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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lasagna Layers Encourage Little Chefs

Many thanks to all those readers who were asking about my health after my tussle with food poisoning last week. All right. Three of you plus my mother. That constitutes a crowd in my book. For the record, I'm fragile, but famished.


What's on the agenda this week? Kids in the kitchen. Useful as door stops. The perfect size to stop drafts from under doors. Great to trip over when you are negotiating stove to sink via the tempting tupperware in the bottom drawer. Useful as slaves if you can con them into doing the potatoes.


Clearly we are not going to get anywhere if I go on. This peevish attitude clearly stems from childhood: I just didn't hang about in my mother's kitchen. (She was and is clean, neat, super organized and never needed any help.) I think the last time I helped her was when I burnt the whole place down when I was almost 8. I claimed it wasn't me, but that was the era of my life when pyromania combined with two older siblings egging me on invariably led to Bad Things.


We never 'fessed up to the insurance company, of course, and the result was a spanking new kitchen, which I am sure was well worth the grief of seeing the old one going up in flames.


If I had my life over, I would make sure I started cooking at an earlier age, if only to work out the mysteries of the "empty fridge syndrome." You know what I mean. When you are little, you open the door and can't see anything that looks like dinner. Then your mother zips over, takes out six mystery objects and suddenly there it is -- a nutritious and tasty meal on the table in minutes.


Odd. So to get kids involved in cooking, I suggest starting with the garnish. Buy a few potted herbs, or set aside a place in the fridge for parsley wrapped in a dish cloth and kept moist but not soggy. Tell them these are their herbs and each time a dish is about to go on the table, let them snip some chives or tweak a few tarragon leaves off and have them garnish the dish themselves. It will start them thinking about contributing to the process and from there, they may be doing Sunday dinner with gusto in weeks.


Well, maybe not Sunday dinner, but perhaps helping with lasagna. I honestly think the tasks involved in making lasagna are simple and can be learned in steps so that eventually kids can do the whole bit.


This is my version: no tomatoes, no meat, not much to remind you of lasagna really, but for kids it's perfect -- they can do simple cooking, make an idiot-proof sauce, play with colors and layers, and best of all, leave this in the oven, forget all about it and it still won't be spoiled.


By all means choose your own vegetables if your loved ones will not tolerate mush.





Leek and Mushroom Lasagna


1 tablespoon butter for cooking vegetables


3 medium leeks


5 cups chopped mushrooms


Sheets of lasagna


1/4 cup flour


1/4 cup butter for sauce


500 mls milk


Nutmeg


1 cup grated cheese (any variety)


1/2 cup Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 160 Celsius.





Cut the leeks (sharp knife needed) into 5-centimeter lengths and slice. Place the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Drop the leeks on top, heat to medium-low, cover and leave for five minutes.


Meanwhile slice the mushrooms. Lift lid, stir the leeks, check if they are wilted. Remove and set aside, then tip in the mushrooms. Cover for five minutes and get on with the bechamel sauce. (Real cooks beware, this is super easy and lumps do occur.)


Drop the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Turn heat to medium and melt. Once it has almost melted, dump in the flour and start stirring like mad. Once it has combined, pour in half the milk. Turn the heat to low. Add the rest of the milk and stir away for about five minutes until it thickens. Don't panic if it hasn't, it will still work well.


Turn off the mushrooms and allow to cool. Turn off the sauce, grate in nutmeg and allow to cool. Grate cheese and set aside.


Assemble. A layer of leeks, a layer of mushrooms, the hard lasagna sheets, a sprinkle of grated cheese, a sprinkle of Parmesan, pour over the sauce. Never mind the lumps. Repeat.


Leave in the oven for 30 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, or for an hour at 120 degrees. Serve warm and give your cleverest, smallest cook the biggest portion. Chefs need rewards!