It’s no secret that food provides people with comfort and a sense of security. When we’re feeling our most fragile, emotionally or physically, there’s more to a meal than just in the eating, particularly when a meal is given as a gift. And while the giver often responds with ‘It’s nothing!’ to your ‘You shouldn’t have!’, you can’t help but feel a little lighter knowing someone has thought enough of you to help out in what might be the only way they know how. In every act of the giving and taking of food, relationships and people grow stronger.
My friend Annemarie was there with a platter of finger food on the morning of my wedding as the bridal party busied themselves with makeup and hair. Then she was sneakily leaving casseroles and quiches at my front door in the first few weeks back from hospital with my first newborn.
Whether it’s a new mother home from hospital contemplating life with a baby, a relative recuperating from an illness or operation or a friend going through a tough break up, sometimes the only way you feel you can help is come bearing food. I never know if it’s the right time to call for a chat (what if I wake the baby, or worse, the new mum?), or what if I put my foot in my mouth and say something stupid during those uncomfortable silences? I’ve always found that bearing a small gift of food seems to break the ice somewhat and serves as a friendly reminder that you are thinking about them, even after you’ve said your goodbyes.
Recently I got news of a friend going through a particularly tough time so it wasn’t long before I had my head in the spare container cupboard searching for lids that fit bottoms (do they go to the same place as missing socks?) to portion up a dish of our family’s favourite for a special home delivery.
Do you have a go-to dish for when you have a friend in need? Have you ever been on the receiving end and thanked your lucky stars for the thought? I know I have.
Neil Perry’s Best-Ever Lasagne
9 instant cook lasagne sheets
500 g fresh buffalo or cow’s milk mozzarella
100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
6 garllic cloves, finely chopped
300g pork mince
300g veal mince
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
pinch of caster sugar
700ml tomato passata
400g tinned diced tomatoes
1 large handful basil leaves
50g unsalted butter
2 tbs plain flour
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
You will need a lasagne dish with dimensions around 23×29 x7cm. I used a Pyrex baking dish w dimensions of 22.5x33x6cm and while there was some extra space lengthways that might have had more to do with the size of the lasagne sheets I used. Next time I’ll try jumbo sized sheets.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Start with the meat sauce. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, but not browned. Add the garlic and cook till fragrant – just a few minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add both of the meats and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon for about 4 minutes, or until the meat loses its raw colour but has not browned. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes, then pour in the vinegar and stir occasionally till it has almost evaporated.
Add the sugar and passata and diced tomatoes and allow the sauce to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until it reduces and has started to thicken slightly. Adjust the seasoning as needed (I like lots of pepper). Stir through the basil leaves and set the sauce aside.
To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the flour to the butter and stir constantly over the heat, for 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the milk all at once, whisking constantly to avoid any lumps. Return the pan to the heat and continue to whisk constantly, until the sauce boils and thickens. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the lasagne, spread one-quarter of the meat sauce into the base of the lasagne dish. Cover the meat sauce using three of the lasagne sheets. Spread another quarter of the meat sauce over the lasagne, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella. Continue to layer the lasagne sheets, meat sauce and mozzarella two more times. Pour the béchamel sauce over the final layer of mozzarella, then sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan.
Cook the lasagne for 30 minutes, or until the cheese has browned and the sauce is bubbling. Remove the lasagne from the oven and let it stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Neil Perry’s Good FoodShare this on: