It is well known that in wintertime, a girl’s fancy turns to melted cheese, which is why I had to make the Pesto and Cheddar Lasagna recipe from Food & Wine: America’s Greatest New Cooks.
It is high-class comfort food, with layers of pesto-bechamel sauce, sharp white cheddar and lasagne noodles. Its preparation is a little involved. The pesto needs to be made by hand (I fear store-bought pesto, while an easy short-cut, would have too much oil in it and result in a greasy bechamel sauce). Then there’s the bechamel sauce, which takes time and patience as you wait for the butter and flour to thicken up the six cups of milk. After that, however, you have the pleasure of playing with your food – isn’t the joy of lasagna-making the spreading and smearing and layering? And then you get to eat it! In all its garlicky cheesiness! If you are very lucky and a little forgetful, you will be rewarded for neglecting your lasagne in the oven with a bottom layer of noodles that have crisped up and taste of caramelized cheese.
This is a nifty cookbook full of innovative and interesting recipes. While it honors America’s new cooks, many of the recipes included deserve to become timeless. Next up: The chicken thigh ragù with pappardelle and the chocolate brownie cookies, Food & Wine editor Dana Cowen called “the most delicious” she’s ever had.
Marissa Rothkopf Bates, creator of www.sugarandspouse.com
Pesto & Cheddar Lasagna
¼ cup pine nuts
4 cups packed basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
¾ cup all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk, warmed
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ pounds dried lasagna noodles
1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1. In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat until leightly golden, about 4 minutes; let ocol. In a food processor, pulse the basil with the pine nuts and garlic until finely chopped. With the machine on, drizzle in the olive oil and process until a past forms. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt the 1 ½ sticks of butter over moderate heat. Whisk in the flour to make a paste an dcook until bubbling, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth and bring to a boil Simmer over moderately low heat, whisking, ntil the sauce is thick and no floury taste remains, bout 7 minutes. Stir in the pesto and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Cover and remove from the heat.
3. Preheat the oven to 400° and butter a 9-x-13-inch ceramic baking dish. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the lasagna noodles until al dente, 6 to 7 minutes. Drain the noodles and transfer to a baking sheet.
4. Spread 1/3 cup of the pesto sauce in the prepared baking dish. Arrange a single layer of the noodles over the sauce. Top with one-fourth of the remaining sauce and one-third of the cheddar. Repeat this layering twice, then top with a final layer of noodles and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the Parmigiano on top.
5. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the top is golden in spots. Cover loosely and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Make ahead: The unbaked lasagna can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.