A meatless lasagna is finished cooking and ready to eat. (Betsy Wharton/for Peninsula Daily News)

PENINSULA KITCHEN: Food says what you can’t when times are tough

HOW DO YOU show your support when someone is hurting?

A death in the family, illness, marital separation, a lost child … it can be hard to know what to do or say.

Our job is not to fix or to rescue.

Our job is to show up, be prepared to listen and say very little.

And bring food.

Eighteen years ago, my husband, 5-year-old son and I welcomed a baby with a severe genetic defect into our family.

He lived 40 days, and in that time, we received a lot of support, much of which appeared on our doorstep in a lasagna pan, no fanfare, no demands, just hearty nourishment when our hearts were breaking.

Since then, lasagna has always been my go-to meal for those occasions when some grief has happened and I don’t know what else to do or say.

Lasagna is all-American comfort food; hearty and well-flavored nourishment for the soul.

The following recipe is unapologetically time-consuming.

If you enjoy cooking, the time you take to salt the eggplant, simmer the sauce, grate the cheese and assemble the layers is a pleasure and so much more relaxing than Facebook.

But if the kitchen is not your happy place, then feel free to take some shortcuts.

For example, skip the eggplant and toss some sliced mushrooms in when you sauté the onions.

When I am short on time, I use a can or a jar of pre-made tomato sauce instead of making it from scratch.

And if you are in the middle of a crazy-busy week, just pick up the best frozen premade lasagna you can find at your grocery store next time you are food shopping and deliver it on your way home.

The important thing is that when you feel the urge to be of assistance … follow that instinct.

Don’t overthink it; just do something kind, in whatever small way you can.

Make your best lasagna full of protein and vegetables, and deliver it with love.

Meatless lasagna the slow but well worth the effort way

½ box lasagna noodles

½ pound mozzarella

1 pound ricotta cheese

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 eggs, beaten

1 medium eggplant

1 onion

1 cup very coarsely chopped nuts (any kind except peanuts)

4 cloves garlic

1-2 cups well chopped greens including kale, spinach and nettles

1½ tablespoons olive oil

1½ tablespoons butter

Dried or fresh oregano, sage, basil and bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

6 ounces tomato paste

32 ounces crushed tomatoes (fresh, canned or frozen are all good)

To prepare the sauce, start the night before with the eggplant.

Cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes, rub with salt and leave at room temperature in a covered bowl overnight.

The next day, pour off the liquid, rinse the salt and pat dry.

While the eggplant is drying, heat butter and olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot; cast iron is great.

Add minced garlic and herbs and sauté for a minute, then add onions, eggplant and walnuts, cooking on a low heat for 20 minutes, adding liquid if needed to prevent sticking.

Stir in one can of tomato paste, coating everything well, then pour in crushed tomatoes and greens, simmer for 15 to 20 minutes more until eggplant is well cooked but still slightly chewy.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is simmering, cook lasagna in boiling unsalted water according to package directions until done but still firm.

Drain, rinse and allow to cool.

Mix the ricotta, beaten eggs and a little more of the herbs and whisk together.

To assemble the layers, use a 9-by-13-inch pan (or two smaller baking dishes if you prefer), layer as follows: Start with a layer of sauce, then noodles, then cheese mixture.

Repeat the sequence until you have three or four layers of noodles.

For the last layer, spread a layer of sauce on the noodles, then add mozzarella and parmesan cheese for the top.

Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and finish baking another 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and just beginning to turn golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

If you plan to give the lasagna to someone for use at a later date, pull it out of the oven 10 minutes early, let it cool and deliver it with instructions for re-heating.

________

Betsy Wharton is a Port Angeles Farmers Market vendor, Washington State University Extension food preservation information assistant and a registered nurse at First Step Family Support Center. More about her pickling enterprise can be found at www.Clallam CanningCompany.com.

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