Cooking in the Time of Covid 19: Thanksgiving Lasagna

Thanksgiving has come around and Covid-19 is in it’s second wave in parts of Canada. Families have been discouraged to mingle beyond their immediate households to prevent community spread but somehow, Canadians have a way of making the most of what can be done during trying times and they did enjoy the long weekend albeit low key. I am Trinidadian and Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebrated in the Caribbean but having gone to school in the U.S and calling Canada home for 32 years, it’s a holiday I have learned to cook and eat my way through just like any other. My husband comes from a family where a traditional holiday meal would be prepared. For Thanksgiving and coming to think of it, Christmas too, his mom would prepare a turkey, stuffing/dressing, mashed potatoes and either brussel sprouts or broccoli or green peas with cranberry sauce on the side. While my mother-in-law always did a good job on the turkey, (I have only made a turkey once in my life and take my hat off to all who do) not one of the 4 in our household is in love with the bird outside of a turkey bacon sub. Since turkey is such a big bird and not beloved chez nous, over the years I have subsitiuted it with roast beef, cornish hens, or chicken and side dishes that ranged from a wild rice and vegetable medley, seasoned corn on the cob, garlic bread, some kind of jazzed up pasta dish or interesting and flavourful potato and if Adam has his way, it is boiled for 5 minutes then generously seasoned and baked for 20 minutes until crispy. If Logan has his way, the side would most definitely be sharp, cheesy Trini macaroni pie. Tom, on the other hand is just happy to have anything but turkey, however I have spent all the years I have known him dissuading him from his desire for Thanksgiving pizza. The childhood bland pallette does rear its odd head in my husband from time to time and I know for a fact if he weren’t married to me, A, would have had his way and B, he would not have woken up his taste buds the way he has over the 28 years of eating from me and my family. My man eats it all, from callaloo to curry but the turkey is a no go. In his defense regarding pizza, he has perfected fire oven pizza to the point of gourmet so maybe I’ll bend next Thanksgiving , weather permitting and we shall have his excellent fire oven pies.

So, what did the James family have for Thanksgiving this year? Well something from The Chef Show on Netflix, of course, and we gave thanks with a HONKIN’ MEGA LASAGNA! We watched the episode about 3 times and Tom watched it again to make notes and we showed it to Logan to psyche him up for the meal, not that he ever needs psyching up for meals. Adam has moved away from pasta except in the form of Macaroni pie so he swung by and picked up a meal of garlic bread, meatballs with a side salad that I made for him and cinnamon muffins he baked himself. With him taken care of, Tom and I excitedly went about preparing our dish.

The twist for us making this Lasagna was the sauce, which was a tomato sauce with the ricotta melted into it. That was the sauce for the bottom of the baking dish and to drizzle throughout the layers. We also had to make a rich red tomato sauce made with ripened tomatoes, garlic and seasonings that we used throughout the layers and on the very top what we like to call the lid layer.

Another difference for us was the meat. Instead of a meat sauce, this recipe calls for ginormous meatballs that you pre-cook then dice and spread over the noodles on each layer so it makes for a chunky dish that is flavourful and cheesy with that rich garlic and tomato tartness that makes you smile with satisfaction with every bite.

In total, this dish took us 2 hours from start to finish and that was because we don’t like using oven ready noodles. It was worth every second and it was a very delicious version of the way I make lasagna. We decided we aren’t huge fans of the meatball chunks so when we make this again, we would brown the ground beef and layer it with the sauce and we would use a bit more oregano in the meat. We are definitely keeping the fresh basil on the layers and the ricotta tomato sauce in addition to the red tomato sauce. We captured the recipe in photos and have included photos of the instructions Tom noted while he watched the episode. So whether you are like us and your tradition is to let go of tradition and try new and odd things, or you are looking for a variation on a HONKIN’ MEGA LASAGNA give this a shot. It is fun to make and tasty as all get out and there are enough leftovers to feed an 18 year old who is in hockey training camp and eats five meals a day. We also had enough to put into the freezer that we can have in a couple weeks when we don’t feel like cooking. It’s a perfect one dish meal that you can serve to guests as well (when having guests are a thing again) or if you are suddenly asked to do the catering for an event lol. The best part for us was the time spent in the kitchen. Tom and I cook together quite a bit but this was the first time we tried something new together. I was reminded of the moments my parents shared in the kitchen. My dad did more cooking later in his life but he was always the Special Holiday Helper in the kitchen. Mom would have it all under control and dad followed her instructions here and there, putting the ham, for example in and out of the oven, helping prep ingredients for the stuffing, garnishing dishes and of course making the drinks. You can’t do big Trinidad cooking without a few drinks. And as I manoeuvred about our oddly shaped kitchen(we will be remedying that) with the love of my life, I realized we are the same age as my parents when I remembered them cooking together. It made me a little nervous because I realized our ages – that middle age period where life starts to make you aware of your mortality. But, I was also really happy because it shows where we are in our journey. We have done so much together and we will do more and I hope even much more than that. As our sons launch into their adult lives we uninterruptedly get to have each other back and as much as I love going places with Tom, my absolute favourite moments are the simplest ones like making a special meal. Happy Thanksgiving Canada – ableit a more down played Thanksgiving because of Covid-19, it was warm and loving nonetheless.

I prepped meat with seasonings, egg and onion puree. The texture of the meat becomes squishy and gluey. Tom took care of boiling noodles and making the tomato sauce.
Garlic confit was added to the sauce.
Layering and the finished dish.

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