Zander walked around the kitchen, went to a cabinet and pulled out a box of Barilla lasagna. Oh no. Of all the things we could have chosen to cook, why lasagna? It was so easy to mess up such a complicated dish. For years I had watched my mom take hours to create the Italian staple. Assembling the core ingredients took a lot of patience and care. Not to mention the hallowed Bechamel sauce.
The last time we attempted to cook a meal, my other friend Reid put sugar instead of salt in the pot of cooking pasta. He claimed he could not taste the difference. I guess sugar and salt did look the same after all. The final product tasted a bit too sweet.
How could four college students do justice to lasagna?
Yet I knew there was no going back. Reid was already helping Zander gather the ingredients. I was going to have to take part in this challenge whether I liked it or not.
“I need to practice cooking for when I live in an apartment next year,” Zander reasoned.
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Reid connected his phone to the kitchen speaker and started playing music from a 2000’s hits Spotify playlist. Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Eminem blasted as I made up my mind.
So, without a second thought, I began to follow the recipe provided on the back of the royal blue Barilla box. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Done. Combine ricotta cheese, mozzarella and parmesan in a bowl. Stir.
Zander's fridge did not have ricotta, so we used cottage cheese as a substitute. A gooey, glue-like mixture formed as Leo began to stir it. It did not look appetizing in the slightest. Nothing like my mom’s creamy bechamel sauce.
I focused my attention on cooking the ground beef to add to the tomato sauce, Prego no doubt. I forgot to add salt until the last minute when we were adding it to the sauce, but it tasted okay.
At last, we were ready to begin assembling the dish. Apply one cup of tomato sauce to the bottom of the 9-by-13 pan. Then three lasagna sheets. Then the cheese. The cheese glue struggled to get into the pan because it was so sticky. In an instant, it fell into the pan and sprayed sauce everywhere. My friends laughed as I got a towel to remove the sauce from my t-shirt and sweatpants. Naturally, I was its primary victim.
We continued to add layers in this order. We lost track of how many we made. It was supposed to consist of three layers total; I think we assembled at least five. “There’s no harm in more,” I told Zander as we worked together to add the final cup of Prego sauce.
After adding some shaved parmesan to the top, the only step in this process that I also did at home with my mom, we put the tray in the oven. Now we had 25 minutes to await our fate.
Through cleaning the countertops, washing the utensils and cooking an appetizer of makeshift mozzarella sticks, we managed to kill 20 minutes. Zander and Leo started mixing salad in a salad spinner. I had never seen such a thing before.
As I was setting the table, the oven alarm went off. The lasagna was ready. We took a look at it and decided to leave it in 10 more minutes. Just to be sure it cooked.
Later, as we plated the pasta, it fell apart a bit. But it actually looked decent. I took my first bite. This was not that bad. The others agreed with me. Yes, the cheese still looked like glue, but it was edible. Even Leo, who did not usually touch lasagna, ate his entire portion.
As I ate my side salad, I thought to myself: we were actually successful. Four college students had managed to cook lasagna. It did not even taste remotely close to my mom’s, but I still enjoyed it. At least it did not come from Olive Garden.
We were no Master Chefs, but there was more hope than I had imagined for us in the cooking realm after all.
Isabella Vesperini (She/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian. She loves all Italian food and thinks Olive Garden’s only redeeming quality is the breadsticks.