Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my daughter’s two favorite pasta dishes. When she couldn’t decide which one she wanted for dinner one night, I decided that she’d get both! (Yes, I spoil my girl rotten!)

The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This is now one of my go-to dishes when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time. And the gluten-free version tastes as good the original!

 

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken uses gluten-free bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. You get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought GF breadcrumbs from a can. I add gluten-free flour to it to lighten it up. Cup4Cup is by far the best GF flour I’ve tried.

If you’re not on a GF diet, simply use regular breadcrumbs and all-purpose flour in the same proportions.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
4 oz. sliced gluten-free bread, toasted (I use Udi’s frozen bread)
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set it aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

 

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, which I wrap individually and freeze until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

 

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. When making this dish gluten-free, I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta exclusively, because it tastes just like real pasta. (Believe me, I’ve tried every GF pasta out there.) I buy mass quantities at Amazon.

If you’re not on a GF diet, simply use your favorite regular pasta.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. (Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer.) Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

Turn the heat under the saucepan on low, tossing the pasta, coating it with the sauce. Add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, and a bit of pepper (no salt because there’s plenty in the guanciale and cheese.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

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Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.

 

 

 

 

 

The asparagus bed is winding down for the season in the home garden right now. Like tomatoes, asparagus is at its very best at the peak of the season, and I don’t really want to eat it in the off-season, when it comes from South America, all dried up and tasting like twigs. So now is my last opportunity to gorge!
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want variety! It’s great straight out of the garden, or served raw in a salad. It’s delicious pickled, or simply tossed in olive and baked in the oven. But here’s a recipe that’s one of my family’s favorites…
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Saute the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and saute for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, saute the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

There’s something magical about a simple plate of spaghetti and meatballs. When my parents took me to an Italian restaurant as a child, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs made me feel like the luckiest kid on the planet. And even now, when I prepare a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for my daughter, she can’t wait to sit down at the dinner table. She’s so busy shoveling the food into her mouth, she can’t even speak. I just get a quick thumbs-up between bites…and breaths!

 

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Great meatballs start with great meat. I always use 80/20 grass-fed beef. I don’t use a ton of breadcrumbs as filler. And the tomato sauce is homemade as well, from canned tomatoes. I start with the sauce…

 

B.F.I.M. SAUCE

Inspired by a lovely but large Italian lady I once knew, my Big Fat Italian Mama sauce works well with this hearty dish.

 

 

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, through a press
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cups ground and peeled tomatoes…or 3 cans (28 oz.) tomatoes pureed in food processor
2 teaspoons each: dried oregano, basil and parsley
3/4 teaspoon each anise seed and fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

 

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Stir for 10 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and cook on high until the orange foam disappears, stirring frequently. Don’t let it burn.

Add the oregano, basil, parsley, anise seed, fennel seed, salt and pepper, bay leaves and tomato paste. Allow the sauce to just come to a boil so that the tomato paste reaches optimum thickening power.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for at least an hour, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Stir often.

 

While the sauce is cooking, I start the meatballs…

 

 

2 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (gluten-free breadcrumbs work well, too)
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, thoroughly but gently in a large bowl. Don’t overwork it.

Pour some olive oil a medium-hot pan (don’t let it burn), make the meatballs, and sear them on all sides until brown.

When the meatballs are nice and brown, place them into the pot of sauce, making sure they are covered. Pour all the little bits and the olive oil from the pan into the sauce as well! Great flavor there.

Cover the pot and cook the meatballs in the sauce on low for a few hours.

Serve the meatballs and sauce over your favorite pasta, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

Making this dish gluten-free is easy: use gluten-free pasta (we love the products from Garofalo) and use GF breadcrumbs in the meatballs. I prefer to buy gluten-free loaves of bread, toasting them, letting the slices cool, then tossing them in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. The flavor is as good as regular breadcrumbs!

 

February 7 is National Fettuccine Alfredo Day!

My first foray into serious cooking started when I bought “The Classic Italian Cookbook,” written by the Marcella Hazan.

Like many great recipes, Fettuccine Alfredo is not complicated…but few restaurants that offer it get it right. Most of the Alfredo sauces I’ve had were watery, floury, and salty and had nothing in common with the real deal.
To this day, if I want a great Alfredo, I make it like Marcella.

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1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. Fettuccine, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
A very tiny grating of nutmeg

Put 2/3 cup of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened. Turn off the heat.

