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Wednesday, 22 June 2016 14:50

It was a lasagna noodle epiphany

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In the beginning, we peered at each other’s avatars across a quiet chat room. No one, everyone, it seemed, wanted to be the first to write.

It was January 2006 and we were all of us new enrollees in the Humber School for Writers’ mentorship program by correspondence.
We’d each been paired with CanLit veterans, and for my part, I’d been stress eating ever since receiving my acceptance letter.
My classmates were similarly on edge. While we each were working to somewhat different schedules, on wildly varying manuscripts, most were expected to deliver 30 pages every two weeks for the next six months.
“Hi. My name is Darcie and I think I’m going to need a 10-step program for getting through this,” I wrote, reaching into the back of my desk drawer for the Christmas chocolate hidden there.
“Who does everyone have for mentors?” someone asked, provoking a list of names, but few illustrations, fearing our teachers might be looking over our shoulders, sorting the sheep from the goats.
“Anyone want to share their writing bios, just so we know who’s who?” wrote one student. In answer to which, the names of a few journals began to appear, and I typed into a text balloon.
“I’m studying fiction, but write a food column for newspapers.”
“That has to be the best job ever!” several chimed in.
They weren’t wrong.
So it happened that we students, mostly women, became an unlikely, flung-across-the-country-and-overseas, kaffeeklatch.
(Sorry to say, but the two men who showed up didn’t want to exchange recipes, and eventually left the conversation.)
We chatted, almost equally, about writing workshops and bake shops. We shared ultra-secret recipes for raspberry white chocolate scones, mashed potato cinnamon buns, and Caribbean squash soup, while discussing how to flesh out believable characters.
In the years since, food has kept our klatch together as much as our mutual smitten-ness with words.
We’ve learned to navigate the world of publishers and agents, writing competitions, and Greek halva.
We’ve even met one another, a few at a time, over chocolate cupcakes in Alberta; grilled octopus, duck ravioli and cannoli in Toronto; and curried carrot soup in Kelowna.
Lately, the subject turned once again to this column, when Amy McDonald shared a lasagna epiphany gleaned from the Moosewood Cookbook: Lasagna made with uncooked noodles.
 “I’m not talking about those horrid, pre-cooked noodles that end up tasting like sticky rubber bands,” wrote Amy. “But regular uncooked lasagna noodles. I tried it and it worked. I was elated.”
Last night, a new food scene for my novel-in-progress began to reveal itself.
But first things first. While I don’t have a copy of Moosewood, I have two lasagna pans, a box of noodles, and a plan.

Lasagna (makes 2)
7 cups tomato pasta sauce
1 large Farmer’s sausage, diced
600 grams lean ground beef
1 Tbsp chili powder
5 sprigs fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp canola oil
7 large white mushroom, sliced
1 1/2 large onions, diced
475 gram container Ricotta
170 gram bag baby spinach
6 sprigs fresh basil leaves
1 sprig parsley leaves, finely chopped
300 grams mozzarella
120 grams cheddar
kosher salt/fresh ground pepper
lasagna noodles
In a large skillet over med-high heat, brown beef. Add chilli powder, fresh oregano, salt and pepper.
In a separate skillet, wilt spinach. Season. Transfer to a bowl (do not drain) and set aside. Wipe skillet dry with a paper towel, add 1 tablespoon oil, set over high heat, and sear mushrooms until golden. Season. Set aside (do not drain).
To the skillet, add the second tablespoon of oil. Reduce heat and caramelize onions. In a large pot, combine sauce, beef, onions and farmer’s sausage. Heat until hot.
Into each of two lasagna dishes, spread a generous amount of sauce. Layer with uncooked lasagna noodles, breaking to fit where necessary. Cover with more sauce and swirl in ricotta. Top with mushrooms and spinach (and their liquids). Sprinkle with cheeses, top with basil and a sprinkling of parsley, followed by a second layer of noodles, then remaining sauce. Top with cheese and parsley.
Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.

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