Sunday, October 14, 2018

White Lasagna with Sausage and Truffles

Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy because it is land-locked; it doesn't border another country or either coast.  Often bypassed by visitors for it's more glittering neighbor, Tuscany, Umbria has a wealth of history predating the Romans, amazing scenery and magnificent cuisine.  The culinary treasures here are black and white truffles, pork in any iteration, pecorino cheese, black celery and cippolini that earn a DOC seal, lentils, farro, olive oil, and Sagrantino wines all contribute to the bounty of delicious foods that are served not only in homes but in the restaurants and shops. 
A week ago, Dr. C. and I were invited to a dinner in Todi at a friends' house.  She confessed that she hadn't made the lasagna, but had bought it at their favorite pasta shop---I'm all for making things easy, and this lasagna was memorable.  Thin sheets of pasta sandwiched with pork sausage, in a creamy truffle sauce.  I have dreamed of this pasta for a week, and today decided to make it.  It's Sunday and that calls for something special for Sunday lunch, the UK isn't the only place that reveres a Sunday lunch.
Yesterday Dr. C. and I traveled to Bevagna to Scottadito Tagliavento to pick up some sausages for the lasagna and ended up with a bisteka for last night's dinner. 

I'd say that for the sausage we used about 1/2 pound removed from the casings for the lasagna. Here in Umbria the sausage is made with pork, salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic, but not a lot. 
This is a pretty simple dish to put together, and all the components can be made ahead then put together and baked. 

My friend who was serving the lasagna gifted me with this black truffle, Mama Mia!

White Lasagna with Black Truffles
Serves 6
I know not everyone has access to fresh truffles; rather than using truffle oil, which is usually made in laboratories, I'd suggest sauteing some meaty mushrooms like cremini, or if you can find them porcini, dice them finely or shave them, you want them to dissolve into the sauce.  

1/2 pound sweet Italian pork sausage, removed from the casing
1/4 cup unsalted butter or olive oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (if you aren't using truffles, use 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup shaved black truffle
salt and pepper
Fresh pasta to make 3 layers, or 9 Barilla no boil lasagna noodles
sliced soft pecorino cheese for garnish (if you can't find it, use Asiago)

In a skillet cook the sausage until it is no longer pink, breaking up any large pieces.  Drain and set aside to cool.

In a saucepan melt the butter, add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes to cook the flour.

Add the broth and milk, and whisk until the mixture comes back to a boil.  

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and truffles, season with salt and pepper if necessary.  

Coat the inside of a 13-by-9-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Ladle some of the sauce into the pan, and spread to cover the bottom.  

lay a sheet of pasta over the sauce, and ladle a bit of the sauce over the pasta.  Top with 1/2 of the sausage.  

Top with a layer of pasta, sauce, and the remaining sausage. 
Lay the last 3 pieces of pasta on top, spread the remaining sauce on the top and spread the soft pecorino over the sauce.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes until the lasagna is bubbling, and the cheese is golden brown.  Allow the lasagna to rest for 10 minutes before cutting. 
Do-Ahead: The entire lasagna can be assembled 48 hours ahead of time, bring to room temperature and bake.  Since truffles are so delicate, I probably wouldn't freeze this, but you could.

This is a rich lasagna, studded with nuggets of pork and redolent of truffle and pecorino, the perfect way to enjoy Umbria on a Sunday afternoon.  We served it with a salad dressed with red wine vinegar (to cut the richness) and a white Grecchetto.  And, I have enough truffle left over to make this again before we leave.  Now it's time for a walk and a gelato.  Ciao for now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Good Day for Soup

Wednesday is market day in Spello; unfortunately, since Spello is a very small town, the market here is more flea market than produce market.  There are only 2 produce sellers, the rest sell clothing, shoes, and plants.
My guy talks non-stop to the buyers, and is a lovely man.  Happy to sell you his wares, and also adding what he thinks you'll need for your meal.  Since I was gifted with a few zucchini and an onion from a friend, I wanted to make a minestrone.  That necessitated a few more ingredients from the frutivendolo.  As I was making my purchases he asked if I wanted the black celery from Trevi a nearby town that has a DOP (denomination of protected origin) designation for its special celery---it is aromatic and delicious, so of course I chose it, after that he was putting extra carrots and parsley and onions into my bags.  The celery isn't actually black, they cover the root end, and the chlorophyll goes to the leaves, which turn a very dark green. There is an annual festival in Trevi celebrating the sedano nero.


Here pepperoni is the vegetable, not the meat on a pizza



Golden delicious apples from the north

Gala apples from the north

Really new potatoes


Beautiful flowers

Serves an army
Let me just say that you can sub in your favorite vegetables here, I usually use escarole, but the heads he had were as big as my head, and I didn't need that much, so I picked up some spinach instead.  Pancetta is also optional, perfectly acceptable to leave it out.  Minestrone means without stock but I used chicken for this one.  You can use water if you prefer, the fresher the vegetables the better your soup will be. 

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
one 1/4-inch piece pancetta finely diced
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (today I'm using the DOP cippolini from Cannara)
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery with leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1/2 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup diced zucchini
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 cup small lentils
salt and pepper

Lining up the ingredients
  1. In a Dutch oven heat the oil, and saute the pancetta until it is almost crisp.  Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and season with salt and pepper.  Saute for 5 minutes until the onion is softened.  
  2. Add the broth, spinach beans, zucchini, barley and lentils and simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the barley and lentils are softened.  
  3. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.  
Bubbling on the stove top
After our lunch, we took our afternoon stroll and ended up in the piazza and had a gelato to celebrate having such a healthy lunch. 

Ciao for now.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Finding Treasure

For us, finding Spello 20 years ago was like finding treasure.  This small beautifully preserved hill town in Umbria, has one road in that is the same road out...truth be told I've driven the wrong way on this one way street a few times, but that's another story. 
On Wednesday, Dr. C. and I had some errands to run, one was dropping off our laundry with the laundress to take care of , giving us some extra time to wander, and we decided to take a peek into the new exhibition at the bottom of the hill in Spello called La Villa dei Mosaici
Some years ago the local workers were digging a new parking lot at the bottom of the hill, when they discovered mosaics.  Since we have been coming here so long, we remembered the construction (which always seems to go on forever) and then the stoppage, so we couldn't park our car in the lot.  Grumble, grumble. 
The next year there was a protective structure over the parking lot, and we couldn't figure out what it was.  Subsequent years saw different structures, and this year the museum is open, and it was worth waiting for. 
Dating from 27 BC, the mosaics are incredibly well preserved.  This was a beautiful villa, with large rooms, and beautiful marble.  When you think how old these mosaics are it's mind blowing, and the fact that so many have been preserved is even more astonishing. Many homeowners here, when doing renovations will come upon mosaics, or other Roman artifacts, and will cover them up, rather than wait for the historic preservation council to come and take a look and stop construction.  Others like Enoteca Properzio Uno will cover the historic finds with glass so that all can enjoy them. 

floor plan

Not a checker board

Fragments from the outside walls

I used to say that there were only 2 reasons to come to Spello:  Enoteca Properzio, and the Pinturicchio frescoes in the cathedral, but now there is a third reason, this amazing museum.  Spello is a beautiful jewel in Umbria, but if you are looking for bright lights, and lots of action, then go to Perugia and Assisi.  What we love about Spello is its timelessness and it's why we come back.  Ciao for now.