We spent a chunk of time out in Tofino again this summer, something you may have noticed we do every year. (For those who’ve asked, it’s because my parents have property out there.) Their place has turned into something of a second home, one we can settle into for as much time as we can possibly manage at one go. We’re starting to leave shampoo and toothbrushes behind, as if we were in a new relationship that has comfortably evolved to the next level. And because we’ve been coming out for so long, we’ve gotten to know the locals, so to speak. We now have Tofino friends we see a couple times a year, and friends from home have started coming to visit while we’re out there. So really it’s like being home and away, the best of both worlds, which means we often invite friends over for dinner while on vacation.
And when we don’t have the house to ourselves, it’s full to overflowing (literally, with tents pitched outside) with siblings and cousins and nephews and their friends. (There were 14 for almost a week in late July.) We all pick up fresh baguettes and cherries and apricots and chunks and wheels of west coast cheeses to spread out on the counter and nibble from and bring to the beach. I love that we have such an extensive selection of Canadian cheeses so readily available – even out in a town of 1500 year-round residents, I can pick up not only Canadian, but made-on-Vancouver Island brie, cheddar, Gouda, raclette… you name it.
Someone inevitably cranks out crepes (with whipped cream, if we’re lucky) in the morning, then DIY grilled cheese made with all kinds of Canadian cheeses and bits of pepper salami, leftover crab or sliced ripe avocado are common at lunch, and there are card tables to set up at dinner if we don’t go out for fish & chips. This year someone brought Solly’s bagels from Vancouver, which we ate thickly spread with Canadian cream cheese and topped with hot and cold smoked salmon. We’ve started making giant batches of what we now call Tofino poutine – roasted new potatoes loaded with grated Canadian aged white cheddar about halfway through their oven time, which we have discovered are equally suitable first thing in the morning and late at night, reheated and eaten by the forkful straight from the pan on the table. There are a few birthdays in August, and this year I decided to make a creamy seafood lasagna as the Something Special for our now 24 year old nephew.
Anything baked and gooily cheesy is fitting for feeding small crowds and for special occasions, don’t you think? Seafood lasagna seems appropriately indulgent, and well suited for out in Tofino, where we have access to all kinds of freshly caught local seafood. (But really, the seafood I used – whitefish, shrimp and scallops – aren’t difficult to find at home in Calgary, either.)
This is one of those dishes that seems totally out there – something you’d only order in a restaurant – until you make it yourself and realize it’s not a big deal, really no more complicated than homemade mac & cheese. If you can make your own white sauce – which it turns out is a perfect vehicle for gently cooking seafood – you can make a gooey, cheesy seafood lasagna.
Most seafood lasagnas (you know when you say something over and over enough times it starts to sound weird? SEAFOOD LASAGNA) are creamy and Alfredo-like, and this is no exception. But we wondered at the table what a rosé version might be like, with a cup or so of tomato sauce added to the creamy sauce. I’ll report back soon with our findings – I’m thinking a warm pan of lasagna is going to fit the bill once schedules fill up and the days start getting noticeably shorter. (Also: it’s a perfect excuse to toss up an old-school garlicky, cheesy Caesar.)
Another note on the subject of lasagna, seafood or not: it’s a great way to use up any number of creamy, meltable cheeses – we had Canadian aged cheddar, Gouda (we stopped at Gort’s en route), mozzarella and Parmesan in the fridge, and a chunk of local raclette we grated over garlic buttered crusty bread and toasted to go alongside. (Yes, those are upcycled hot dog buns.) If you’re not sure of the source, look for the 100% Canadian Milk symbol whenever you buy cheese – it confirms the Canadian origin of the milk (and the quality of the cheese), no matter where you are.
These types of Canadian cheeses tend to get along well together, and can be grated in a mishmash overtop, and even between layers if you like things extra cheesy (who doesn’t?) or want to mix things up, flavour-wise. Likewise, all kinds of seafood would do well here – I would have added crab if we had some on hand, and those on the east coast might want to add chunks of lobster.
Creamy Seafood Lasagna
If you want to use no-boil lasagna noodles, go ahead – but you may need more sauce, as they absorb more in order to reconstitute themselves in the oven. If you have fresh lasagna sheets, even better – boil them according to their package directions, or use them as you would no-boil noodles.
12 dry lasagna noodles
1 Tbsp. canola oil
¼ cup butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 L) half & half or 2% milk
½ lb (250 g) cod, halibut or other whitefish, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb (250 g) scallops, halved or quartered if large
½ lb (250 g) small shrimp, raw or cooked
1 cup freshly grated Canadian Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cups grated Canadian Parmesan, Asiago, aged Gouda, aged white cheddar, or a combination
In a large pot of salted water, cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions, or until al dente. Run them under cool water in a colander to stop them from cooking.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Once the foaming subsides, cook the onion for 4-5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the flour. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook for a minute or two, until the sauce has thickened.
Add the fish, scallops and shrimp (if they’re raw) and cook for 2-3 minutes, just until they’re cooked through. Stir in the Parmesan and pepper – and the shrimp, if they’re already cooked. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9×13 or similar sized casserole dish – one that will accommodate 4 lasagna noodles in a single layer – and spread about 1/4 cup of the sauce (try to leave out any chunks of seafood) in the bottom. Lay 4 cooked lasagna noodles overtop, then spread over about half the seafood mixture. Lay another 4 noodles on top, then the rest of the seafood mixture, holding back about ½ cup of the sauce (again, without much in the way of seafood). Lay the final 4 noodles on top, and spread with the reserved sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan, Asiago, Gouda, aged cheddar, or a combination.
Bake for 1 hour, or until bubbly and golden. Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.