Lolita loves herself a three-day weekend, and this July 4th provided just that – with perfect weather, no less! Our little roof deck in the sky proved to be the prime place for this year’s fireworks. In the past, the 18 story apartment complex a block away from us used to eclipse practically the whole light-show, and all we’d see was an intermittently glowing building with a few stray sparks escaping from the sides from time to time. But the fire-barge must have moved up the Charles a bit – or the building moved down, which is highly improbable – because last night we could see almost all of the fireworks, and they were *beautiful*! With the sounds of the Boston Pops and Martina McBride piping through my speakers from the TV indoors, Claytonious husbandius and I had excellent seats – with wine and cigars a’ smokin’ – for our town’s legendary Independence Day celebration.
And what goes best with independence? Why, lobster, of course! Historically speaking, before lobster became all haute couture as they is today, they used to be so abundant on the shores of the Northeast colonies that the crustaceans would wash in with the tides, leaving creepy crawly banks of the critters all along the coast. Back then, it was considered “poverty” food, good enough only for servants and slaves — so the irony of linking lobster with independence isn’t lost on Lolita. Still, today it rings in at $8.99/lb (for hard-shell 1 1/2lbers at Yankee Lobster off of Fan Pier), and we have it seldom enough that it’s still super-special to me and mine.
Er, except the lobsters we bought for Sunday’s dinner were HUGE, and after eating claws, knuckles, and legs with truffled melted butter and all the side fixin’s, we were so stuffed that we saved our tails for Monday’s dinner. “Lobster two nights in a row?” said Clayton, “Who do you think we are, the Rockefellers?” No, thought I, not the Rockefellers — just their well fed neighbors from across the tracks. That’s where a light but luscious lobster lasagna can be found, served with a quick salad and a glass of crisp white wine, for a delicious dinner al fresco on our nation’s day of Independence. Yankee Doodle Yummy!
Luscious Lobster Lasagna
8oz cooked lobster meat (I used two tails)
1/2 package lasagna noodles
2 tbs butter
1 cup half n’ half
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely diced carrots
1/2 cup finely diced celery
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese
6oz fresh mozzarella cheese
iceberg lettuce, wedged
Every time I make lasagna, it’s too big. We have a craptastic freezer, and no microwave anyway, so making stuff to hold and eat days later isn’t feasible for us. I also had a limited amount of lobster meat, so I decided to make a small loaf-pan’s worth of lasagna — which was just the right amount! My noodles being the normal size, though, I had to break them up a bit to make them fit into the pyrex dish. To make it easier to serve, I broke each noodle roughly in half before fitting them into the dish — I thought this would prevent the unfortunate squishing out of all the innards that sometimes happens with a gooey center. In the long run, it was a good idea.
90° outside means it’s almost 100° in our pad, so cooking indoors is out of the question if we ever want to, er, wear clothing in the house during summer nights. We’ve always been creative with Little Red, but we’d never boiled water on him before; I’m happy to say that he stepped up the challenge! Since all I’m doing is cooking off my lasagna noodles so they’ll be easy to handle, I dump about 8 cups of salted water into my pasta boiler and set it, covered, over the preheated coils under Little Red’s grill.
He doesn’t close all the way, but this is close enough for government work. It takes a while, but after about 30 minutes my water is boiling. Boo-ya! That’s one less preparation technique I need to suffer through indoors during the summer.
A glug of EVOO keeps my pasta sheets from sticking together. I cook them to slightly less than al dente, since they’ll continue to cook when I bake off the casserole later, then I set them aside to hold in cold water until I need them.
These are the ingredients for my filling and sauce – more or less. (There should be an egg in there, and some spinach – but I forgot to include them in this set-up shot. Whoops.)
Here are my eggs. These are so fresh from the farm they still have chicken funk stuck to them, so I have to wash the outsides, then my hands, before I can handle any more food. Still – they were in a chicken yesterday, and will be in my belly tonight; that’s pretty darn fresh.
Not all my prep can be done outside, at least not while the sun’s setting and the bugs are flying madly about. So I have to make my bechamel and filling inside – but all’s good, since it doesn’t take too long, and requires only a little heat. I start by mincing my celery, carrots, and garlic.
I also chiffonade my spinach. All these veggies will give my lasagna some crunch and texture, as well as simple garden flavors.
In my large skillet, I melt my butter and soften my garlic, before adding about a tablespoon of flour, which I whisk in well to make a roux. I let this cook for a few moments over medium heat, allowing the roux to darken ever-so slightly.
I next whisk in my half n’ half, continuing to cook over medium heat until the bechamel has begun to thicken.
Some salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg gets added for flavor…
… before the addition of my veggies, which I stir in very well.
This could almost be eaten as a soup – a primavera cream soup. I allow this to simmer, encouraging the spinach to soften and release its color by continuing to mix well, and I add about 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmagiano reggiano to the mix before removing the pan from the heat.
In a separate bowl, I’ve mixed my ricotta, my fresh mozz (which I’ve torn from little balls into littler balls), my beaten egg, more parm, and some salt and pepper together.
It’s time to layer the lasagna. I’ve greased up my loaf pan, and I start with a slather of my spinachy bechamel.
Then I lay two noodle halves over the base, stud them with some of my chopped lobster meat, and then I drop two or three healthy dollops of my cheese blend on top, before spooning another slather of spinach sauce over everything. I repeat this process for about 5 layers.
After topping the lasagna with the last of the bechamel and some more grated parm, I place the whole pan onto Little Red’s grill before closing the lid and walking away for about 30 minutes.
The fireworks may fall in the east, but the western sky right now is a study in light and shadow that easily rivals what we’ll be watching shortly, after the moon is high and the sun has completely sunk past the horizon.
As a complement to the lobster lasagna, I’ve thrown together a super quick salad: wedges of iceberg lettuce and tiny ripe salted tomatoes, topped with capers, ranch dressing and EVOO. Sometimes it’s the easiest things to make that are the most satisfying.
After 20 minutes or so, I check to see that my lasagna is bubbling hot, and nicely crispy brown on top. I remove it from the grill and set it to rest, loosely covered, for about 15 minutes before cutting into it (which will help it set).
This white light lobster lasagna has an almost ethereal quality: it’s hot and filling, to be sure, but the tender shellfish chunks and fluffy puffy baked cheese are bright, fresh, buttery and garlicky flavors, offset by wee bits of carrots and celery. The crunchy salad with the sharp briny capers brings balance to the palate, and each bite is better than the last. As the night closes in and the Pops warm up for the 1812 Overture, Clayton and I celebrate our freedom by devouring our dinners with gusto. Happy Independence Day, America! Here’s hoping that some day soon, we’ll be able to celebrate the freedom and happiness of every man, woman, and child on the planet – regardless of what they look like, where they come from, who they love or what they worship. World Peace, people – it’s not just for beauty queens.