A romantic dinner – complete with wine, music, candlelight, panoramic view, good food – is a pretty traditional, even cliché, way to celebrate your wedding anniversary. My husband and I marked our 15th last week and we celebrated with all those trappings, with one big difference – our venue.
We packed an ample basket of goodies – a big pan of my best lasagna, safely ensconced in its thermal envelope; a simple tossed salad, greens, dressing and extras carefully separated, of course; our wine, and all the accoutrements I could think of. (Didn’t even forget the wine opener.) We headed up to our private little hill, 1500 feet up, on our farm and arranged our moveable feast in what we fondly call “the shanty.” Earlier in the day, I’d set up a card table and dressed the table – pretty tablecloth, flowers, candle holders stemmed glasses, silverware, china. (Okay, the glasses were plastic, and the plates were the fancy disposables from Marx Foods, but you get the picture -- and despite this picture, we really could see our dinner!)
The “shanty” is designed for hunting, but it’s no shack, more like an outdoor room. My husband carefully outfitted it with all the comforts of home. It’s heated, insulated, carpeted, and furnished with cushy chairs and a radio, and all four sides have double-hung windows, an opening to an unmatched view.
- No-boil noodles work, but they’re just not the same when you’re trying to pull out all the stops.
- Ground beef is okay but sweet Italian sausage is better, but more than a pound is overwhelming. And turkey sausage is a great way to lighten up.
- A jarred sauce is okay, too, but homemade is best.
- Freshly grated Parmesan makes a big difference.
- Making three layers makes more sense to even things out better, but when your eye doesn’t judge “thirds” too well, a half is the way to go.
- Spinach in the filling is better than parsley.
- A little nutmeg grated into the spinach-ricotta filling is a subtle but noticeable difference.
Nonna Rosa’s Best Lasagna
12 lasagna noodles
1 mild sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing if necessary
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup minced onion
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups (24 ounces) whole milk ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan
1 (10 ounce) frozen block of chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 grates of fresh nutmeg, or 1/4 teaspoon dry nutmeg