Did you know that a couple celebrating any wedding anniversary on or after their 50th is entitled to a greeting from the president? Hot dog! This is one of those Wikipedia facts I came across while searching for the list of traditional anniversary gifts by year (first year paper, second year cotton, etc). I'd forgotten that there are now two categories to choose from—a modern list, which calls for glass or crystal for the third year, and the traditional list, which says it’s leather. The question of which category to follow quickly led to: What kind of a leather or crystal gift would Matt even want? Which led to exactly zero ideas, which led to thinking that it would be more fun if instead of a list of these broad materials like crystal and wood and silver, the list was instead made up of different landmark meals. The first anniversary (as they say it’s the hardest) could be something classically celebratory like steak. And for the second, how about something a bit more run-of–the-mill but still special, like a whole roasted chicken? And for the third—how about lasagna? To be honest, I had had a particular lasagna in mind for a while now, one from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen. Instead of meat, there's tons of basil and béchamel. And the greatest thing about lasagna? You can make it ahead of time, come home from work, put it in the oven, and have a delicious, special Friday night anniversary meal in no time.
Of course, the prep doesn't exactly happen in no time. No, this lasagna will definitely take a couple of hours to put together. But here's what I would recommend: Free up a space on your kitchen counter and set your computer there. Dial up your best friend via video chat and begin the work of lasagna-ing. Tell your friend that there may be moments when you will be more concerned about burning your béchamel than conversing, and that at times, you will be in another room completely, but not to worry, you will be listening the whole time!
One of my favorite ways to make fun of myself is to describe myself as a young wife. I do this so much that a conversation between me and a friend might go something like this:Friend: What are you doing tonight?
Me: Well, I'm making dinner for Matt and then we'll probably watch back to back episodes of The West Wing.
Friend: Oh, young wife stuff.
Although there is one photo that feels very much like us and I think it always will. Is that fear in Matt's eyes or the shock of marital bliss?
Herb Garden Lasagna via The Herbal Kitchen
One 28-ounce can plus one 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped marjoram
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk, whole or low fat
1 pound whole milk ricotta
4 ounces basil, stems removed (2 cups gently packed)
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, gently packed
2 cloves garlic
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
8 ounces oven-ready lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
Boil the tomatoes in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until they turn into a thick sauce. Stir in the marjoram and 1 teaspoon salt.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook the roux for about a minute. Pour in the cold milk all at once. Whisk until all the lumps disappear, then occasionally until the sauce comes to a full boil and thickens. Season with 1 ½ teaspoons salt.
Blend the ricotta with one-third of the white sauce in a food processor until smooth. Scrape the cheese out into a bowl.
Without washing the food processor, pulse the basil, parsley, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt until finely chopped. Add the remaining white sauce and the Parmesan and process until well combined.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
If it’s your first time dealing with oven-ready noodles the process will seem strange, but just trust it. Spread half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles on top of the sauce; they should fit without touching each other or the sides of the pan. Dab half of the basil sauce over the noodles, covering the pasta as best you can. As you build the lasagna think about layering the ingredients in 3 stacks, spreading the filling just over the noodles rather than worrying about the gaps between and around the noodles, but if some spills over that’s fine. Top the basil sauce with 3 more noodles in the same position. For the next layer, distribute the entire amount of ricotta by scooping it in spoonfuls onto the top noodles and spreading it a bit, pressing down as little as possible. Top with 3 more noodles, then the remaining tomato sauce. Finally, put the last 3 noodles in place and spread the top with the remaining pesto sauce.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil, tenting it a little so it doesn’t touch the lasagna, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake an additional 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cheese is evenly browned. Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before you serve it; it will be very loose at first, but will firm up as it sits. The lasagna can be assembled ahead and kept refrigerated until you are ready to bake it (allow an extra 10 minutes in the oven under the foil), or baked ahead of time and reheated in a 350 degree oven.