Today I had a marvelous revelation: people are like pasta. In more ways than one.
Most all pasta noodles are made of the same basic ingredients, but they come in tons of different shapes and sizes. From the tiny, rice-like beads of orzo to the elegant tendrils of angel hair spaghetti, from playful bow-ties to whimsical seashells, each type is good for a pretty specific purpose. For instance, mac and cheese simply wouldn’t work if the macaroni noodles were swapped out for orzo. And an orzo salad made with macaroni wouldn’t be orzo salad, now would it? These particular contortions were all designed deliberately, to perform a certain culinary duty.
People are similar in that we are all cut out for a certain type of work. Everyone is good at something. And everyone is also bad at something. Some people can paint masterpieces, but could never memorize their multiplication tables. These people, if they have any common sense, don’t even attempt to go to engineering school. Hopefully they find some way to make a living and cultivate their talents and passions. If they cast aside their art for a more lucrative profession, they may just find themselves miserable and ready to cut off their ear.
This isn’t to say that people should never try new things. Sometimes we think we won’t be good at something, until we try it and realize, with practice and commitment, we can excel in ways we never imagined. I never thought I could bake without a mix until I took a deep breath and hauled the box of real flour out of the deep freeze. Now I’ve learned a lot about the principles of baking, and even begun to expand my knowledge into cooking. But there are boundaries when expanding one’s breadth of knowledge and ability: the territory one enters must be one that will complement, not write over, the person’s intrinsic talents and characteristics. For these are unchangeable, just as rotini cannot become tortellini.
Pasta should also explore new fields of employment, within the aforementioned boundaries. Some pasta dishes can be very repetitive, to the point of making themselves unwelcome to the palate due to boringness. Lasagna is one that some home chefs make over and over, the same old combination of boring ingredients, to the sarcastic serenade of an ungrateful audience (“lasagna AGAIN?!? Aw, man!”) I can see lasagna noodles thriving in a different setting, just as every once in a while ravioli abandons the heavy butter sauce in favor of a lighter salad environment, to the applause of health enthusiasts and creative food connoisseurs alike. You never know where a new path will take you until you try it for a while.
I had plans this weekend to make lasagna noodles step out of their comfort zone a little. A lot, actually. First off, I was going to cook them in ramekins for cute single portions. Secondly, the added ingredients had to be switched up. I thought of using pesto and some Tofurkey sausage, or maybe altogether abandoning the traditional Italian flavors that go with lasagna for Mexican or Mediterranean ingredients, and then I thought of some even more outlandish idea that would have totally wiped out the identity of lasagna noodles. Thank goodness I came to my senses, or you’d be reading about a very weird recipe right now. I won’t even go into the details beyond this disclosure which speaks for itself: the idea included apples. I know.
This would have been a disaster for the poor lasagna noodles, who only wanted to be loved and accepted for what they are, just like people do in their deepest wishes. Realizing this, I decided not to push things too far. I bought a whole wheat variety of noodles, already a little close to the weirdness boundary as pasta dishes go, and baked them into ramekins, a different home than lasagna noodles are used to. But I paired them with their old-time favorite companions: robust veggies, succulent tomato sauce, and the indispensable shredded cheese. In doing so I allowed the noodles to explore a region outside their worn-out role of white carbs in a casserole dish, but also allowed their tried-and-true talent to take center stage, rather than smothering it with ingredients that would have compromised their personality (and my appetite!)
So, if you’re cut out for the culinary craft, try making these little lasagna ramekins! They look adorable and taste fine – how could you go wrong with the best-loved ingredient combo out there? My only suggestion is to add some more spices to make it a little more interesting. Other than that, make the recipe as is. Or maybe, if you’re feeling creative, you could try experimenting with some different types of cheese or veggies. But whatever you do, keep it agreeable to the personality of the lasagna noodles (and agreeable to your palate!) and the dish is sure to live up to its fullest potential.
Classic Lasagna Ramekins
based on recipe from Our Family Eats
makes four 5 1/2 oz ramekins
- 4 pieces dry whole wheat lasagna pasta (I used Eating Right brand Whole Grain Lasagna)
- 1 1/2 cups mixed cut roasting veggies (I used a pre-cut mix of butternut squash, yellow squash, zucchini, baby carrots, etc.)
- 1 cup tomato sauce (I used Ragu brand)
- 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used 365 brand Mild Cheddar and Monterey Jack)
Directions: Break lasagna noodles each in half. Cook according to package directions. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Spray 4 5 1/2 oz capacity ramekins with nonstick spray.
When noodles have cooled, arrange four of the pieces in the ramekins like so:
Top with about half of the tomato sauce. Top that with about half of the mixed veggies, and sprinkle on a healthy portion of shredded cheese.
Add the remaining lasagna noodles, and top with the rest of the veggies, tomato sauce, and cheese.
Bake in 375 Fahrenheit oven for 16-20 minutes or until cooked through.
Serve warm and enjoy!
Non-lasagna Image credits: (in order of appearance)(pics of lasagna are mine!)