Every year around this time — well into the winter season, but long after we found it charmingly brisk, as it is when you do googly-eyed things like ice skating around a sparkling tree at the holidays — we get some sort of brittle cold snap in the weather that catches me by surprise. Even though we live in New York, a place where a cold snap or two a January is as predictable as being hosed by some unspeakably awful puddle of street juice slush by a car spinning through an intersection; even though I’ve lived in this exact climate for every one of my thirty-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it years; and even though I have the audacity to look forward to winter every sticky concrete-steaming summer, when I walk outside on that first 20-degree day and the wind gusts into my face and renders it hard to exhale, the very first thing I do is audibly holler in rage and disbelief, “WHAT THE WHAT?” I am nothing — as we joke when my sweet little son tries to clomp down the hallway in his dad’s massive boots and immediately falls on his tush — if not Harvard Material.
For the last month or so, my cookbook had been on a boat, an image which delighted me to no end. I pictured it heading to a dock at the edge of a continent, like Arya at the end of Book 3 of Game of Thrones, and hoping that someone would give it passage. I imagined it splashing through waters rough and calm on a long journey, like the one depicted in Lost and Found. And then I imagined it arriving at the shipping docks, unloaded by the likes of handsome Nick Sobotka in Season 2 of The Wire (er, hopefully under happier circumstances), its container being fitted to trucks or rail cars and heading to a warehouse where it would tap its feet impatiently until October 30th arrived and it could finally come out and see you.
There are about as many recipes for chicken noodle soup as there are people who enjoy it, which is everyone. Well, everyone but me. I understand that announcing that one does not like chicken noodle soup is tantamount to saying that one dislikes comfort, thick sweaters on brisk fall days, well-padded shoes for long walks and sips of tea from a steamy mug. I get this. But in my defense, I am not the one who broke it.
Where have I been, you ask? Did I fly off to a small Caribbean island again, only to return to rub it in? Did my book project or adorable distraction eat me alive again? For once, no. I have actually been out climbing another (slightly smaller) culinary Mount Everest for you, and I have returned bearing not one, but two recipes.
This, this is my culinary Mount Everest. This twenty-layer striation of noodles, ragu, béchamel and cheese, repeated four times and then some took me more than five years to conquer. To be honest, six years ago I didn’t know what it was. Sure, I had heard of lasagna but I wasn’t terribly fond of it because I don’t much care for the texture of ricotta once it has baked. (Ricotta, I’d argue, is best rich, fresh, and cold on toast.) But I was galloping through a post on an Italian food blog and I stumbled upon a parenthesised side-thought that stopped me dead in my tracks. It said something along the lines of “I don’t know whose idea it was to put ricotta in lasagna but… shudder.” And I thought, but wait! What’s supposed to go in lasagna? But there was no answer, so I set out to find one.