Monday, July 14, 2008

Food in times of need

Food is often associated with major milestones in our lives. Sometimes it takes centre stage - for example, at a birthday party or a celebratory afternoon tea - and other times it is a side event, although still extremely important, such as gathering for a cuppa after a funeral. Lots of thought may go into planning for the event, such as choosing the birthday cake and accompanying menu or baking pink-iced cupcakes for a baby shower, and others may be as simple as everyone bringing a plate of something, whether a packet of Tim-Tams or a home-baked cake, to share. It is the ritual, the passing around of plates, the making of tea and coffee, the informality that comes with chatting while nibbling, that is important.

The offering of food is also an important source of comfort for those in time of need; to ease the burden of cooking from sleep-deprived new mums or friends grieving serious illnesses or deaths in the family. We need to fuel ourselves to keep going but sometimes the thought of grocery shopping and cooking is the last thing we want to do, particularly if time is in short supply. A dish of food, whether a soup or casserole or even a sweet treat like chocolate biscuits, is always appreciated.

Lately I've been baking many dishes of lasagna, which has somehow become my signature dish for friends in times of need. Two of my friends have recently given birth to their second child, while some family friends are grieving a very serious illness in their family that means most of their time is spent at the hospital. I have no Italian heritage and my lasagna is not a fancy or special recipe but it is a hearty dish that lasts for several meals, tastes even better the next day, and is easy to make and transport. When I was growing up, friends and neighbours were always quick to rally around anyone who needed help and mountains of food would be prepared and dropped off. It is such a simple act of kindness but it helps foster goodwill and a sense of community


To make the meat sauce, finely chop two onions and several cloves of garlic and saute in oil in a heated saucepan. Crumble in 500g mince beef and brown. Add one tub of tomato paste and one 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, mix well and simmer for about 20 minutes

To make the cheese sauce, melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Stir in two to three tablespoons of plain flour to make a roux. Slowly add two cups of milk and cook over low to medium heat until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir through 250g grated mozzarella cheese and some salt and pepper.

To assemble the lasagna, spread some meat sauce over the base of a baking dish. Layer with lasagna sheets, then cheese sauce. Repeat layers until the meat and cheese sauces are used up, finishing with cheese sauce. Sprinkle a generous amount of grated parmesan over the top and bake in a 180 degree oven for about 35 minutes.

This mixture can be doubled or even tripled and can be frozen.

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