Big Night In lasagna-baking session fosters community

During a Big Night In event, our writer shared a wholesome meal with his friends in the Underwear Factory. These cooking/baking sessions connect Vassar students to the Poughkeepsie community./ Courtesy of jeffreyw via Wikimedia Commons

April 20, Big Night In (BNI) and the Vassar Food Community teamed up to host a cooking extravaganza at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Participants made friends and  shared laughs as they whipped up a salad appetizer; vegan, vegetarian and meat lasagna entrees; and a fruit crisp dessert. We ended with more people than we started with, on account of all the food babies filling our stomachs.

I am sharing their easy lasagna recipe in the spirit of paying tribute to the event and spreading the joy of bonding through cooking. This recipe is fit for everyone, whether you are a beginner learning the basics or a veteran looking to perfect your craft. Lasagna is particularly inclusive because it can be adjusted to meet all sorts of dietary needs and flavor preferences. Without further ado, here is the recipe!

First, boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta. You can cook according to the package instructions, or fiddle around with the timing. Some people prefer pasta that’s more al dente, which is an Italian term meaning that the pasta has a firmer consistency and thus requires less time to boil. Taste the pasta as you are cooking it to check if it’s ready. It’s also considered good practice to salt the water before you boil it so that the pasta is infused with the salt and requires less salting later.

While the pasta is cooking, make the tomato sauce. Finely dice onions and garlic and sauté over medium heat with olive oil, salt and pepper. When the onions are translucent an slightly brown on the edges, add tomatoes. Simmer and add salt, pepper, dried oregano and red pepper flakes to taste. Then, sauté the mushrooms in a separate saucepan over medium heat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Remove from heat when the mushrooms are deep brown, soft and have released liquid.

If you and your posse decide that meat is an acceptable ingredient, sauté the ground meat over medium heat with salt, pepper and olive oil until fully cooked. Constantly taste your concoction and take a stab at adjusting the seasoning. Seasoning without exact measurements can be daunting, but you will get better with practice. Foodies will tell you that cooking by feel and not by measurement guarantees good results, especially because the quality of ingredients can naturally vary from time to time.

Finally, assemble these separate ingredients together to form the lasagna. Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish and a layer of lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping, on top of the sauce. Add cheeses, spinach, mushrooms, meat (if using) and more sauce. Repeat this layering pattern until the dish is full, ending with a mozzarella layer. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is fully melted.

If you decide to go vegan instead, you are going to need ricotta and mozzarella substitutes. Blend tofu, incorporate the juice of one lemon, then add basil, salt, pepper and oregano in a blender or food processor until the mixture resembles the texture of ricotta. To make mozzarella, blend cashews, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender or food processo with one-and-a-half cups water. Add more water and continue blending until the mixture reaches desired consistency (this can be anywhere from a thick paste to a more liquidy cream).

Special thanks to BNI and the Vassar Food Community for organizing the event and to the Vassar Food Community for sharing their recipe. If cooking together and sharpening your

skills with Vassar students is right up your alley, then check out the Vassar Food Community Facebook page to get updates for new events, or e-mail [email protected] to join the mailing list and shoot them questions.

Ingredients:

2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes

3 onions

20 cloves garlic

Dried oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes

Olive oil

32 oz lasagna noodles

12 oz spinach leaves, washed

32 oz mushrooms, sliced

16 oz shredded mozzarella (optional)

12 oz ricotta (optional)

12 oz ground meat (optional)

Vegan alternatives:

1 bunch fresh basil

16 oz tofu

2 lemons

16 oz cashews

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