By now, most people are aware of the Onion Theory of Communication or Social Penetration Theory. As someone who enjoys preparing and eating good food, I have to wonder why the theory, originated by social psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor in the early 1970s, relies on the lowly onion to reveal such a complex idea. Maybe because it's now such a universal root, cultivated and eaten throughout most of the world? Given the current globalization and resulting complexity of everything, including cuisine, perhaps the time has come for consuming a new, more elaborate metaphor: Walk2Write's Lasagna Theory of Social Penetration.
I've been preparing this dish for more than 30 years so I know a thing or two about how it can spark a conversation and cement relationships. We (SAM and I) were newly wed, and it was the first dish I prepared for "important company," namely SAM's first boss and his wife. It made a favorable impression on them, and I was even asked for the recipe. I was overjoyed that it turned out so well, but why should I have been surprised? The recipe has only failed me one time, and that was when I prepared it in someone else's kitchen using her not-so-fresh ingredients. Yes, the quality of the ingredients make a big difference, so don't even think about using ancient pasta or cheese that's a little green around the edges. Conversation will fall flat on its face in a hurry.
The recipe (discourse) begins (I hope!):
1 pound of lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken
1 medium size onion, chopped finely
1 green pepper, chopped finely
Combine the above ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat until most of the moisture has evaporated. This step is important, and I'm guessing it's because the other ingredients' unique flavors would be lost in excess vapor when they are added later on. Have you ever noticed how the same kind of thing happens when someone or a select few dominate the conversation?
Add to saucepan:
28-32 ounces crushed tomatoes
12 ounces tomato paste
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
A few bay leaves
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. dried chipotle or other red pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup honey (more or less depending on how acidic the tomatoes are)
Simmer for at least one hour over low heat with the lid slightly ajar. Remove bay leaves if you can find them. If they're as old as the hills, they can crumble and get lost in the sauce. It's sort of like what happens to an elderly statesman these days in a room full of freshman lawmakers.
Prepare a 13 x 9-inch glass pan by coating it liberally inside with olive oil. Ladle enough of the sauce in the pan to cover the bottom of it. Arrange dry lasagna noodles (I use whole wheat pasta) over the sauce to cover it. Reserve the rest of the meat/tomato sauce for the final layer.
32 oz. small curd cottage cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Spread just enough of the above ingredients to cover the noodles. Cover with grated mozzarella. Repeat with another two layers (noodles and then cottage cheese mixture) but without sauce and without mozzarella. The final layer will consist of noodles, cottage cheese mixture, and the remaining meat/tomato sauce. I haven't mentioned the exact quantity of noodles required for the recipe because it varies. The brand you buy, the size and thickness of the noodle, the number of layers you decide upon: all of these factors determine how much you will use. It's much safer to speak in generalities at first anyway. People think you're weird if you get too specific or seem to know everything about a subject. There's no room for discussion. They think you think you're an expert, and the relationship is over before it begins.
Cover with heavy duty aluminum foil (necessary to cook the dry noodles). Bake in 375-degree (Fahrenheit) oven for at least one hour, maybe 1 1/4 hours, depending on the number of layers. Uncover pan (carefully! the trapped steam is very hot) and add enough grated mozzarella cheese to cover sauce. Return pan to oven and bake uncovered at 400 degrees for another 15 minutes or until cheese browns.
This is a dish suitable for guests, best served with a mixed green salad, some French or Italian bread drizzled with olive oil, and a bottle of dry red wine. Of note, it also works fairly well with the Chronobiotic nutrition plan that SAM and I are trying. It's a "shrub" dish (please see my earlier post). The eggs and the onion are the only exceptions to the rule of "shrub" since they're both considered "roots."
|Peanut, the Skate-on-the-Stairs Cat|
The laminae have more stamina
The lamellae aren't as smelly
These layers are oh-so nice
When you're trying to break the ice