One of the ways I learned how to cook? By watching Ina Garten on Food Network. I know some of you are starting to cringe that I even mentioned about a whole channel dedicated to food but this is after all the twenty-first century. Mrs. Ina Garten is most noted for owning and operating a catering business in the affluent beachfront community of The Hamptons called the Barefoot Contessa. Her comfort-food style recipes and entertaining tips have her earned her claim to fame in a nationally syndicated spot at 5pm on Food Network for years.
She has published several cookbooks. I began to think and get excited when I would start collecting her cookbooks but then I also asked myself too, What is it about Ina Garten that I really like? It wasn’t always the recipes, comfort-style dishes yes with a few very expensive or exotic ingredients thrown in. Many of her recipes aren’t always the healthiest. However, it was her precision and her attention to detail to each her recipes. Her careful consideration in choosing the right ingredients, that the right olive oil really does make the difference to the attention and care she took each step of the way to the how she talked about the romance she shared with her darling husband, Jeffrey, who loved every bite. I think other than aspiring to be a good home cook, I wanted a hard-working husband like Jeffrey that worked hard for us that would come home eager with anticipation for what I was cooking tonight.
I’ve been watching Ina for ten years and I will know my fiancé for four years. Aside from working hard for us, I am also fortunate to have someone that loves cooking and would step in to help me cook and clean up, almost never whining about washing or drying dishes (though there were a few remarks about how we should possibly think of getting a dishwasher.) Probably because we do it together and we make an excellent team in the kitchen. For now. With change of lifestyle and especially after marriage this summer down the line, things will probably change. “That’s life,” as Ol’ Blue Eyes would always say. I should hope and look forward to more of our collaborative efforts in the kitchen. But just because we can’t always be together in the kitchen doesn’t mean you stop loving or helping the other out “when the cat’s away”, as Ina would say. And I will always love my future husband to be. With the passing of time, human beings are always in a constant state of change.
But some things do stay the same thankfully – like timeless recipes brought to life again and good, memorable recipes in general. This mushroom lasagna recipe comes to mind. I originally picked it up from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen blog years ago who happened to pick it up from Ina. I was never a big lasagna fan in the traditional marinara sauce, ricotta cheese and ground beef sense but I do enjoy good Italian food, white sauce and most anything Ina and Deb’s another no-fail home chef. You really do use up a lot of dishes in the prep work and time but it’s not as messy as you think and many of you probably weren’t in the same shoes as I was when I first made this – using two stove burners (because that all worked on my stove at the time). I got it done even if it took extra time but the combination of the taste of the white béchamel sauce and the Portobello mushrooms between the warm pasta noodles was like I was savoring this while sitting in a café somewhere in Italy. The recipe obviously became a keeper and with the exception of adding spinach to it (my own addition – and it totally works), I have four burners now (but still po’) and a fiance’ where we wrap each other’s arms the small of our backs while we take turns stirring the béchamel sauce, not much about this recipe has changed and it is yours for personal enjoyment and still an absolute hit at church potlucks. It may not be vegan or comply in the strict fasting fashion but it excludes meat but not flavor. It is savory and comforting and perfect for curling up to on the average, damp March day.
From my kitchen, where I hope you’ll find your Jeffrey too, to yours,
Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna
Adapted from Ina Garten and Deb P. of Smitten Kitchen blog.
Makes 2 dozen
Olive oil (I use coconut oil.)
Dried lasagna noodles. (I never tried the no-boil noodles. I know, I know. I never will quite “evolve” on some things. Give it a try or if you used them, let me know what you think in the comments below. I just use Barilla brand.)
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 cups organic whole milk
3/4 cups Earth Balance butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 pounds Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Unless you are using the no-boil noodles, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a splash of oil to the water to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Drain and set aside.
Make the béchamel sauce: Pronounced be-cha-mel which simply means “white sauce”, this is your first immediate cooking lesson in making your own sauce, bring the milk and garlic to a simmer in the saucepan, or heat it in the microwave, and set it aside. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large saucepan.Add the flour and cook for one minute on low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour in the hot milk, whisking as you do. Pour in the other half along with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring or whisking frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until thick.
Prep mushrooms: Heat up a heavy skillet with parts butter and coconut oil. Toss in your mushrooms with a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper. Cook until tender or until they release some of their juices.
Assemble the lasagna: Spread some of your white sauce in the pan. Layer your lasagna noodles in a pan over the sauce. Spoon mushrooms on. Add the spinach and the cheese. Repeat 2 more times. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve immediately.