Polenta and Broccoli Rabe Lasagna (with Gymnastics)

Wednesday mornings, the garbage truck comes around 6:15am, and on those mornings, Matt has been known to open Teddy’s bedroom door (after hearing him shout, “Need out!” a handful of times) only for the little guy to sprint past him to the living room where he climbs up on the couch and presses his face against the window so as to see a truck in action. So, when I heard that Los Angeles Sanitation was hosting an “Open House” on Saturday from 9:30am to 2:30pm, I knew I could make Teddy’s day/life by taking him.

The problem was that my favorite yoga class (taught by an ex-gymnast from Romania—more on this topic in a bit) is at 10am on Saturday mornings. Matt watches both kids while I go. We decided to push Teddy’s afternoon nap a bit so that I could take him to the trash headquarters when I got back. I would just need to first feed Isaac, who usually naps from around 11 to noon, and then we could go. But on this Saturday, Isaac just slept and slept, and Teddy and I didn’t get in the car until 1:30pm.

I’d mapped a route to our local garbage center, which to be clear, is a place I’d never visited before. About three-quarters of the way there, I ran into some major road construction and a detour—taking me into unchartered Los Angeles territory. Eventually, I pulled over and consulted my phone to figure out how to get there, at which point, I realized that the car had grown increasingly silent. I turned around and saw that Teddy had fallen asleep. But, according to my new route, we were almost there. I decided to forge ahead and to wake him when we arrived.

We pulled into the dump/Open House For Children at 2:00pm. In the parking lot, I saw a few adults loading small kids into their cars, but online it said the event went until 2:30pm. We still had thirty minutes of garbage fun time! I put the back of my hand on Teddy’s cheek and said, “Teddy, do you want to go see some garbage trucks?” Nothing. I tried again, nudging his shoulder. Still nothing. Not even an eye flutter. I called Matt for advice.

“Wake him up! He’s gonna love it.”

I hung up and tried once more. Squeezing his shoulder, I said: “Teddy, look! A garbage truck!” Absolutely nothing. Weekend-at-Bernie’s nothing.

I paced around the parking lot with the door to my car open. After about three to five minutes of this, I saw a man pushing a toddler in a stroller toward his car.

“Excuse me. Is the Open House still going on?”

“No. It’s over,” he said, definitively.

“But it’s only 2:07pm.”

“It’s over.”

I drove home—got lost once more for good measure, and then sat in the driveway for a while, opting to let the boy sleep, as I talked to Matt on the phone about what we might do with the rest of the afternoon.

“Wait, are you in the driveway?” he said at one point.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been in the driveway. I thought you knew that.”

Not only does this story sum up my Saturday in a nutshell, it can also be filed under My Personal and Ongoing Battle to Accomplish Things with Children Present.

On Sunday, however, I woke up with a firm goal. I wanted to cook us something new for dinner. Something new and something that I wouldn’t be able to tackle on a weekday.

Being the pasta/Italian-food centric family that we are, I chose a lasagna stuffed with polenta. I liked the idea of adding some texture to a vegetarian lasagna. I also liked the fact that I had a bunch of these ingredients on hand.

And look, guys! I did it.

And you should too—especially if you have a lot of people to feed or don’t mind having tons of leftovers. One slice of this super dense lasagna for dinner is all you need.

In fact, we have so much left over, I’m going to go drop some off with my friends who just had their second baby last week. (Speaking of second babies, I believe Kris Jenner had her math quite right when she told Kim, re: children, “One is one and two is twenty.”)

Now that the garbage truck and lasagna part of the post are over with, can we talk about gymnastics?

With the Olympics just over two months away, I’ve been dying to write a follow-up to My Gymnastics Diary, Part 1—remember that post? The problems are two-fold. First, I don’t even know where to start. So much has happened since I wrote that—not only within the sport itself, but with my level of nerding-out on the sport. (As many babies as I have, I will still find time to stay up to date on gymnastics news.) I’m now a regular listener of Gymcastic—a gymnastics podcast (the gymnastics podcast?). I also discovered this blog, The Balance Beam Situation, and it’s so hilarious and insightful.

