What an honour it is to invite a fellow writer & life-chef to the blog this morning. Rhiannon Lindsay-Andrews has been a friend of mine for three years; with spatula & sharpie, she offered to recreate her signature Lasagna recipe for you all. It is about the process of grieving----of coming to terms with all the beautiful, broken parts of the personal and allowing oneself to open up again to love----to relearn how to share one's heart & hopes with another after heartbreak and hurt. Lasagna For Four is truly a delight to read.
Lasagne For Four
Begin with music. Something calming, something to dance to, something to scream with. Something you love. Allow it to change as you have. Will. Cannot.
This is a dish you make in parts. It does not affect the end result. It is a process; each part will not limit your final form. Breathe. Remember. All you have to do is focus on the present step.
You will need:
- 2 Yellow Onions.
- Mixed Herbs (of your choosing).
Some recipes demand you prepare everything in advance and use a hundred little dishes as if you had someone else to clean up after you. This recipe makes no such requests. Simply follow the instructions as they arrive and give yourself plenty of time. This is not a sprint. It's cooking.
If you're doing it all at once, leave moments in between to breathe. To do it right, you must start slow.
The first step is to dice the onions into tiny pieces. Take your time. You will cry, and this is a good thing. Cry. Onions are easy, safe. Blame your tears on a chemical reaction. Allow yourself the freedom to grieve in this environment. Break apart your parts until you're as small as chopped onions.
Fry them (yourself) in oil over a gentle heat until they're soft, translucent, malleable. Stir constantly so they do not settle. If some catch, if others burn, allow it, but do not let the rest spoil. This will add a tinge of bitterness that will be noticeable to only the pickiest of people. A little bitterness is not the worst thing to have.
Add garlic and spices (oregano, basil, mixed herbs). Fry them for a few moments. Add just-enough; this is an amount that can only be measured by you. A good guide would be a couple of pinches, but, of course, taste is too personal to let anyone else decide the flavour. These spices are the parts of you that no one will notice, but without which, nothing would be the same. The herbs add their flavour and subtlety. Leave the garlic in whole cloves as a surprise.
Add the mince, the base that no one can miss. Stir, allow the tiny bits of yourself to find the nooks and crannies of the mince and adapt to the new surface. It is beginning to come together. To find itself. Add passata, the same colour as the blood of new wounds, but add water to thin and age it. This binds together the ingredients, holding them together until it's hard to distinguish one addition from another. As a final touch, add a teaspoon of sugar to make the passata taste fresher. This sweetness will melt and dissolve and no one will ever know about it. That's okay.
Put this part of yourself on the back burner. Keep warm and stir frequently to keep it smooth.
In another----bigger----pot, melt butter. Slowly. Melt in your prejudices, your fears, your insecurities, every piece of yourself that isn't perfect. Add flour and stir to form a solid. This is the part you think people will notice about you. They won't. Cook the lump for a few moments until you grate some cheese and leave to the side; it is only part you need to prepare before you need to use it.
Slowly, so slowly, add milk to the roux you made from all your shame. Wait for it to be absorbed before adding more. Stir constantly, and keep adding milk, gently, carefully, adding enough to fill the pot halfway. Then add another splash of milk. It's better to be looking at it than looking for it. Any excess can be saved for later. That hard bit of yourself is fluid; it will become softer, indistinguishable from the sweet milk. You have not rid yourself of these bits; you can never get rid of them fully, but you have allowed them to disintegrate deep-within. Sublimated them. Do not be afraid to use a whisk to absorb the more stubborn parts. Do not go looking for the tiny remains that do not matter. Let all the hoping within begin to heal and hide your hurt.
When the last of the milk is added, turn up the heat. Boil it and purify. When bubbles appear around the edges of the pot, before the sauce begins to rise, add the cheese and reduce the heat. It should thicken, and this is how you know it's ready.
You are done. You are not finished. Find a deep oven dish, prepare sheets of pasta, and brace yourself for the tricky part. You can use fresh or dried sheets, it matters less than you think. Layer the bottom of the dish with the pasta-----confuse those who try to take your identity apart in layers. They will think there is more of you to devour, and they will be disappointed. Everything about you comes together. This base will make the lasagne easier to slice and serve. Next, a layer of your first sauce--the tomato--the colours of your life most noticeable. Add roughly half, spread to the edge. Let the red take up all the room in the pan; this is you and you need to. Now, another layer of pasta to give structure. Try to avoid cracks. If you must, overlap sheets. But if the dry pasta does crack, be unconcerned. Everything has its cracks. Everyone, their broken places.
A layer of cheese sauce on its own. This will not be noticed, but it is vital. It is for you. A layer of fear sandwiched between pasta. On top of the third layer of pasta, the rest of the red sauce. Add the white cheese sauce directly on top. It is the most complex layer, and you must measure it exactly. If you have any red sauce leftover, dribble it on the top----a little colour added to the pure creaminess promises that there is more to be found underneath.
Cook the lasagne on low temperature, Gas Mark 4/177°C/350°F for at least an hour. This step cannot be rushed. It is here you are reconstructed; needing time to come together. Time to soften enough for someone else to cut through and enjoy. Structure, not rigidity. When the lasagna has finished, the top will brown. Take it out. Serve with all the condiments you love. Watch them enjoy it. Listen to them compliment the taste. Smell the warmth of inviting flavours. Be proud. Devour all the traces of this finished product, and remember that you were never less than something complete.
Rhiannon Lindsay-Andrews is a graduating student at the University of Dundee; her creativity and courage speak for themselves in her actions. She is currently organising a Prose Reading Event to be held in June. If interested in attending, comment below or direct message her via her Instagram account attached: https://www.instagram.com/rhiannoncla/.