I made a new dish the other day. It wasn’t very good. Surprised? So was I, especially since what I was making was none other than grilled vegetable “lasagna”. I’d pictured an assortment of seasonal grilled vegetables (zucchini, onions, fennel and roasted red peppers) in between long thin layers of grilled globe eggplant (in place of the traditional lasagna noodles) with a smear of my favorite pasta filling – a mixture of half ricotta and half very thick béchamel – with thick slices of fresh garden tomatoes added here and there.

I’d carefully cut the vegetables in ¼-inch slices and grilled them attentively. I arranged them purposefully in an oblong pan, baked it for about 30 minutes, removed it from the oven and let it cool for 10, and served them in generous, thick rectangular slices. The distinguishable layers did indeed remind me of the familiar Italian desert, the napoleon, a name that I had heard thrown around lately and seemed to describe what I pictured perfectly.

It should have been delicious…but it wasn’t…as my dinner guests readily confirmed. The filling simply didn’t work with the vegetables. Luckily I had made a large variety of other dishes to sample so my friends did not leave unsatisfied.

I, of course could not let the napoleon go in defeat, especially considering the illustrious military background of its other namesake, the famous Frenchman.

A few days later I made another attempt. This time I envisioned something completely different, inspired by a little goggling. I was surprised to find that many recipes called for ricotta and/or mozzarella cheese, but I wasn’t going there again. Apparently the napoleon is a popular restaurant item and savory interpretations of its sweet namesake abound. I immediately fell in love with a photo of a tower of vegetables, stacked like the leaning tower of Pisa (which is why this shape is more properly referred to as a terrine).

Using basically the same ingredients – minus the fennel – I stacked the perfectly grilled vegetables on a grilled portobello, replaced the ricotta filling with a smattering of goat cheese, topped the whole thing with caramelized onions and served it with a spicy tomato sauce. It was as beautiful as it was delicious.

I couldn’t help but notice the message this exercise in the kitchen clearly revealed – a simple truth we all know but at times need reminding…

It’s not the ingredients that determine whether or not something works…its how you put them together that really matters.

Aha…food for thought…and something great to eat… along with weeks ahead to savor the colors of fall. It just doesn’t get much better than this.

Until next month,

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