I bought his new "short story" collection yesterday - they're actually more novellas than short stories. It's called "Full Dark, No Stars" and if anything excites me more than a new King novel, it's a new anthology. I actually feel like I'm somehow being unfaithful to him even by writing this, but, amazingly, FD,NS didn't live up to expectations. The subject material was very un-King-like, and, at times, I felt like I could have been reading a toned-down Richard Laymon. This, readers, is not a favourable comparison - Laymon wrote, to quote a memorable critic, "Stomach-churning porno-violence". In this particular tome, three out of four stories have extreme violence against women at their heart, and two out of those three have rape as a recurring theme. I am far from a prudish reader, but this is so unlike King (who has actually been accused countless times of pedestalising his female subjects) that I found it very hard to read. Indeed, I think the reason it was so hard to read is because it felt so contrived - it was so, so obviously not a style that he was comfortable writing in, and that discomfort practically leapt off the page. I just wonder what made him try it at all.
Anyway, yesterday I attempted to harvest the remainder of my spinach. This was easier said than done, because spinach is amazingly prolific and even when you think it's going to seed, when you cut the bigger leaves, you find yet another crop of younger ones underneath. For anyone wanting to start growing their own veg, this is the way to go. And, in fact, I found myself specifically looking for spinach recipes, so that I could use this batch. I also had chicken fillets fresh from the butcher, and reckoned a chicken & spinach lasagna might be just the way to go. Unfortunately, none of the recipes I found quite lit my fire, so I combined the best bits from all of them, and this is what I came up with.
Chicken & Spinach Lasagna - serves 4-6
4 large chicken fillets 8 double- handfuls of adult spinach
2 onions, diced 4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 knobs butter Glass white wine
25g butter 25g flour
350ml milk Half a nutmeg, grated
100g grated parmesan 350ml natural yoghurt
1 egg 6 sheets of lasagna, par-boiled
Salt & pepper
1. Poach your chicken fillets* in simmering water until just cooked. I usually add pepper, garlic granules and a bay leaf to the poaching liquid. Drain, chop roughly and set aside.
2. While the chicken is cooking, melt a knob of butter with a glug of oil in a large pan. Add the onions & garlic and sauté gently until just beginning to soften. Add the glass of wine and turn off the heat.
3. Melt the other knob of butter over a low heat. Rinse your spinach and remove any thick stalks. Add the spinach to the butter and cook, turning constantly, until you can fit it all in the pot and it's completely wilted. Add the spinach and the chicken to the white wine/onion mix and toss to combine. Season with plenty of salt & pepper.
4. In another pot, melt the 25g of butter. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes. Add the milk, stirring constantly, a little at a time, until you achieve a thick, but pourable consistency. Add the parmesan & the nutmeg and stir until smooth. Bechamel is very much an instinctive type of sauce, so if it looks to thick, add more milk, if it's too thin, increase the heat until it thickens a bit. Use your common sense.
5. Stir the spinach & chicken mix into the bechamel. In a small bowl, beat the egg into the yoghurt and thin with a little water.
6. Lay a third of the chicken mix into an ovenproof dish. Lay over three of the lasagna sheets (btw, par-boiling them stops them soaking up all of your sauce, making for a nice, floppy, sloppy lasagna), then repeat with another layer of chicken, the other three pasta sheets, and another layer of chicken. Finish with the yoghurt "sauce".
7. Bake at 200C until the top is browned & bubbly. Enjoy, and, if at all possible, get someone else to do the washing up because, alas, this recipe generates a lot of dishes.
*This would actually be the perfect dish to make with the strippings of a roast chicken in place of the fillets. Unfortunately, with three dogs about, leftovers are a bit of an alien concept in our house.