I had planned to post here tonight about two different recipes from Diane St. Clair’s The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: a gingerbread and a lasagna. I never had time for the first, and the second was a near-complete failure. Here’s how it went down.
I started out thinking all I needed to buy today was more buttermilk. As I described last night, my butter-making project left me with only a cup, and the lasagna recipe required three cups, so I needed another pint. I went to my local Whole Foods, only to find out that they didn’t have it. (Well, they did, but only in quarts, and only from two brands I won’t buy.) So I went to the Whole Foods in Wellesley, which is the next-nearest, and usually has things that the Framingham Whole Foods doesn’t — but they didn’t have it either. I ended up going all the way in to Cambridge and found it there, but that whole process wasted the whole afternoon, so there was no time left for gingerbread.
The meat sauce that forms the base of the lasagna went just fine, although it’s a rather odd preparation, with four tablespoons of butter (just added to the sauce, not used for sauteeing or anything like that) and an onion simply sliced in half. It also required a half cup of red wine; luckily I was able to find a small (less than one cup) bottle in the liquor store — I suppose it’s supposed to be a “one-glass” package. I did find that I had misread the recipe and had to go back to the store to buy more canned tomatoes, making the actual lasagna preparation even later.
Then things started to go horribly wrong. First, St. Clair’s “buttermilk bechamel” preparation starts fairly oddly, with a barely-cooked roux, and things started to look wrong from the very start — I once again used my butter, and found that when it melted, there was far too much water-type liquid and not nearly as much fat as there should be. (This is probably an artifact of the excess agitation I described in last night’s post on butter-making — next time I’ll know better when to stop.) I pressed on, but the resuling “roux” didn’t thicken the dairy ingredients at all. I might have pressed on, making a second roux in the more normal way (it’s not like I haven’t made bechamel a dozen times before), execpt that I was trying to simultaneously cook the lasagna noodles, and they stuck together into a sorry mass, overcooked on the outside and undercooked on glued-together interior.
In short, I would have done better simply to follow the directions on the back of the lasagna box — or to try the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I might try it again some time, but not without a lot more confidence in my butter. And this whole business with bechamel in lasagna is a new thing to me; when I was a kid I must have made lasagna a dozen times, and bechamel was never involved — we always used ricotta and egg, which the back of the noodle box informs me is “American-style lasagna”.
Since the meat sauce was just fine, I was able to salvage it by cooking up some other flat pasta (lasagnette, as it happened), and mixing the two together, then layering with cheese in a 9×9 baking dish and baking it up for 25 minutes to melt the cheese. But it wasn’t what I was intending. I expect to try the gingerbread later this week, if I have time, but just to be certain that my homemade butter isn’t the source of the problem, I’ll probably use commercial butter.