The Tao of Lasagne


Some years ago I was handed a book along with a you-have-to-read-this instruction. “It will change your life”, my friend said. I duly read the book (which didn’t take too long — it’s quite a short book) and — surprise, surprise — my life stayed exactly where it had been before the read. The book in question was called The Tao of Pooh. I knew the eponymous Pooh, but had absolutely no clue what a Tao might have been. I started reading. Ok, it’s some eastern philosophy, I am thinking but, frankly, I didn’t particularly get close to understanding what exactly Tao was, and how it can reasonably be applied to bears of fiction. I have read much more on Tao since then and still I am not exactly certain I really get it. Perhaps I am just a bit of a Philistine when it comes to Eastern philosophies.

Anyway, I recalled the book when I had a bit of a moment on the day last week when I cooked lasagne. It was a lovely day. The sun was unusually strong for March, the light was perfect, but otherwise it wasn’t especially notable for being different to any other day. I scoured the pantry for herbs, tins of tomatoes and pastes, an old pack of dried lasagne that was just in-date and began to prep for what constitutes one of my favorite dishes. It wasn’t until I sank my teeth into my first bite some considerable hours later that day that I thought that I felt like a light was shining down on me and I was all alone in the universe with my grub. I helped myself to more and then, having cleaned my plate a second time, went back for thirds. And the feeling of euphoria never wavered, the light never dimmed. I was in some sort of rip in the space-time-continuum (isn’t that what they call it on Star Trek?). I fell through a wormhole into a pasta paradigm that didn’t seem logical, Captain. And when I returned I couldn’t help thinking that if a fictitious bear could get its own spiritual text, then hell, so should this magnificent dish (not mine in particular, but lasagne in general of course).

Since that moment, I have spent a lot of time trying to consider how to write the Tao of Lasagne or Being in the Moment with Lasagne or Out of the Kitchen and Into the Light via Lasagne or some such. Indeed I have given more thought to it than most things I have written. Would you believe I have written this piece several times and I think, only now, that I am heading down the right track. I am not especially spiritual you see (though I believe food can be good for the soul), so to break out some New Age lexicon and begin applying it to lasagne was more challenging than I had thought. Reluctantly, I have given up on the endeavor of the book and thought instead to write only this.

Here is what I love about lasagne. First, ask a hundred different people to prepare a dish of it, and I guarantee you will get a hundred different versions. There is no prescription for the perfect lasagne because the perfect lasagne does not exist.

Can there be any food label that is as specific as lasagne (a dish of meat and/or vegetables layered between sheets of pasta and white sauce that may be cheesy) yet at the same time, so vague that it really doesn’t matter at all what you put in it? It may be zucchini and broccoli with fresh sage, a béchamel sauce with melted feta layered between sheets of lasagne for heaven’s sake and it is still lasagne.

You can make it really complicated (render down some pancetta, add some chicken livers and minced beef and pork to get that meat sauce really intense) or you can keep it straight-forward (a pound or two of mince beef, well seasoned, with the normal accoutrements will do for most). You can contemplate the ingredients and get really Zen about the whole thing… grate your nutmeg into your sauce from a great height and let it fall like stardust for all I care. Or you can just chuck in whatever happens to be calling out from the recesses of your pantry or fridge that may (or may not) add to the finished product. I bet it will still taste just as good.

You can throw together that béchamel in the classic, time-consuming and lump-encouraging way that master chefs seem to favor (and who annoyingly make it look like simplicity itself to pull off), or you can combine the butter, flour and milk in a pan (and leave out the bay leaves because you forgot to buy some), whisk it well while you heat it, and it will still be fine.

Are you beginning to see my point here? Lasagne doesn’t care if you are Gordon Bloody Ramsey or not. It just wants you to have a go and, dare I say, have some fun in the process.

And when you finally get to eat it (having sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the glass door of your stove watching the grated Parmesan brown like autumn and the juices bubble up around the edges so that they spill causing damage to the oven that you know you will have to clean someday but not today because today is Lasagne Day) you think for a moment that perhaps there is an omnipotent force at work here because nothing this good can just exist without some powerful intervention somewhere. Sure, “I made it”, you say. But you can’t really believe you made something that makes you feel so good. And, the truth is, you didn’t really. No. All the millions and millions of lasagnes that have gone before yours have put the soul into the very dish that scalded the palate of your mouth because you simply weren’t patient enough to let it cool sufficiently before you devoured it.

Can you see why that book jumped into my head now? I obviously had some sort of experience and felt obliged to share it with the world. Maybe ego had something to do with it and I just fancied the idea of wearing some bland, stay-press outfit, sitting on a raised chair and calling myself the Lasagne Guru. Not for me, I guess.

Had I written that book, maybe I would have got caught up in language like a pinch of soul and be the space for the seasoning and meditate the meat and written something clever, perhaps asserting that the preparation and eating of lasagne is a metaphor for a better way of being. But. most likely, you wouldn’t have believed me. Would you?

Even now though, I bet you’re trying to remember the last time you cooked lasagne and thinking to yourself that, just maybe, you might make one tomorrow.

(I’d publish my recipe from last week if I could remember it. I also know that the next one I make will be quite different.)

Re: The Tao of Lasagne

You must publish a recipe soon! Please. I’ll be dreaming about your lasagne until then…

Re: The Tao of Lasagne

I have published a recipe here. It’s a suggestion of a recipe and by no means a definitive one. Good luck with it.

Re: The Tao of Lasagne