Ode to a Cast Iron Pot + Lasagna Without a Recipe

Lasagna Without a Recipe

The first line formed before I finished washing the dishes, after I had given the béchamel its final stir Two days before, I made the bolognese, so everything would be prepared before Friday, when I would boil the noodles and assemble the lasagna so it would be ready for dinner on Sunday. Five days of preparation for a meal that would end up sustaining us for three days. 

In addition to lasagna, there was also a poem to be made. I didn't plan to write one, but I listened when the urge arose. I walked to the computer, and out it came like one long breath. Maybe it's because I recently finished reading all of Pablo Neruda's odes. Every last one. Neruda finds beauty in ironing, in flowers, in tables, in the smell of wind. If you're looking for a new collection to add to your shelf, this is a good one.

My own contribution is an ode to my red cast iron pot.


Ode to a Cast Iron Pot

One day, a béchamel. The day after,
carrot soup. And the next, grains
of stumpy rice prepare for the submersion. 

The pot accepts all: whisking, tapping,
scraping with an old wooden spoon. Even a long 
soak on the counter or the boiling water, a fizz

of baking soda to pull up the remains that wanted
to leave a wound. So, your interior is tinged yellow or 
brown. As long as I could, I kept you protected,

but now you are worn like the rest of us, entering 
the kitchen with faded scars, filling you
to the brim with red sauces, expecting our hungers

to melt like a yellow stick of hot butter.

I rarely make lasagna. Many years ago I experimented with a fall-inspired version featuring butternut squash, sage béchamel, and ground turkey. I loved the flavors, yet didn't love the effort it took. But Food52 is right, you don't need a recipe for lasagna. You need a mood, a couple of sturdy pots, and an appetite. 

I made a double batch of bolognese (2 pounds ground beef + onion, carrot, celery, and garlic finely minced + 2 28-ounce cans tomatoes + a bay leaf + water + a few hours on the stove), and used the Food52 method for béchamel (1 stick butter, 1 cup flour, four cups milk + salt, pepper, and I added chopped basil). Then the noodles, then the great assembly line, then the avalanche of cheese. Cooking it this way feels so rooted, because when you've freed yourself from a recipe and trust your instincts, you realize that your hands remember everything, and it's possible to feel your way around in a dark kitchen without so much as a flick of the light switch.