Easy, Lunch or Dinner, Savoury

The Heavy Lifting of A Writer / Lasagne Al Forno

It’s Sunday night. It’s 5:50pm. I usually publish at 6pm.

I have 4 documents sitting open and full of words. None of them are speaking of publication.

It’s an interesting experience, to practise writing with an audience looking on. What was acceptable 6 months ago is unpublishable now. Whereas everything I wrote used to get published, now it’s common than a dozen drafts will skate through my fingers without the click I feel when something is right and worth pushing harder.

It felt for a while that the act of getting words from my head onto the page was the real challenge of writing. But I’m realising more and more that it’s really just the first ten percent. The real work is always editing.

In my case I always try and write about double the amount of words I’m going to want to publish and then I have a large amount to play with. Even then I frequently write whole new paragraphs and will sometimes rewrite eighty percent or more. More often than not, these days, the entire thing gets filed into drafts and won’t see the light of my screen again.

I know it’s a good thing. Borne out of an increased understanding of the words that have skittered through my mind for so long, and a quality filter that’s only just starting to come online, it seems to fit with all the suggestions and instructions given by the best writers in the world.

Back in September 2013, Graham Linehan (one of the great British television writers, with a biography filled with shows like Father Ted and The IT Crowd) wrote a brilliant blog post about rewriting and the pain that comes with trying to tell writers about it. In it, he writes that

Writing is rewriting.
Rewriting is not polishing.
Rewriting is heavy lifting.

I often have my editors (my husband and one of my best friends) tell me that a sentence, paragraph or whole post doesn’t work and I’ve been guilty of trying to explain why they’re wrong. But, as Graham writes, if you have to explain anything, you’ve already lost.

So I’m sitting here, my 4 pieces in front of me, and none of them are good enough. All of them need some old fashioned heavy lifting — I suspect most of them will be discarded into the drafts folder along with all the other unpolished little numbers that just weren’t good enough. Interestingly I find the process exhilarating, if I’m getting better at telling where the not-good-enough lies, may be there’s hope for my writing yet…

Speaking of the necessity in reworking, lasagne was my baking nemesis for quite some time. I could never get the ratios quite right and the pasta was often lost amongst my clear favouritism for the white sauce. I spent a few years stirring the meat and white sauces through fusilli pasta instead of trying to layer it up. Finally, after patience, practise and experimentation, I found the recipe that’s a favourite in my family, I make up a large batch and keep it in the freezer, always ready for a Friday night ‘can’t be bothered to cook’ dinner.

Enjoy.

  • 300g lasagne sheets
  • 1 tbl sp olive oil
  • 60g parmesan
  • 1 tsp nutmeg

Béchamel Sauce

  • 725ml milk
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 75ml double cream
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg

Place the milk, butter and flour into a saucepan and whisk continuously over a gentle heat until the sauce simmers and thickens

With the heat as low as possible, continue to cook for 10 minutes, or until the sauce is your desired thickness

Take off the heat and beat in the cream and nutmeg

Set aside

Meat Sauce

  • 1 tbl sp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 500g beef mince
  • 2 tsp basil, finely chopped
  • 500g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbl sp tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper

Add the olive oil to a large pan over a medium heat

Once warmed, add the garlic and onion, stirring occasionally until soft, about 10 minutes

Add the mince and cook until browned before adding the rest of the ingredients and simmering for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated

Meanwhile, cook the lasagne in a large amount of boiling, salted water until al dente (if in doubt, follow the instructions on the packet but remove a minute before the instructions suggest)

I use large, 18x24cm disposable trays for my lasagne, it’s easier than having one of my baking dishes sitting in the freezer until we’ve finished a lasagne and I must confess I love the idea of less washing up to do…

Preheat the oven to 180˚C / 350˚F

Grease the baking tray with a tablespoon of olive oil and gradually layer on up — this is how I do it, but feel free to play around

2 ladles of meat sauce

1 layer of pasta sheets

Continue until all the sauce and pasta has been used

Pour the béchamel over the top of the lasagne and sprinkle with the parmesan and last of the nutmeg

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the top is bubbling and you can’t wait any longer

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8 thoughts on “The Heavy Lifting of A Writer / Lasagne Al Forno

  1. Oh Susanne, you are speaking my language! I just had the exact same experience going from one document to another, ummming and ahhhing over what to use what not to use. It ultimately worked when I started writing about how I was finding it hard to write! You have summed it up nicely. Thank you, nice to know I am not alone x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Tess, it’s so lovely that I have this place to come and commune with other writers! Glad you found a place for your writing to land today, looking forward to reading your next post. And may be even that pesky writing group we keep threatening to do!

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  2. OMG – I feel the same way with writing. Sometimes what I thought was perfect, polished, and publishable simply makes me cringe after 6 months. It is as if the text took on a life of its own, much like yeasty dough overflowing the bowl when left unchecked. And re-writing…well, as you say, very heavy lifting. Glad you found the perfect ratio of sauce to noodles!

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  3. I’ve just been re-reading old typed (on typewriter) pieces and am giving them a second airing on my blog. I wrote them pre-blog so In some spots they are dated, but what the hey, I’ve decided to publish them as they are.I do get, though, your feelings about an audience and what topic is suitable for them and how much ‘lifting’ still needs to be done before the editor clicks on the publish button. I’m trying to do that with my newly created pieces. Gone is the fun of being in charge. 🙂
    I do so love your lovely ramblings combined with your equally lovely recipes. Great blog.

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    • I’ve been reading your blog – your writing’s really good, I’m thoroughly enjoying working through each of your posts. And thank you for your lovely compliments and thoughtful observations. I think my struggle for The Imperfect Kitchen has been finding the blog’s voice, something I’m really enjoying working through (heavy lifting and all!)

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