Early this morning my mom received a phone call with unfortunate news that a dear friend of our family had passed away. This sudden loss was met with shock followed by sadness that put a halt on preconceived plans for the day.
Grievance manifests itself in many a form — religious observation, hibernation, deliberate denial. In the Italian-American culture, however, the void of a beloved is temporarily mended with marinara sauce and cheese baked between layers of thin lasagna pasta. It is hand-delivered in disposable aluminum pans to be warmed in the oven alongside loaves of buttery garlic bread.
Our kin is conditioned to nourish the souls of those in mourning by healing their hearts one forkful at a time. We create an unobtrusive tangible connection in strings of melted mozzarella through hearty dishes like lasagna or, just as well, in a pan of eggplant parm. Our heart bleeds in shades of beefsteak tomato, masking the stale air of an empty home with an aroma of garlic and herbs.
Sympathy lasagna is a simple and cathartic recipe to prepare. Start by making a batch of Steve's Sexy Sauce or use 5 cups of store-bought marinara sauce if you find yourself caught in a bind. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook a package of lasagna noodles for eight to ten minutes. Drain the pasta when al dente and rinse them off with cold water to stop the cooking process from continuing.
In a large bowl, mix together two eggs, one 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, a handful of chopped fresh parsley, finishing with salt and pepper to taste.
Line the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole dish with a cup of marinara sauce, followed by a single layer of lasagna noodles. Smooth a cup of the ricotta and egg mixture on top of the pasta with a dusting of more mozzarella cheese. Repeat the process until you reach the end of your noodle supply.
At this point, add one final layer of shredded mozzarella and Pecorino cheese with a healthy drizzle of marinara sauce on top. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for an hour, until the edges are crisp and the middle portion is no longer jiggly. If consuming immediately, allow the lasagna to set for ten minutes before cutting into portions and serving with extra grated cheese.
The only controversial element of this dish is the distribution of the coveted 'crispy corners', rightfully designated to the preferred company of the dearly departed. I will avoid familial warfare by bequeathing these heirlooms in my final will and testament with explicit instructions regarding portion size and order of service.
In fact, let this be a written proclamation that my eventual sympathy lasagna shall be cut into four equal pieces. All crispy corners will go to me topped with crushed red chili flakes and a glass of red wine on the side.