Drop the fettuccine in a big pot of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. Cook the fettuccine firmer than usual, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately and thoroughly when it’s done and transfer to the pan containing the butter and cream.

Turn the heat under the pan on low, and toss the fettuccine, coating them with the sauce. Add the rest of the cream, all the grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper and the nutmeg. Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the fettuccine are well coated. Taste and correct for salt.

Serve immediately!

Fettucini alla Bolognese is my daughter’s go-to dish when we visit one of our favorite Italian restaurants,  Il Corso, on W 55th St. in New York. But we only go there once a year, so it was about time that I tried my hand at Bolognese at home. The dish isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, the better the quality of the ingredients, the better the result.

I use grass-fed ground veal that I get down the road from a local dairy farm: Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI. I use ground Berkshire pork, full of “good fat.” And I use guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them myself. The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

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5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 cup ground tomatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine (I use an un-oaked chardonnay like Alice White)
1 lb. pasta, cooked (I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta)

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Keeping the heat on medium, sweat the veggies and allow them to get soft but not brown, about 10–15 minutes.

Turn the heat on high and add the guanciale. Stir it around to keep it from sticking. Let the guanciale cook for a minute, then add the veal and the pork, constantly stirring until the meat browns.

Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, ground tomatoes, milk and wine. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a medium-low, and let it simmer for 60–90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Traditionally, ragu Bolognese is served by placing a portion of cooked pasta in a pan, and adding just enough sauce to have it cling to, not drip from, the pasta. It’s not soup!

 

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cure and smoke my own bacon, from heritage breeds like Berkshire. I’ll make my own pork sausage on occasion. But the desire to make a classic Italian dish, genuine spaghetti carbonara, required that I learn how to cure an unusual cut of pork I’ve never used before.

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required them to be cut and weighed to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, everyone said the same thing: “Though the genuine dish uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find so use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are quite tasty (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl. That’s what guanciale is made from. So I needed to find a source.
I started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner and chef (and bribing them with alcohol), I asked if they’d order me some jowls. They did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering them every time I wanted more howls, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each. (See the photo above.) They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from the breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s a delicious breed with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in 2-pound packs, with 4 1/2-pound jowls in a pack.
My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. Then they’re ready to use and any extra guanciale freezes really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!

Pork jowls with a good sprinkling of the cure, ready to be wrapped.

 2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry rub (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the dry rub, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the salt mixture onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the salt mixture. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the salt mix and thyme, then top the jowls with the rest of the salt mix, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.
Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the salt mix into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten the salt cure around the meat. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process. If the plastic wrap still isn’t too tight around the jowls, weigh it down with something heavy to press down on the pork. You really want the salt to make contact with the meat. Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, remove the weight off the jowls and flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Add the weight and return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it will help the curing process.
In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

Cured, rinsed and dried guanciale. Cut the jowls into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

At this point, you can cut the jowls (now officially guanciale!) into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it in warmer temperatures.
Now that you’ve got guanciale, make that spaghetti carbonara you’ve always dreamed about! It’s also great chopped and fried and sprinkled on pizza, and sautéed with vegetables or mixed with scrambled eggs.
The Basic Dry Rub
Every good cure starts with a good dry rub. This one’s extremely simple but requires a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
Note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, will weigh more and will throw off the recipe.

I’ve known Plum Pt. Bistro owner Ralph Conte for about 20 years now. Back in the day, Ralph owned Raphael Bar Risto in Providence. At that time, it was not only the best restaurant in town, but The Tunnel Bar at Raphael’s was also the hottest singles bar in town.

My buddy, Charles, and I would spend every Friday and Saturday night there, from dinner until closing, chatting with the ladies, sipping cocktails, and enjoying incredible food. As much as that kind of lifestyle can take its toll on your health, so can running a restaurant like that. And after a number of years, Ralph decided to close the doors on our beloved restaurant.

I was heartbroken, not only because it was a favorite hang out of mine, but it was also where I met my wife!

Fast forward a half a dozen years later.

Restaurants are in Ralph’s blood, so it was no surprise that he opened a smaller, family-run establishment, this time far away from the noise of Providence. Plum Pt. Bistro in Saunderstown became an instant hit with the locals and there’s rarely any empty seat in the house no matter what day you go.

