Newbie cooks are notoriously fearful of making mistakes in the kitchen. I know I was when I was just starting to learn because my mother was always breathing down my neck about the cost of food and how mistakes often meant waste. Good thing that, with a lot of encouragement from my father, I was quite the little rebel and I experimented anyway AND learned from my mistakes. Had I not, I might have turned out to be just like my mother who couldn’t tell broiled from baked.
Other newbie cooks are less concerned about wasted food than they are about the perceived humiliation that comes with failure. The most obvious result is a lack of gumption to be adventurous. Instead, to stay on the safe path, newbie cooks tend to follow recipes to the letter. If it says one teaspoonful of salt in the ingredients list, that is the exact amount that they will add to the pot, not even remotely entertaining the thought that taste is largely a personal thing and what may be too salty for one person may be bland for another. If a recipe says lasagna noodles (strictly speaking, lasagne is plural while lasagna is singular) must be layered with meat sauce and cheese, that’s about the only way they will ever cook lasagna noodles. If a package is labeled “salad macaroni”, they will rarely consider using some other pasta shape to make macaroni salad. And so on, and so forth.
In short, cooking becomes a robotic experience which, naturally, encourages neither passion nor enjoyment. And that’s really sad. This, then, is a post about breaking free from tired old notions and associations. This is about looking at an ingredient and seeing its purpose beyond what the label says and how we have seen it prepared in the past. Like lasagna noodles. Is there really no other way to use them in a dish except to layer them with meat sauce and cheese?
If, like me, you never get to cook the right amount of lasagna noodles to fit into a baking dish, chances are, you know how it feels to stare at excess noodles wondering what the heck to do with them. Chances are, you’ve felt obliged to cook another tray of baked lasagna, on the same day or later, just to use the excess noodles. The thing is, you don’t have to.
Pasta, in whatever shape or size, is pasta. There is no law, in Italy nor anywhere else, that says carbonara can only be cooked using spaghetti noodles or that fettuccine noodles are only meant to go with Alfredo sauce. In the same manner, there is no rule that says lasagna noodles MUST always be cooked in layers. Yes, that is how they are traditionally prepared but whether they are layered or not, they will still taste like pasta and still the carbohydrate component of a dish or meal.
If you find yourself staring at a mound of excess lasagna, here’s what you can do:
First, you don’t have to use them on the same day. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. But, to prevent them from sticking to each other, toss them in melted butter before storing in a covered container.
Next, and this is the more important thing to remember, unless you so love baked lasagna that you’re willing to eat it again just after a few days, know that there are other things you can do with the noodles. You can cut them into strips (kitchen shears are useful for the job) and make a soup with them. Your soup will look so pretty with the curly sides of the noodles peeping through the rest of the ingredients.
That’s picadillo in the photo cooked with ground meat. I added the strips of excess lasagna noodles during the last few minutes of cooking just to heat them through. I threw in some herbed croutons and voila!