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Barely Baked Summer Lasagna

I’ve heard it’s officially summertime. ‘What are you talking about? Of course it’s summer,’ you may proclaim in response. Right. Your summer and my summer are most likely very different. Shorts, sandals, baseball. 75 to 80 degrees, time for the air conditioning. No, no. That’s not summer to me. My kind of summer is the real deal. Scorchingly hot afternoons with humidity that can only be broken by gulping down an icy beer. Blinding sunshine that will make tank tops stick to you even under the shaded recluse of trees. Ceiling fans, open windows, breathing in that hot summer smell of barbeque, listening to neighbors somewhere in the distance cutting a lawn or building something with electric saws. This is the kind of weather that makes me happy, literally. Anything else is just filler.

Why not move somewhere with this weather year round, you ask? Now that’s just foolish-talk. I mean, come on now. You can’t watch college football without leaves falling through crisp air. Christmas isn’t Christmas without mittens and cozy knee socks. And how are you supposed to enjoy hearty beef stew without an overpriced pumpkin candle burning on the kitchen counter?

Most importantly, this is New York. Busy, fast, sleepless New York City. Art. Food. Broadway. Legally insane people free to roam the streets and live in your apartment complex. So while I wish the weather could eternally hit 95 degrees aside from the few exceptions listed above, I am willing to deal with the cold and gloomy spells in order to soak up every stitch of life I can get my hands on here.

Part of that life is experimenting with new ideas and handing the results off for others to judge, like neighbors, albeit not the insane ones. My friend downstairs just had another baby. This, in and of itself, is fascinating to me. A family of five happily staying put in an apartment home, instead of running for the suburbs. Why? Because they love this city and would rather live a somewhat traditional life, condensed and up close to culture, rather than in some mansion with rooms collecting dust.

This particular momma does it all. As in, she raises her kids with no hired help – ! – chooses no escape to some other day job, and encourages normal childhoods. Drawing with chalk on the sidewalk in ridiculous outfits, climbing (and falling from) the playground monkeybars, building forts with found materials in the house. Sound familiar, anyone? I believe this was life before books and internets told us how to parent and prepackage society…

Now, of course she and her husband would still appreciate a hand in their brand new situation, no? A daily goal of keeping three other humans alive each day seems like a daunting task to me, and part of that goal includes placing food on the table. So I decided to start making a little dinner pan every so often for them, until they’re into the groove of a family of five. Last week, I had half a jar of tomato puree, a container of house made ricotta from the highly addictive cheese shop down the street, and a little bit of ground beef. This will do, I assumed.

Then, I remembered. It’s June! How we rolled into June already I am not sure, but here we are. June, with fake summer weather. As you can see from previous posts, I am apt to force future seasons into meals, and this is what happened with the lasagna. Our windows were open and it was warm enough with the oven preheating that it felt like the middle of summer, so I figured I could just throw this together quickly and try a minimally cooked method.

Together in a bowl I combined the tomato puree, a small shallot, the raw beef, salt and pepper and herbs from the garden – thyme, basil, oregano. To the ricotta itself, I seasoned it and whipped in a little heavy cream to further soften it. After stretching out the noodles, I ran them through the crank a third time, in order to press them as thinly as possible. This way I could ensure they would cook enough in the oven so that when this dish was ready to eat, it would only need a quick reheat.

I began to layer the pan: noodles with a quick drizzle of olive oil, sauce, ricotta, then freshly grated Parmigiano. Repeat until all ingredients are gone. Fend off envious glares from cute husband, once he realizes this is not for him. Final drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, then bake off at 350 for about 45 minutes.

The beef had already absorbed most of the tomato by the time I layered the lasagna, but I actually liked that concept. The dish looked summery and light, so that each helping would be a nice taste of all the flavors without seeming out-of-season heavy. The idea was to keep something like a baked pasta casserole seasonal and adaptable, and hopefully I succeeded.

I think it turned out pretty well, and next time I make it, Frank will get to weigh in on the minimally cooked method. As for the neighbors, it’s finally warming up enough in Brooklyn to start coming home to chalk art, and I’ll get a full rundown on the lasagna in their yard this weekend over rosé and three (!) little ones to adore.

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