Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Suffering and Lasagna

Lately, I’ve been working on amping up tension in scenes that are perfectly pleasant but not all that exciting. In the process, I’ve come to a conclusion: liking your characters too much can be dangerous. When you become enraptured with your characters, you never want anything bad to happen to them. You never experiment with their motivations, let them make big mistakes, or throw suffering at them as often as necessary—which, of course, is nearly constantly. 

I realized I was playing it safe, and I promised not to take it easy anymore. As a result, even in happy, restful scenes, I now find myself looking for the splinter or the stubbed toe, the tiny suffering that will linger and develop into a true obstacle—a deadly infection or debilitating limp—in the next chapter. Always ask if a character is suffering enough. If not, the reader might not have enough to root for and enough reason to worry.

Is your character lonely? Perhaps, she needs to be lonely and afraid. But is a general fear enough? No way! Add in a specific fear, a terrifying sight or sound. But is even that enough? Perhaps not. While this could end up in a ridiculous place, piling on a bit more suffering is almost always a good choice. You can’t like your characters so much that you sacrifice tension in the process.

Likewise, being in love with your own recipes can limit their development. When you enjoy the product too much, you might become afraid of experimenting, of switching out one ingredient or one technique for another. For many people, lasagna is one of those unchanging recipes, because, let’s face it, lasagna is almost always good.

After poking around a few places, though, and tweaking some ingredients, I stumbled into a lasagna recipe that tops all those I’d made before. I just hope that when the time comes I won’t be too afraid to change it up one more time, even if I have to suffer some along the way. 

Sweet and Savory Lasagna

Meat Sauce
1 lb. ground beef or sausage
1 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 tsp. garlic salt
cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 c. red wine
1 T. Italian seasoning
1 T. chili powder
1 T. brown sugar

1 package lasagna noodles

Ricotta Mixture
2 eggs
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
15 oz. ricotta cheese
510 oz. chopped spinach
2 1/2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 c. milk
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. basil
1 T. parsley

1 lb. shredded provel cheese (or mozzarella if you must)

Cook beef, onion, and 1 tsp. garlic salt in skillet until mostly browned. Drain. Add the second teaspoon of garlic salt, garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomato, and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add Italian seasoning, chili powder, and brown sugar, and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Set aside.

Cook lasagna noodles as directed on package, drain, rinse, and set aside.

In large bowl, beat two eggs. Stir in parmesan, ricotta, spinach. Refrigerate.

Melt butter, then add flour. Cook 2 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly. Whisk in the milk and cook on medium high for about 3 minutes until thick. Stir in pepper, nutmeg, basil, and parsley. Pour into refrigerated cheese mixture and mix well.

Spray large baking dish (13x9x2) or lightly brush with olive oil. Layer 1/3 of noodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, 1/3 meat, and 1/3 provel. Repeat layering twice more. Bake at 375˚ for 3035 minutes or until golden brown and heated through.

1 comment:

  1. That's such a good point on characters and tension! It's often a culprit in my blandest scenes.

    And now, because I've agreed with you, I suppose I shall have to try this recipe. :)