Herbfarm Lasagna

I recently had an opportunity to spend some time reading Jerry Traunfeld’s latest cookbook, The Herbal Kitchen, and was transported back to Seattle’s Herbfarm where he is the chef.

My last visit was back around 1995 when I worked as a chef aboard a gorgeous 120’ motor sailer headed for Alaska. We were spending time in Port Townsend, Washington, having work done in the yard before sailing north. In my off time, I shopped and dined, and as time lapsed, I cast a wider net and ultimately happened upon the Herbfarm. I was beside myself; I wanted to become a basil plant and live there with all the other happy herbs – forever.

Its reputation was so far flung people made trips to Seattle just for a memorable meal there. Reservations were needed weeks in advance, even months ahead for popular dates. When it came to a dining experience the Herbfarm was a tour de force; it set the bar for Pacific Northwest sensibility by presenting their lush garden setting as a backdrop and masterfully weaving a balanced interplay between their dizzying assortment of herbs, first rate local grown products and excellent wines.

Sadly, there was a fire and it took many long years before the Herbfarm was rebuilt and re-opened in 2001. The original owners have since died, but the Herbfarm legend continues, thanks to Jerry and other key staffers.

The Herbal Kitchen is a must-have cookbook for anyone serious about cooking with herbs. In this cookbook, with his trademark artful simplicity, Traunfeld focuses on home cooking and offers plenty of fast and easy ideas. Here’s one that caught my attention, it’s a new approach to preparing meatless lasagna. Jerry prepares three simple sauces and stacks them up with no-boil noodles. Nothing could be easier or fresher.

This light lasagna reminds me of cheese raviolis with plenty of big flavors. It’s nearly indestructible; it can be prepared ahead and baked later; it can be baked and reheated; it can be baked, frozen and reheated… I think you get the idea. It slices like a dream – just remember to allow it set about 15 minutes before slicing. The waiting is rough, but you won’t regret it!

Herbfarm Lasagna
28 ounce canned crushed tomatoes, and
14 1/2 ounce canned crushed tomatoes
1 whole dried hot chiles
1/4 cup marjoram or oregano
Kosher salt
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 pound whole ricotta, excellent quality
2 cups basil, 4 oz.
1 cup parsley, 2 oz.
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
12 noodles oven ready lasagna noodles, of 8 ounce box
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

In large saucepan or skillet boil the tomatoes over medium high for about 10 minutes, stirring occasional, or until sauces thickens. Stir in marjoram and salt. Set aside. This can be done ahead.

If grating cheese, do so in processor now.

In medium saucepan, melt butter, whisk in flour, cook the roux about 1 minute; and slowly stir in the cold milk to incorporate. Whisk for lumps, then allow to come to full boil and thicken. Season with 1 1/2 tsp salt.

In food processor, blend the ricotta and 1/3 (about 1 cup) of the white sauce until smooth. Remove to a bowl.

In processor w/o cleaning, combine the basil, parsley, garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp salt til finely chopped; add the 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and process. Add remaining white sauce (about 2 cups), and process til well combined.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 pan with straight sides.

Directions to assemble:
1. Spread half of the tomato sauce in bottom of the sprayed pan. Arrange 3 noodles on top of tomato sauce without touching each other, or the sides of pan.
2. Dab half the basil sauce onto each of the noodles, carefully spread to completely cover each.
3. Layer each stack with another noodle and spoon the entire amount of ricotta on top, spreading to completely cover each noodle.
4. Top each of the 3 stacks with another noodle, then gently spoon on the remaining tomato sauce, completely covering each.
5. Finally top the stacks with the last 3 noodles and spread each completely with remaining pesto sauce.

Cover dish with foil, tenting it slightly to avoid touching lasagna, and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle top with the shredded mozzarella and bake 30-35 minute longer, or til evenly browned. Let rest 15 minutes or longer, it will be loose, but will set up.

Note: can be assembled ahead and kept refrigerated and then baked, allow 10 minutes extra under foil; or bake ahead and reheat in 350 oven. Serves 8. ~~

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