Ah, food... we all love food. Our characters in a book are no different. However, sometimes when writing I find myself thinking about what my characters will eat. In truth, much of what inspired the book series was a particularly rough time in my life where I faced having no power, no heat, no food... and soon it felt like no roof over my head either.
Losing my home in the middle of winter in Canada was a frightening prospect
This dish, while it can be expensive depending on the ingredients you put into it, can also be really inexpensive. I even managed to make it with ingredients from the Food Bank.
I will admit the best way to make it is from local, farm-fresh ingredients that sometimes can be gained using the barter system. If you're lucky, some farms will exchange your labour for food which is particularly handy if you're short on money for food (like I was back in 2011).
I still make my lasagne like this, and it really gave me pause for thought.
What if, like in the Rangers of Walden, even if someone had money... what would they eat?
How would they survive?
Even something as simple as a home banked lasagne would likely bring great comfort to my characters.
Surprisingly, this is - with a bit of work - an easy recipe to throw together and lends itself well with what they could have on hand. Being cheese-based instead of tomato means that the base sauce is possible to make.
Why is that difference so critical?
The difference is between a cow (or goat, etc) and a tomato.
In Sudbury and most parts of the North, cows are a regular sight. They are hardy creatures, able to live in the North with, yes, quite a bit of care. Goats and other milk/cream producing farm animals are also popular on farms in the North.
However, growing a tomato presents a logistics issue.
Sudbury winters will kill a plant that isn't meant to handle our winters. The common varieties of tomato are unfortunately one of those plants that do not grow or survive winter up here unless with heavy intervention using a greenhouse or regular replanting in the late spring.
Flour, whether wheat-based or other, is common in grocery stores and probably wouldn't be looted until the very last and it freezes very well, which means it could last in our dry, cold winters for a very long time without intervention until Spring melt. After that and it would deteriorate very quickly or be too bug/rodent infested for use.
In that first winter, you then have two items critical for survival. Flour, for making pasta, and creams, cheeses, and milk. Chickens for eggs. Water. Spices, if dried, for flavour. A good hunter and trapper would be able to supply meat, or at least fish to some extent. I won't lie and say it would be easy or plentiful, but good planning would be the make or break and the carbs from the pasta and milk fat from the farms would supply at least the basics of survival.
Not to mention that dried pasta out of a store could do the same, but it would likely be the first thing taken.
Using trade, and cold cellars and possibly even preserves, the simple rolled lasagne with a cream-based sauce could become a staple in a northern post-apocalyptic setting.
Or, at least, that's my take on it.
Or by the end of February, they'd be so sick of it they'd never want to see it again.
Recipe: 24 lasagne noodles (This might seem like a lot, but the one thing I've learned is my family will go through this like crazy. This also freezes really, really well).
Filling: 2.5 cups of leftover turkey, chicken, etc. The only thing I don't recommend is hamburger here. If you would rather skip the meat, substitute with more broccoli.
2.5 chopped, cooked broccoli or other favourite veggie mix. Pick something that will hold its shape and texture with further cooking.
2 - 8oz jars of pimentos, well-drained and chopped.
2 good bunches of fresh parsley, finely chopped, without stems.
1 cup Italian bread crumbs, either plain or flavoured.
1 cup unsalted butter
9 cloves garlic, minced
1 cooking onion, chopped.
8 tablespoons flour
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 tsp each of dried oregano and basil
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup of sharp cheese, grated. I typically use Monterrey Jack.
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or similar)
Freshly ground pepper to taste.
(I usually don't use salt in my recipes. Too many instances of heart attacks and strokes.)
Cook your noodles until al dente, and lay them out on a board to cool.
Make the filling: Chop everything and combine it in a large bowl. Set aside in the fridge.
Make the sauce
Melt the butter in a very large saucepan or pot over medium heat. You want this to be slow. If you do the following steps too quickly, you risk scorching it and that's a very expensive mistake to make.
Add the chopped onion. Cook gently just until it's golden, and add garlic. Cook the both of them until garlic is fragrant.
Whisk in the flour until lightly browned.
Gradually whisk in broth and then herbs. Whisk constantly until it's this beautiful golden brown sauce. I mean, at this point people will know you're cooking and probably snoop into the kitchen. When I hit this point, people are eyeing the kitchen and waiting for me to finish.
Stir in the heavy cream and whisk until well incorporated, and then add in the cheeses. Mix until smooth. You can add pepper if you want, but sometimes I don't. Why mess with a good thing?
Take approximately a cup of the sauce and mix into the filling. The filling should hold together but not be completely sloppy. A little bit sloppy is okay, but if it's too sloppy it will make rolling the lasagne next to impossible.
Roll the filling into the lasagne like you're making lasagne sushi rolls (but the pasta should be on the outside) individually.
In two lasagne pans, pour enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pans and then a little bit more. I usually judge this by comparing the depth of the sauce to my pinky width, which is about how much is needed in the bottom of each pan before you put the rolls in.
Place 12 rolls in each pan, on their ends so that they sit up and you can see their filling and the pinwheel of the wrap. Pour more sauce on the rolls so that the sauce has a chance to work its way down into the rolls. However, do not fill more than halfway up the pan after the lasagne has been placed in the pan as it will overflow otherwise. I sometimes grate more cheese on top of these, but that's up to you. You will have spare sauce. That's fine! In fact, you should have enough sauce for what looks to be another recipe. It lies.
The reality is that the lasagne will soak up so much of the sauce already in the pasta during cooking that you will need to add more sauce after it gets to the table.
If you have leftovers (and you will), that sauce will soak into the pasta overnight and when you reheat this you will need yet more sauce or it will be really, really dry. Still really good, but really dry. Making this much sauce means you have enough to cover all of your bases for both nights.
And the second night is better than the first. It really gives the herbs and spices time to mature and work their magic. That's why I always make the two batches, but if you're crunched for money this can easily be halved. The original recipe did call for 12 noodles and a 1/4 of the sauce but I find myself always having to make double, and then the sauce never went far enough.
The great thing about this recipe is that literally everything can be substituted out for something within 100 miles. Sudbury is lucky enough to have more than one cheesemaker within 100 miles, and numerous farms. But, if the Rangers of Walden happened, everything here could be subbed out for something else and the recipe would still work.
If someone was gluten intolerant, even the noodles, bread crumbs, and flour could be substituted for other items. I have made this recipe with rolled up zucchini and eggplant (omg! that was good too!) and simply used carrots instead of the bread crumbs. We used corn starch instead of flour to thicken the sauce... which also then lowered the carbs in the recipe. If lactose intolerant, while it was a challenge to find dairy-free cheese, it's not impossible either. If a vegetarian, use more vegetables instead of the meat, a veggie-based broth... etc... etc... the possibilities of this recipe are endless.