This is kind of what I imagined Oregon to look like before I moved here. That's Andy, in his orange swim trunks. He spent a good chunk of the late afternoon sitting on his floaty raft, paddling around. I laid in the shade and read, and took deep soul-searching woodsy breaths, inhaling that soft, soft pine-needle smell of the forest. I have rarely been in the forest since my accident, and although as a child I hated the forced marches our father took us on in our neighborhood forest preserve, as an adult, living in Montana and Oregon, I realize that I do love the huge, quiet pine-treed woods (so often to be found within city limits here) and do not get to them near enough. If I could manage to set up camp like Amy does, I would live there, I think. How in the hell and the hootenanny she managed to get a full-size bed into the tent I really don't know but . . . is that allowed? Wow. This changes everything.
We left the river around 5:30 and made it home an hour later to start dinner; I thought eating by candlelight might be nice. I made something that we call "Lasagna Rozale," named after the apartment building where we lived when we were engaged in Missoula, and where we first made this. From the February 1996 issue of Martha Stewart Living, these lasagnas are not smothered in red sauce (which I personally can't stand) the way so many seem to be; they are layered with bechamel and an only vaguely tomatoe-y sort of Bolognese sauce.
Though the recipe originally called for polenta "noodles," dried porcini, and veal, we modified things to be much more Orange-Street-Food-Farm (our very small neighborhood grocery store) friendly, using regular noodles, button mushrooms, and Italian sausage. Nevertheless, it is our hands-down all-time-favorite romantic meal. I thank you all quite sincerely for the kind anniversary wishes you left for us yesterday. I share this recipe with best wishes for many happy years and romantic dinners of your own.
For the sauce:
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
2 t. olive oil
2 t. butter
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 oz. lean ground beef
3 oz. ground pork
3 oz. Italian sausage
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. red wine
12 oz. chopped tomatoes (boxed or canned)
2 c. chicken stock
1/4 t. nutmeg
For the bechamel sauce:
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 c. plus 3 tablespoons milk
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
6 lasagna noodles
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan
To make the sauce:
1. In large skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and have let off their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, celery, onion, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, 3 to 4 more minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in separate skillet, break up and brown all meats over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 t. salt and 1/8 t. pepper. Drain off fat and add meats to skillet containing vegetables; mix everything together. Add wine and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, stock, and nutmeg. Lower heat to medium low and slowly simmer, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. Much of the liquid will evaporate but sauce will remain very moist. It can be made 2 days in advance and stored in refrigerator. You will have extra sauce after lasagnas are assembled to use over pasta, etc., for lunch the next day, too.
To make the bechamel:
1. In a saucepan, melt 2 T. butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 6 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring milk and salt to a boil. Slowly whisk the milk into the flour mixture until completely incorporated and smooth. Add the nutmeg and reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
To assemble the lasagna:
1. Boil lasagna noodles in large pot of salted water until about a minute before you normally like them to come out. Drain and rinse with cold water, then cut (shorten) to fit two 12-ounce individual ovenproof casserole dishes.
2. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat; add spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until wilted and tender. Remove from heat and drain in a colander. Set aside.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 5 T. meat sauce into each of the casserole dishes. Cover with 1 lasagna noodle and spread 5 T. meat sauce evenly over. Spread 2 T. bechamel over the meat sauce and evenly distribute 2 T. chopped spinach over the bechamel. Sprinkle with Parmesan and cover with 1 lasagna noodle. Repeat layering process. Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of Parmesan and dot with butter.
4. Bake until tops of lasagnas are golden and juices are bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes. If the tops are not yet brown, increase heat to broil and place lasagnas under broiler until tops are speckled brown. Let stand 10 minutes; serve with red wine, simple salad, crusty bread, fancy deserts, and lots of love.
Oh — and I forgot to tell you a tip about the parasols hanging from the pergola thing (thanks for the reminder, Hildy!). So, we have one of those trellis things, I never know what it's called, over the patio area, pictured here. (The lantern is several years old, from Smith & Hawken.) My friend Nancy told me about something she'd seen her friend do over her trellis thing in Italy once, while she was waiting for stuff to grow up and cover it. She floated parasols above the boards on top to give a bit of shade and extra romance. You just push the parasols up between the boards while they're closed, then open them. I would say that if you do this, it would be best to weight down the handles of the parasols somehow; I had four up there and two blew out and across the yard, even though there wasn't much of a breeze. The things act like sails. But I would think a couple of little bags of rice attached to the handles, or something like that, would help? Pretty idea — I'd been meaning to do it for ages. Would even be lovely with jelly-jar lanterns hanging from the handles for a little extra candlelight, no?