I bought some saffron recently, I was...amused by the price. Though, on Google-aided inspection, it may actually be worth more than its weight in gold. Some of these lofty claims flying around the internet are so ridiculous that they pretty much could lead you to believe that it is in fact a wonderdrug, if one were sufficiently gullible: fends off cancer and depression, enhances memory, combats insomnia - you get the picture, a true superhero. In the absence, however, of any actual scientific proof that it delivers such uber-duber-amazingness, I'll settle for the flavour. On this occasion, it loaned its tasty colourful beauty to a posh-sounding salmon and asparagus lasagne. See, there's a new Sophie in my life, courtesy of those cursed bargain bookshops that reel me in during moments of weakness. This is Sophie Grigson, and the book is The Vegetable Bible, an exhaustive compendium of veggies, just what the doctor ordered for my not-infrequent bouts of veggie-angst (lately, somehow, replaced by red meat-angst. Seriously, sometimes it is really hard being me). It breaks them down according to family - roots, fruits, etc - and then each veggie gets a wonderful biography, followed by some recipes. As soon as I spotted the salmon and asparagus lasagne I knew it had to get itself made and into my stomach sooner rather than later.
The first thing to do is create a pretty picture with an onion and some cloves. Well - you half an onion and stick three cloves into each half. It's very satisfying, there's a lovely sound as the clove punctures the layeredy onion and then comes to a gentle halt just as its criss-cross hat thingy hits the onion.
They go into a litre and a half of milk along with two bay leaves, and, once it has heated to near boiling, it simmers very lightly for 20 minutes. Beware the deadly, destructive, ARGH-moment-inducing nature of boiled-over milk - it's worth standing there like a hawk looming over the pot in order to avoid that moment of pain.
Now here - asparagus - I just don't get that smelly pee thing. Maybe it's my sense of smell. Either way, I'm perfectly happy to not experience that whole thing, it sounds quite vile, and it could possibly put me off asparagus - the horror! Anyhow, while the onion and the milk are doing their thing, 500g asparagus gets a little boiled up for four minutes, then has the bejaysus frozen out of it under the cold tap to stop it from cooking any further.
Then 500g salmon gets itself all sliced up, skinny as poss.
Melty mcmelt goes the butter (90g), and when it's good to go 90g flour is slowly whisked in.
I grew a load of dill in my garden last year, didn't use any of it, ditched it. And probably about a week later I noticed it began to crop up in every second recipe that caught my eye. So maybe I'll give it a twirl again this year. In the meantime, I have to make do with the shop bought kind. Here, about three tablespoons-worth get the chop, then waits anxiously for its star turn in that deliciously creamy sauce.
The hot spicy milk parts company with the onion, cloves and bay leaves to get slowly whisked into the roux (off the heat), and what's left behind in the out looks a little like debris that's exposed as snow melts away.
The dill meets its fate in the sauce, and it all simmers away for ten minutes.
Then that oh-so-pricey saffron (2 pinches pre-soaked in a tablespoon of hot water) joins the party, along with a grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper.
Let the layering begin! First up: sauce.
Layers of fresh lasagne.
Asparagus on a bed of sauce, covered again in sauce before the next layer of lasagne sheets goes on top.
Skinny salmon goes on another layer of sauce, and also gets a good dose of sauce on top before the final layer of lasagne sheets.
The very top gets a good drenching in the rest of the sauce, topped finally with grated parmesan, and then into the (preheated at 200 degrees) oven with it for 45 minutes.
Just looking at this I can hear the liguidy bubbling of the cheese and sauce - it's like the sound of a cartoon cauldron. Everything that comes out of the oven in this dish is a concoction of comfort and joy.
Check out the oooooooze.