Secondly, I just don’t have the time to get into all the details I’d like to. And yet, I still want to talk gymnastics.

So, here’s what I’m going to do: once again inspired by the title of Sara Ruhl’s book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, I’ll try and catch you up with the story lines/things that are interesting me the most. And then if you want to know more, you can start listening to Gymcastic.

1. Romania (you know, home of Nadia Comăneci) did not qualify as a team to compete in Rio. Romania! The country that practically invented gymnastics. Remember in 2000, before that pesky two-per-country rule, when they took gold, silver, and bronze in the women’s all around? (Full disclosure: The Olympic suits actually ended up stripping the gold medal from the first place finisher, Andreea Raducan, as she tested positive for a banned substance (pseudoephedrine), even though she was later exonerated of any personal wrongdoing and it basically seems like the whole stripping-of-the-medal-for-taking-cold-medicine was uhm excessive.)

    a. This means (according to Olympic-qualifying rules that I don’t fully understand) that Romania 
    can only send one gymnast to compete as an individual. Right now that’s between Larisa Iordache 
    who placed third in the all around at the 2015 World Championships (and who has been injured) and
    28-year-old three-time Olympic gold medalist in 2004 and two-time Olympic medalist in 2012
    Catalina Ponor, who I recommend you follow on Instagram.

    b. I was once told that when you’re outlining, you can’t have an “a.” without a “b.” Is that true?

2. I’m so glad The New Yorker just came out with this great piece on Simone Biles so that I don’t have to use one million superlatives to tell you how insanely amazing she is / how she should almost certainly win five of the six available gold medals in Rio.

3. Aly Raisman! What can I say? She is my fave and despite some shaky performances, she really looks like she’s going to make the 2016 team. The people over at Gymcastic give her a way hard time about her form (bent knees and maybe some trouble hitting 180 degrees in some of her leaps) and her lack of artistry, but frankly, I don’t give a sh*t. Her floor routine, leg muscles, and the way she always seems to be an underdog even though she technically shouldn’t be make her a personal hero of mine.

4. Who else is going to make the five-person team? I don’t know! The U.S. has so many of the world’s best gymnasts that we could seriously send two teams of five women and those teams would win gold and silver. Right now, however, if I were Martha Karolyi (in my dreams!), I would send: Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Maggie Nichols*, and Laurie Hernandez*. And that would be leaving off the reigning world champion on uneven bars, by the way.

*Both are recovering from injuries right now, though I think they should be good to go soon enough.

5. Gymnasts and makeup. I’m having a hard time with the amount of makeup my favorite U.S. gymnasts are wearing these days (including Aly). It’s the lipstick that bothers me the most. I just think the makeup belies what badass and exceptional athletes they are. I think about the U.S. women soccer players and the fact that they aren’t wearing any makeup (or at least I’ve never noticed it before) and I imagine what it would be like if they did—like if they all wore bright red lips. That would be ridiculous, right? I mean, who cares what you look like when you can throw a double layout as your third floor pass? But then, I guess there is an element of theater to gymnastics—at least on floor there is. So I suppose it makes some sense? It also makes sense when I think about college and all of that eyeliner I wore and all of the times I straightened my hair, you know, to look pretty, and I was only going to the barely off-campus bar (an evening which wasn’t being nationally televised). I also think about my desire to want to have a family, and to work, and to fit into a leotard my jeans, and YES, to look good doing it all. And I guess I can relate to my young gymnast heroes yet again. (For more on this line of thought, check out my recent post on Grizzly and Golden.) 6. Lastly, in the above section, I link to this commercial for Under Armour, which features three of our top gymnasts: Maggie Nichols, Madison Kocian, and MyKayla Skinner. All three have signed on to compete in college, at the University of Oklahoma, UCLA, and The University of Utah, respectively, and therefore all three didn’t/couldn't get paid for being in this commercial. I find that to be messed up.

