It’s fair to say this is not a food blog. Furthermore, my kids will tell you I’m not in the kitchen all that frequently. As my oldest likes to remind me, many were the times she had to go to grandma’s house if she wanted a proper dinner. My excuse was, I took the girls hopping about the globe instead, often times (maybe too many times) to the stranger corners of it. ‘But mum. I wanted to go to London, not to Transdniestr to stay in a tiny apartment with a strange lady who only speaks Russian, and where the ‘8’ next to the 8th floor button in the lift is written in blood’. Kids! Where is their sense of adventure? But I digress.

With this semi-lockdown and time on my hands (so much time!), it seems only right to bring the world to us. And we can do that in many ways. In the last post, we went to Algeria, or rather Algeria came to us, through books. Today, we’ll have Italy over, sort of, via food.

But first: Look!

I’ve an avocado on my windowsill. Or rather, what might one day become an avocado. For now, it’s just the seed, pierced by four toothpicks and halfway submerged in water. Next to Buddha. For luck.

What’s your favourite cuisine?

I suspect many of you will reply Italian.

Years ago, I wrote a post where I totally dissed Italian food. In Italy, that is. Plenty of good Italian food about, I just never seemed to find it in Italy.

Since then, two charming young Americans (!) taught me all about slow, simple food in Le Marche. Later, I made pesto in Portofino and in Genoa (it’s called Pesto Genovese for a reason, you know.) And Ali knows all about making delectable chocolate kisses; she learnt from the best, at Perugina Chocolate Factory.

So I’ve changed my mind. We’ve several foodie posts from different Italian regions here on Sophie’s World. I’ve added a handy list at the end here.

Today, however, I’ve been cooking at home. Cause, y’know, no travelling these days.

I’ve made a vegetarian lasagne. It’s probably not strictly kosher – or strictly Italian, rather – as I’m using whatever stuff I have in the kitchen. We’ll call it Italian/Norwegian crossover cooking.

Let’s make lasagne (with a Norwegian twist)

Might look a bit unusual for a lasagne. Trust me – it tastes divine.

Here’s the how:

  • Pour some olive oil in the pan (I use the everyday one that sits on the counter)
  • Throw in mushrooms (ca 2 cups; cut them in 2. Or 4. Or not at all), 1 carrot (shredded here, but slice or dice or grate or chop,  whatever takes your fancy), cut up 1 onion (I like bigger chunks, but again…), and 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. Cook for a few minutes; medium heat.
  • Mix diced tomatoes (tinned work just fine) with salt and pepper, and thyme or basil (or both, like I do. You can even toss in some oregano, if you feel like it). Save a few spoonfuls of this mix in a cup (enough for a thin layer in the dish later), and chuck the rest in with the veg.
  • Simmer for a bit, say 15 minutes, then taste. If (like me) you don’t like the tomato flavour to be too dominant, simmer a bit longer.
  • Add some fresh spinach and continue cooking until the leaves wilt. There! You have a thick, chunky, lovely sauce.

White sauce

I’m not using ricotta or cottage cheese, since I don’t think it tastes all that great in lasagne. Instead, I’m making a basic white sauce: it’s the first thing everyone learns in home economics at school here (used to be, at least). Have to admit, I didn’t pay much attention back then, but I’ve since learnt, by failing a few times. Have to keep an eye on it and stir constantly, else it turns out lumpy.

  • Melt butter at medium heat (I use a butter/rape seed oil combo, which is standard table butter here; use what you’ve got)
  • Add flour (normal, all-purpose), and boil for about 2 minutes whilst stirring. Should be thick and creamy.
  • Turn down the heat to lowest mark, and add milk slowly, while continuing to stir, until you get the consistency you like (I like to use low-fat milk (0.5%) … sacrilege, I know)
  • Stir, stir, stir while boiling at low heat for 2 – 3 more minutes. Add salt and pepper and nutmeg. Taste to see if you like it. If not, adjust.
  • Towards the end, melt some cheese in the sauce (Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese, because yum!)

In an oven-proof dish,

  1. begin with a thin layer of tomato sauce (the few spoons you saved, remember?)
  2. then add a layer of lasagne sheets,
  3. add half the veg mix
  4. then half of the white sauce
  5. repeat the layers
  6. add fresh spinach leaves
  7. lots and lots of shredded lovely Jarlsberg on top

Cook at 200° (about 392°F for you Americans), for about 20 – 25 minutes. When the cheese is beautifully golden, you know it’s done. Delish! Buon appetito / Velbekomme!

Italian food on Sophie’s World

Portofino on an overcast day!

Here are the Italian foodie posts on Sophie’s World. Shouldn’t surprise me if more will appear in the future.

Making pesto in Portofino – A group of local women working to restore local traditions. Loved this (mostly vegetarian) farm/warehouse/research lab with stunning views over the loveliness that is Portofino.

Sailing and cooking in Sestri Levante – Ligurian food: bagnun, rich tomato soup with anchovies fresh from the sea. And there’s wine from the sea as well.

Cooking in Italy – slow, simple food in Le Marche, with links to a treasure trove of recipes.

Pizza night in the Italian countryside – outdoor cooking under the stars in Le Marche.

Alex and the chocolate factory – a chocolate school! Scuola di cioccolato! Making baci (kisses) in Perugia.

A Taste of Italy: Agriturismo il Mandoleto – brief review of this agriturismo near Perugia in Umbria. Ali gives it a big thumbs up.

A Taste of Italy: pizza in Rome – brief review of Napoletano’s at Piazza della Rotonda. Thumbs up from Ali.

And while we’re at it, let’s add some wine. Just a little:

Lacrima, the crying grape of le Marche – an article I wrote for EuropeUpClose on the family-run Giusti Winery – and getting tipsy in the vineyards. Lovely wine, lovely family.

What’s your favourite Italian dish?

Disclosure: I’ve been in Italy many times, sometimes for work, sometimes for pleasure, often both; sometimes at the invitation of a tourist board or others, and other times on my own dime. As always, every word, every thought, every opinion is mine, all mine. Otherwise, this would be pointless.