Friday, September 2, 2016

Building Things

While Dr. C. and I have been in Spello, one of the joys is reconnecting with friends we have met over the years, as well as sitting at the enoteca with the family.  A family we met about 6 years ago from London are here this week and we invited them to dinner at our apartment.  Keep in mind I have an easy bake oven and limited counter space, but that hasn't stopped me from thinking I can put on a full on meal, and yesterday I decided since it was a rainy day, that I'd make lasagna.  This is not the ricotta filled bomb that most red sauce Italian restaurants serve, rather lasagna Bolognese, made with traditional (kind of) Bolognese sauce and instead of the heavy ricotta filling, a bechamel that makes a lighter and more delicious lasagna.  It's simple to put together and can be made in stages, making the sauces ahead and then assembling the whole deal.
When I went to the supermercato, I found multiple choices of fresh lasagna noodles, but chose these because of the smiling man on the label.  Cook's note, they were OK, but I will try another brand next time.  Also dealing with pans that aren't quite the same size made it a cut and paste noodle layer--once it's cooked no one will know.

I've been using this brand of tomatoes for sauces and love them.  In San Diego you can find them at Mona Lisa

Making the sauce is simple, saute some veal or pork, I chose veal, with a bit of onion (not too much) some carrot and celery, then add a bit of beef stock, and tomatoes.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, season with salt, pepper, and if it needs it a bit of sugar to temper the acid in the tomatoes.  I finished the sauce with fresh basil, parsley and about 2/3 cup of cream.  
The most important part of a beschamel (cream sauce) is the beginning.  Melting butter, then adding flour, then cooking that flour for 2 to 3 minutes.  Cooking the flour cooks out the floury taste, and bonds it to the other ingredients giving you a smooth, creamy sauce.  I use 1/2 broth and 1/2 milk in the sauce, it lightens it up a bit.  I stirred in about 1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the sauce.  
A trick I learned at the American Academy in Rome was to grind (they had a huge meat grinder) or chop the fresh buffalo mozzarella and mix it with the dryer Parmigiano Reggiano.  This helps to keep the lasagna from being watery and is a genius method.  
basically it's a layering of Bolognese, noodles, bechamel, noodles, Bolognese, a bit of the cheeses, more bechamel, Bolognese, and then a nice sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano with the fresh mozzarella on the top.  You can see my cut and paste noodles work, it wasn't seamless (pardon the pun).
Ready for the oven.  This lasagna can be refrigerated overnight, or frozen for up to 4 months.  Make sure to defrost for 2 days in the fridge if you freeze it.  Always bring casseroles like this to room temperature before baking.  This one took almost an hour to get to room temperature.  

For the Bolognese
Serves 8 to 10
This classic sauce is delicious served with pasta, but also can be made and frozen for future use, or use it to make a classic lasagna Bolognese. 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup pancetta, diced small
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped carrot
¼ cup finely chopped celery
3 sage leaves, finely chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds ground veal (or ¾ pound lean ground pork and ¾ pound ground veal)
½ cup white wine
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup beef stock
4 cups tomato puree 

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat, and cook the pancetta until it has rendered its fat. 
 Add the butter to the pan, and sauté the onion, carrot, celery, sage, parsley, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and garlic, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.  
Add the veal, and cook until the meat is no longer pink.      
Turn up the heat, and add the wine, boiling to evaporate and concentrate the flavor.     Add the cream, and boil for 2 to 3 minutes, to thicken.     

Add the stock and tomatoes, and cook, uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened.

 For the Bechamel

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  1. In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour.  White bubbles will begin to form on the bottom and sides of the pan.  Once the bubbles begin to form, cook the roux whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Diva Wisdom: The reason to cook the roux this long is to cook the flour, so the resulting sauce doesn’t have a floury taste.  If you have ever had a sauce, gravy or soup that tastes like flour it’s because they didn’t totally cook the flour before adding the liquids.  Also, the flour and fat form a bond that prevents the sauce from separating when it’s reheated.  
  3. Gradually add the broth, whisking until blended.  Add the milk, salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. 
  4. Remove the sauce from the stove and gradually stir in the cheese, until it melts.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and correct with additional salt and pepper as necessary. 

One 13-by 9-inch baking dish or two 9-inch baking dishes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 9-ounce package Barilla no-cook lasagna noodles or fresh lasagna noodles (see note)
Bolognese (see above)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
Diva Romano Cream Sauce (see above)
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and chopped finely
  •  Note:  Barilla makes a thin lasagna noodle that needs no pre-cooking or soaking in water and I find that a real plus.  When using the no-cook noodles, remember that you will need extra sauce to soften the noodles that is why there is a greater quantity of sauce in this recipe than there would be if you were using pre-cooked or fresh pasta noodles.  If you use fresh pasta sheets, you don’t need to pre-cook the noodles, just proceed with the recipe as directed.
    1. Heavily coat the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish or two 9-inch square baking dishes if you would like to make smaller lasagna with non-stick cooking spray. 
    2. Spread 1 cup of the Bolobnese on the bottom of the dish and top with lasagna noodles. Combine the Parmigiano, Romano and mozzarella cheeses in a bowl.  
    3. Spread a thin layer of the Romano cream sauce across the top of the noodles, top with mozzarella mixture, and continue layering, using 4 layers of noodles and ending with the Bolognese.  
    4. Top the casserole with the remaining mozzarella and grated cheeses.  Cover the casserole and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for 4 months.  Defrost and bring the casserole to room temperature before baking.  Any remaining Bolognese may be frozen for a later use. (You shouldn’t have any cream sauce left)
    5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the lasagna covered with aluminum foil for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling, the cheese is melted, and beginning to turn golden.  Remove the lasagna from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve.   
 For dessert I figured chocolate (since we were drinking Sagrantino with the meal)  Beth Hensperger, a colleague and fabulous cookbook author posted this on Facebook the other day, and I rushed to the easy bake oven to see if it would work, and presto!  This is a decadent chocolate cake, and worth the calories.  It's simple to prepare in one bowl then melt some chocolate in heavy cream, and glaze it. Click here for the recipe and thank her for sharing Alice Medrichs' magic.  

Buon appetito tutti from Spello.

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