The party will be on Saturday, but today was the actual day. So I planned a simple meal of his favorites, and yet which also allowed me to refine my favorite variations on a couple of standards. He loves lasagna (he used to call it “Za-zagna” when he was little, and the name stuck). Since I’m still tinkering with my version, I gave it another whirl that took full advantage of the season’s bounty. The winning combination of veal and dashi has pretty much defined the dish for us- I’ve written about it before– so this time around what made it even better were two components that came from the garden. Christine made a big batch of roasted tomato sauce while I was in Miami, so I added that to some ground (humane, pasture-raised) local veal and let it simmer into a luscious sauce. The dashi, once made, I stirred into a roux along with a pesto made with roughly equal parts of curly endive and basil.
I get pretty annoyed dealing with lasagna noodles; it requires boiling a big pot of water, and then dealing with big, hot, slimy, crinkly noodles before they all stick together. Plus, the act of cooking them ends up knocking most of the crinkles off anyway, which is vexing in and of itself. So this time around, I just soaked them in a big bowl of hot water; in 30 minutes or so they were perfectly pliable and yet just tepid and fully intact. In a perfect world, I would have rolled out fresh pasta- maybe flavored with caramelized onions for some more depth and complexity- but store-bought served just fine. These were supplemented with some sunchoke flour for a nice silky texture. So I alternated layers of veal ragù and pesto-dashi velouté, and topped it all with fresh mozzarella and grated parmigiano. It baked up beautifully.
Originally I had planned to make some serious dark chocolate ice cream- something he loves a very great deal- so I did my usual thing: beat eggs and extra yolks, heat cream/milk mixture, vanilla, and vanilla sugar, pour onto shaved chocolate (Scharffen Berger unsweetened 99% cacao), temper eggs with the ganache, whisk over double-boiler until thick, then chill in the fridge. It set up so lusciously thick in the fridge that I asked him if it would be OK for us to have chocolate mousse instead of ice cream. He agreed, delighted, so that saved a whole step. I took some local raspberries out of the freezer, and cooked them with a splash of dessert wine left in the fridge, some maple syrup, and a little red wine until they were all busted up and gooey, then I strained the syrup into a bowl. After dinner, I scooped mousse into bowls, garnished them with strawberry slices and mint leaves, and served them. He was so excited to eat it that he didn’t want a candle, but when he asked for seconds he decided that he did. Using the 99% cacao allows one to use the normal proportion of cream and milk and still have the mousse/ice cream taste fully dark. It’s very grownup and sophisticated, and further proof that the kid really knows how to eat. And thus did he enjoy his fifth birthday.