Yours in garbage, food, and gymnastics,
Polenta and Broccoli Rabe Lasagna via the New York Times
serves SO MANY people

18 dry lasagna noodles (from 1 package)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
⅛ teaspoon red chile flakes, plus more for serving (optional)
1 28-ounce can or box chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 large bunch broccoli rabe (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 ¼ cups quick-cooking polenta (I used medium-grind cornmeal here, but you will need to tack on about 40 minutes of extra cooking time.)
18-ounce container mascarpone or fresh ricotta
4 ounces parmesan, finely grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces
½ teaspoon black pepper

Place the lasagna noodles in a large bowl of cold water to soak (if you are using no-boil noodles, you can skip this step). Lightly oil a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and the basil. Remove from heat.

Remove the tough lower stem ends of the broccoli rabe. Cut the remaining stems, leaves and florets into 1-inch pieces. Fill a pot with 7 1/2 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt. Bring water to a boil and add the broccoli rabe. Cook 30 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to transfer broccoli rabe to a bowl.
Slowly whisk the polenta into the water. Simmer until polenta is thick and creamy, 5 to 10 minutes. (If  you opt against the quick-cooking polenta, just know that you're going to need to simmer and stir this for much longer--around 45 minutes total.) Add the mascarpone or ricotta, 1/2 cup parmesan and the butter, and stir until combined. Stir in the broccoli rabe.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles in the bottom of the pan. Tear or break any pieces as needed to fit them in one layer, with no overlapping. Top with a third of the polenta mixture, half the tomato sauce and a third of the mozzarella. Arrange a second layer of lasagna noodles over the mozzarella. Repeat layering of polenta, sauce and mozzarella. Arrange a final layer of noodles over the cheese and finish with the remaining polenta and mozzarella. Scatter 1/2 cup parmesan and the black pepper over the top.

Transfer casserole to the oven. Bake until cheese is golden and bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Serve with more chili flakes scattered on top, if you like.
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Matthew said...

Next year we're gonna make that open house! Also, loved the lasagna and still eating the leftovers. xoxo

Heather (Delicious Not Gorgeous) said...

where else would you find a post about garbage, lasagna and gymnastics?!? no where. and i love the idea of stuffing lasagna with polenta (my mind doesn't automatically pair carbs with carbs, so i'm extra appreciative of people who do so).

SarahCatherine said...

The New Yorker just published a piece on gymnastics? Can't wait to read!

HAILEY said...

I basically second everything Haether said! What a fantastic post! I want kids, but just reading about moments like Saturday morning exhaust me! I shake my head and wonder how parents do it. It's amazing. You're a good mom! I can't wait to make that lasagna!

Terry Martinez said...

I love your gymnastics updates! Thanks so much for linking the piece on Simone Biles. It was a great read and it got me to look up a bunch of YouTube videos of her at competitions, which I'm glad I saw! I'm ready for (sitting in my pajamas and watching) the Olympics now!

KatieSyts said...

This post was great, but that commercial was AMAZING. Thanks for sharing - and A for effort with the garbage.

Mary Anne said...

BEST. POST. EVER. Now excuse me while I go read/watch/devour each and everything you linked to. (Full disclosure I just watched the Under Armour commercial 3 times.)


Amelia Morris said...

@Hailey & @heather Thanks, guys!

@Terry Martinez isn't she incredible?? She is basically the Roger Federer of gymnastics. Like, if you are a top elite gymnast right now, it's really all about silver because the gold is spoken for.

@Mary Anne if only we could watch together!!!

sarah said...

immediately after reading this, i googled "pittsburgh environmental services open house".

Sara said...

I need to make this!

Caitlin Fahey said...

Oh man--this post has me so inspired to work on my handstands. I found the rhythmic qualifiers on YouTube the other day and watched all 59 minutes of it (Romania qualified in this one!!! Ana Luiza Filiorianu!!!), and now I've fallen down the Aly Raisman rabbit hole.
Thank you, as always, for your hilariously excellent writing/choice of topics.

Kara said...

Haha Weekend at Bernie's Nothing!!! I love that entire anecdote, well done well done. We are also huge trash enthusiasts at our house. Pilgrimage to LA next year for a garbage open house!

rozinchina said...

hello from Romania, a truly polenta loving country :)