homemade” for the most part, but even the best “home-made homemaker” has a few tricks up their sleeve.

I try to limit the foods I serve that fall into that category and to do this I follow a simple guideline. Condiments aside, I pretty much only serve it if it’s something my mom would have served me. I mean, if my mom fed it to my sister and I as kids, chances are it’s ok to eat, because she was eating organic foods before it was cool. Sure, times and food manufacturing processes have changed, but it’s what I know so you can take it or leave it.

Generally this also means that these foods are guaranteed to be comfort foods. They are things like Stouffer’s StoveTop stuffing, Lipton’s chicken noodle soup from a box (which is just about the best hangover food ever invented BTW. Why else would it have like 40% of your daily allowance of sodium?) and frozen fish sticks.

So to make a long story about my eating habits as a child short(er) I’ll just tell you a story about today.

Today it was very snowy in Seattle, with more snow predicted overnight. The boys were headed out the door literally at the crack of dawn to go snowboarding in the closest mountain pass. Lilli and I had to go to the grocery store, sans car. Her in the sled, me pulling.  I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on dinner but I wanted it to be warm and filling and comforting to the hilt. So I settled on kind of a cheesy potatoes au gratin type of thing. And frozen fish sticks. I guess I had frozen things on the brain.

I have to say that this is one area where I have never used a recipe and I know that this is kind of crazy. I don’t know why. I can’t even remember looking at a recipe. Ever. But I just kind of dug my heels in and went for it anyway. The results were not pretty but they tasted amazing.

I used too much cheese and not enough liquid, and for some reason I decided to add a couple of eggs. I guess because you put them in kugel, and they were so fresh I couldn’t resist.

Anyway, it went very very well with the frozen fish sticks I served, alongside a heaping salad of butter lettuce and sweet pink grapefruit. That salad might have been the only redeeming part of the meal, it turns out, because Joe decided he needed to have an apres ski bevvie in the style of the lodge at Steven’s Pass, where he didn’t go today, and so I had to have one too. The recipe is my new project, so more on that in a couple of days.

All in all it was a good day and a good dinner. But if you have a recipe for sort of cheesy potatoes au gratin, do pass it on.