Anything but Ramen: Lasagna as a spiritual adventure

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on discovering a mystical lasagna recipe

Recently, I took a road trip to the most exciting city on earth: Kansas City, Mo. And by “exciting,” I mean “incredibly average." There were lots of fountains and some cool buildings, but it was a mostly forgettable experience.

At some point on my grand adventure, I found myself in an outdoor flea market. Scrambling to find something remotely entertaining in the entire city, I started flipping through a very old cookbook, and found a recipe simply titled, “Lasagna.” I don’t know if it was the regularity and mystery of the 60-year-old cookbook, or the distinct disinterest for the city of fountains that had washed over me, or the fact that I really enjoy a quality lasagna, but at that moment, I felt as if it was my duty to make that recipe as soon as I got home. I quickly took a picture of the page and continued on my tour of the least exciting city on Earth.

When I got home, I read the recipe more thoroughly and realized this lasagna was much more complicated than I thought it was going to be. Specifically, I forgot that the basic construction of lasagna required me to create every element of the lasagna individually and then layer them together like a cake. If I were, for example, making a steak, then the only item that I would actually have to cook would be the steak itself. But for this lasagna, and really for any lasagna, I had to cook the noodles, the sauce and any other meats or vegetables that I might want and then bake it in the oven.

This specific recipe, however, only called for sautéed mushrooms, so I only had to make noodles, sauce and mushrooms. Regardless, I was still intimidated by the notion that I was going to have to cook three separate things and then put them together and cook them again.

I started coming up with excuses to not make the lasagna.

“That seems like a lot of responsibility,” I told myself. “You don’t need all that stress in your life. Go order a pizza and watch 'The Bachelorette' until your problems melt away.”

But just as I had officially given up on my lasagna ambitions, something came over me. I felt that obligation to make the lasagna just as I had in Kansas City. It was like a spiritual combination of the tree lady from “Pocahontas” and one of those old Italian housewives from “The Godfather” was commanding me to cook lasagna like my life depended on it. And so, with my weird Italian/Native American spirit guide at my side, I began cooking.

I broke the lasagna recipe down into four steps: noodles, sauce, mushrooms and baking.

The noodles were pretty straightforward. Boil water, add noodles, wait 10 minutes, strain, done.

The sauce was considerably more complicated than that. It required heating up some milk, heating up a butter and flour mixture separately, mixing the two at the exact right time and then cooking it until the exact right time. I was leaning on my spirit guide to help me make a decent sauce, but after I had mixed everything together, I thought that the sauce looked too runny.

I asked my spirit guide if I should add more flour. No response. I panicked and threw a little bit more flour into the sauce, which turned out to be an awful idea, because now my sauce was still watery and had floating pieces of flour inside. I decided to cut my losses and consider the sauce “finished,” even though it looked more like wet cement than an actual pasta sauce.

I chopped up a bunch of mushrooms and sautéed them quickly, and by the time I started layering my lasagna, my sauce had actually thickened and looked much more edible than it had at first. I layered the lasagna, threw it in the oven for 45 minutes and thanked my spirit guide for helping me through my struggle.

An hour later, I consumed six servings of amazing lasagna and lied on my couch with an enormous food baby. I decided that cooking and eating massive amounts of lasagna must be what people from Kansas City do for fun, and I gained a newfound respect for what used to be the least exciting city in the world.

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