Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lasagna with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Before I share an incredible recipe, let me first tell you a story.

As I write this, I’ve been without an internet connection or cable TV for a week. When I first discovered the issue, I tried the unplug-wait 30 seconds-replug thing — twice.  Then I called Comcast and chose the automated option to “send a refresh signal to my modem” pretty confident that would do the trick.  

I was wrong.

So I had to do the thing most of us absolutely dread…call Customer Service.  

The automated attendant told me my wait time was “less than four minutes.”  That information was helpful.

And true.

So Nancy gets on the line and I explain my predicament. She informs me that the reason none of the usual tricks worked is that my modem is outdated and I need a new one. She launched right into “you have three choices….” This is what happened next:

Me: “Hold it, before you give me my three choices, why didn’t Comcast inform me prior to loosing service that I needed a new modem?’’  
Nancy:  (Seriously, this is what she said!) “We don’t have your email address on file.”  
Me: (After I composed myself) “Really?! Do you realize how incredibly ridiculous that sounds….my personal e-mail account is through Comcast!”
Nancy:  “You have three choices.”
At that point I realized resistance was futile and I chose the “send me the modem self-set-up kit” option.  Well, between two daughters, a future son-in-law and me, that didn’t work either and now I have to wait for a technician scheduled to come at 3:00 on Sunday.

Still no service.  You can’t make this stuff up.  There's the source of my consternation, right up there.

In other less technical and complicated news…it was my turn to cook this past Wednesday and I made Lasagna with Spicy Roasted Cauliflower.  I love the New York Times.  Not only is it a widely read and respected news publication, it’s also a dependable destination for delicious recipes.  I subscribe to their recipe blast called NYT Cooking and this recipe was one of the jewels shared recently.

I also love spicy food and often wondered why some peppers are spicier than others.  The answer is a little chemical called capsaicin.  The higher the level of capsaicin, the more potent the pepper.  Pepper heat is measured using the Scoville Scale, a method developed in 1912 by the chemist, Wilber Scoville.  The method requires diluteing the capsinoids of different varieties of peppers in water until the spiciness was no longer detected…the higher the dilution required, the hotter the pepper.  A bell pepper rates a “0” on the scale and a habanero rates a 200,000 on the scale, meaning the capsaicin had to be diluted 200,000 times before the heat was unnoticeable.  Recently, more precise methods have been developed to measure heat…ones that don’t rely so much on the fickleness of the human palate.

Capsaicin resides in the pepper’s white membrane and the coating on the seeds, so it’s important to wear gloves when slicing them or your fingers will BURN.  I learned the hard way.

Capsaicin has been used in cancer research and some studies show that it efficiently attacks cancer cells leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Lasagna With Spicy Roasted Cauliflower
By:  NYT Cooking (adapted)

1 ½ pounds cauliflower (market did not have fresh cauliflower so I used two bags of frozen)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade from fresh or canned tomato (I used a good quality jarred sauce…don’t be mad)
7 to 8 ounces no-boil lasagna
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups of grated mozzarella (my addition)
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley (my addition)
1/4 cup vegetable stock or chicken stock
Pinch of cinnamon
4 ounces (1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut away the bottom of the cauliflower stem and trim off the leaves. Cut the cauliflower into slices 1/3 inch thick, letting the florets on the edges fall off. Toss all of it, including the bits that have fallen away, with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on the baking sheet in an even layer. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring and flipping over the big slices after 8 minutes, until the slices are tender when pierced with a paring knife and the small florets are nicely browned. Remove from the oven, toss with the red pepper flakes and set aside. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Blend the ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parsley, stock, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Set aside.  Oil a rectangular baking dish and spread a spoonful of tomato sauce over the bottom. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Spoon a thin layer of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with a layer of cauliflower, then a layer of tomato sauce and a layer of Parmesan. Repeat the layers, ending with a layer of lasagna noodles topped with tomato sauce and Parmesan.

Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and place in the oven. Bake 40 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the mixture is bubbling. Uncover and, if you wish, bake another 10 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

You can prepare this up to a day in advance, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to cook.  I just roasted the cauliflower the night before and assembled it right before baking.  For roasting the cauliflower, I did not use the parchment paper but I did let my baking stone get hot in the oven before I added the prepared cauliflower.   The parchment paper does does make clean-up easier and if you want to eliminate some of the olive oil, parchment will keep roasted vegetables from sticking to the pan. 

This recipe is deceptively good….very satisfying with a good balance of flavors.  The roasted cauliflower is naturally sweet, the cinnamon is a savory secret and, of course, the red pepper flakes add the heat!  Do try this for a stick-to-your-ribs-meal!

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