A Page Outta: Cupcake Lasagna

It's my fault, clearly. I didn't lay out any ground rules. I set myself up, and (one of) you took the bait. Still, I was a bit shocked when I wound up preparing cupcake lasagna for this week's A Page Outta.

I knew it was at least mostly intended as a joke, but I had already decided to pick randomly from the suggestions. When I told her what I had drawn, my wife suggested I toss it and draw again. No dice; random is random. If I start the game breaking the rules, why bother having them at all?

Resigned, I started doing some research on these fabled fusion cakes from hell. There were several options to choose from, each as pointlessly silly as the next. I decided that, in the name of fairness, I should go with the one that popped up first in a Google search. Since I technically searched for "cupcake lasagna" instead of "lasagna cupcakes," I wound up with a recipe from the Food Network, courtesy of Dweezil Zappa and Lisa Loeb. Not only would I be preparing something utterly ridiculous for my first reader-requested post, I'd be taking my cues from two (very) marginally notable musicians. Yay.

A promise is a promise, though, so I gathered the necessary ingredients. Really, I can't fault the recipe too much. It starts with a pretty standard and straightforward tomato sauce, which actually turned out to be pretty good. It had a nice, balanced sweetness and punchy acidity, with just the right notes of pungent garlic and fragrant basil. There were, however, a few sins committed in the creation of the sauce.

First among these is the inclusion of an admittedly small amount of jarred bouillon paste, both beef and vegetable. I tried the stuff. It's just salty. If the aim is to increase the depth of flavor, it would be a simple matter to start the recipe by caramelizing the carrot for which it calls, along with an onion and some celery, and including a bit of tomato paste. If the aim is to increase the saltiness, why not just add salt?

The second sin was the manner in which the garlic was added. Essentially pan-roasted whole in olive oil, the garlic is simply a flavoring element for the oil. Once it's golden brown (and, I might add, truly delicious), the recipe has you remove and discard it. No sir. Mine was removed and set aside, awaiting proper usage in another meal this week.

A similar fate befalls the carrots, which are simmered in the sauce (after adding crushed tomatoes, white wine, and the aforementioned failure-paste), removed and discarded. I set them aside with the garlic and showed my wife. "So, they're basically having you throw away stew," she quipped. Yes, Food Network, you're basically having your readers/watchers/acolytes throw away stew. As I'm sure you're guessing, the carrots are with the garlic in the fridge, awaiting their due service.

While the sauce was simmering, I wilted spinach in garlic-flavored oil, using the same stupidly wasteful garlic-oil-infusion method called for in the sauce. I added a squeeze of lemon juice, and set the pile of greens to drain in a colander over a bowl.

Assembly is pretty simple. Layer wonton wrappers (the recipe calls for round, I had square), mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, spinach, and sauce in the portions of a cupcake tin. Since I used square wrappers, I had to do some folding and crimping, and had plenty of layers of wonton flowering out of the sides when I was done layering.

Veering off-recipe ever so slightly, I brushed the wonton petals with olive-oil, to prevent burning and promote crisping. A quick 20 minute run in a 375° oven and they were golden brown on the edges and bubbling.

The recipe recommends tinting some ricotta pink with food coloring, and piping it on top, like a real cupcake. I declined. Instead, I just waited for them to cool a bit, and served. They weren't bad. The wonton wrappers had a slightly odd texture, and came out underdone in some spots. The crunchy, oiled outer leaves were the best part. My daughters pulled them off and crunched away happily, having to be cajoled into eating the rest of the cupcake.

Really, though, there's nothing outlandish about the recipe, itself. They're basically individual savory tarts that just happen to be baked in a muffin tin. The flavors are straightforward and simple, though lacking a bit in seasoning. A bit of salt added along the way would have helped out.

With a few tweaks, it would be a perfectly serviceable dish. It is, of course, almost completely, pointlessly silly. The format has some ups, I suppose, in that it makes for customizable lasagnas for each diner, and it's got some portion control merits. It has a significant down, though, in that the preciousness of the presentation translates into a fair degree of unnecessary repetition. Instead of making six layers of ingredients once, you have to do it twelve times, in tiny cups. I will say that my kids liked the idea of having their own individual servings, and really liked that I let them eat theirs like cupcakes.

So, Gunsandtacos, are you happy now, sir? For the rest of you, I have only one ground rule going forward. Please, only recommend something if you really want me to cook it. You guys left me hanging last time, so I need you to chime in with some suggestions. Throw some books at me, people. Seriously, what's next?

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