Every year in the Spring I am so ambitious about my little garden. Gerrit and I go to the garden center as soon as the weather seems warm enough and pick out new herbs and perhaps a couple of vegetables. This year we bought hydrangeas to plant underneath the kitchen window in the hopes that they will blossom into beautiful bushes with heavy pastel blooms that will make our patio dinners on our big hypothetical table that I want to build magical. (Twinkle lights will also need to be involved.) For several weeks we are really good about watering and watching our plants. I go out and check on them, and this year I literally squealed with delight as my first hydrangea bloom turned a pretty shade of lilac because it couldn’t decided if it wanted to be blue or pink.
And then, well, we kind of lose it. I forget to water (and it rained this year so much that we didn’t have to water; and now that we need to water the plants we kind of forget that that’s a thing that has to be done). Our hydrangea leaves turn a little spotty and I feel stumped in the yard, but then for some reason forget to look up what to do about that when I come inside. Rain and wind come and blow our mulch around and blow dead leaves onto our freshly swept patio. And then it just gets too plain hot to go outside and care.
Gerrit and I sat at the kitchen table for a little longer than usual the other night eating salmon and green beans and polenta and talking about ambition, the kinds of ambitions we have and the things we would do if there were no risks involved and no chances at failure. For awhile we get all giddy-excited; and then we remember the limitations of reality. But it’s fun to dream even if such things will never happen.
I dream all the time about turns my life might take, about work and writing and family and travel. I am full of goals, and while sometimes this feels like a burden because reality is always there to remind me of limitations, on other better days I like to think that it is equivalent to being full of hope.
And I don’t want to stop hoping. I’m not going to feel defeated because dreams will not always work out. And I am not going to feel defeated even though my garden is far from abundant. Even if by the end of summer, heading into fall and winter, my garden is not what I had wanted, it still gives me hope every spring. And even though my parsley is dying and my hydrangeas have spotty leaves, I was still able to pick off four cups of basil (with more left!) and make some of the best pesto I’ve had in a long time and turn it into this lasagna, which is at least one of the things I had hoped for many months ago.
adapted from Extra Virgin
Making this much pesto calls for 4 cups of basil, which is a lot. If you don’t have an overabundant basil plant (or time to make the pesto) a good store bought pesto would be great, too. The original recipe calls for no-bake lasagna noodles, but I used regular ones and boiled them just slightly (I’ve heard of plenty of people who make lasagna with regular lasagna and don’t boil it at all, too). And I also used skim milk instead of a fattier milk; I just added a bit of cornstarch to my sauce to help it thicken up. Also, the lasagna pictured above should have one more layer; I didn’t pull enough noodles out of the box apparently.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
For the pesto:
4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
For the bechemel:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups milk (a bit less if you use a low fat milk), warmed
Pinch of nutmeg
13 to 14 oz. lasagna noodles
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Begin by making the pesto. In a food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts, and garlic. Pulse a couple of times to break down the basil some. Add the olive oil and pulse until it forms a paste. Add the cheeses in and pulse to combine. Taste the pesto and add salt and pepper as needed (the cheeses are pretty salty, so be careful here). Pulse once more to bring it all together, and then set aside.
2. To make the bechemel sauce, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 1 minute. Then slowly begin adding the milk a couple of tablespoons at a time, whisking constantly and continuing to add milk until the sauce is smooth and slightly thick (you might need to raise the heat a bit). Stir in the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Lower the heat and keep the bechemel warm until you need it, coming back to stir it every few minutes to keep a skin from forming on the top.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook your lasagna noodles just until they begin to become pliable, then drain them.
4. Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Ladle a thin layer of bechemel into the bottom of the dish. Cover with a layer of lasagna noodles, then add another thin layer of bechemel. Spread about 4 tablespoon of pesto over the bechemel and sprinkle with an even layer (about 2 tablespoons) of Parmesan. Continue this pattern (noodles, bechemel, pesto, cheese) until you have used all your noodles. Top with the extra cheese (and you can add some butter or olive oil on the top to help the cheese get a bit crispy if you’d like).
6. Bake for 30 minutes and serve warm.