Plum Pt. Bistro is smaller and more manageable than the old Raphael’s, and Ralph has his family to help him. His wife, Alyssa, daughter Zoe, and son Raphael, all work at the restaurant. The result is a comfortable atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re home. Ralph’s skills with Mediterranean flavors has not diminished in the least.

Although I love many of the standards that are on their menu, I always look to the blackboard first for the night’s specials. On a recent trip, there was fresh locally caught striped bass, tuna, and black bass. The tuna tartare was sensational. The whole fried black bass, served in a lemon butter caper sauce, with fresh seasonal vegetables and potatoes on the side, was the best whole fish I’ve had in many years. My daughter devoured the fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, sitting on a bed of beautiful marinara sauce. And her favorite regular dish on the menu is the potato gnocchi with pesto. My wife had the lettuce wraps, which were surprisingly fresh and tasty, dipping them in the Asian-style peanut sauce on the side. And a beet salad was raised to the next level by adding a perfectly cooked marinated steak to it.

My whole fried black bass, before I devoured it.

 

Plum Pt. Bistro has great bartenders that will make you your favorite cocktail, or create a new favorite for you. My buddy, Skip, from the Raphael days, still works for Ralph behind the bar. And they have a decent wine selection, too. Reservations are highly recommended. You need to call them since they don’t offer reservations online.

Plum Pt. Bistro is on the mainland of Rhode Island, right at the end of the Jamestown Bridge…just a stone’s throw from Wickford. Absolutely worth the trip if you’re spending any time in Newport. Cross the bridges and get some amazing food! Hey…I live on the other side of the state and it’s worth the trip for me!

 

I know, you’re saying you can just buy gluten-free bread crumbs. Like this stuff here…

The problem with this is that it’s all rice, made into little nuggets that’ll crack your tooth. Oh, and they taste bad, too. I never bought pre-made regular bread crumbs, so when I had to start cooking gluten-free for my wife, I wanted something better than stale breadcrumbs from a can.

I buy loaves of Udi’s Gluten-Free Whole Grain Bread and keep them in the freezer. When I need breadcrumbs, I take some of the bread out of the package and toast it in my toaster oven until golden brown. I crumble the bread into my food processor, and whizz it around until I’ve got the breadcrumb consistency I like. That’s it.

One taste of these breadcrumbs–that come from actual bread–and you’ll never go back.

If I want Italian flavored breadcrumbs, I mix them with parsley, oregano, basil, granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt and pepper. I also add a small amount of all-purpose flour (Cup4Cup GF flour) to lighten up the mix.

I use these GF breadcrumbs on everything: to coat chicken before frying for chicken parmigiana, to coat pork chops before roasting in the oven, to use in stuffed clams–anywhere I would use normal breadcrumbs. And I have to say, no one can tell the difference.

Fast food is a relative term.
What we Americans think of as fast food is not what, say, the Italians think of as fast food. We think of drive-thru burger joints serving greasy, salty and fatty food. Swallow a burger, pop a Crestor. The Italians think fast food is something that simply doesn’t take all day to cook! If you can use the freshest of ingredients, and serve it in the time it takes to sip a half a bottle of wine while chatting with a friend, it’s fast food Italian-style.
Years ago, when my wife and I were visiting the island of Capri in Italy, one of the dishes we enjoyed was an incredibly simple pasta and tomato dish called spaghetti sciue-sciue (pronounced “shwee-shwee.”) We were told that sciue-sciue was loosely translated as “quick-quick,” although a check on the web said that it also translates to “improvisation” in Italian. And though quick it was (that is, by Italian standards), it was one of the most memorable dishes we had on our trip. It could be because of our surroundings: the famous Faraglioni rocks all around us at a small seaside restaurant called Da Luigi ai Faraglioni. We took the small shuttle boat from Marina Piccola, which made its way through those stacks jutting out of the Bay of Naples, and landed at this historic restaurant, built in 1936. People come here not only to dine, but to spend the day sunbathing and swimming. (Check out the amazing photos here. http://www.capri.com/en/c/da-luigi-ai-faraglioni)
So the reason Da Luigi’s sciue-sciue was so amazing certainly was, in part, the location…but it was also very much due to the use of the freshest and best possible ingredients…and they didn’t mess around with them too much.
The best time to make this dish is when tomatoes are at their absolute best in your area. But if you can get your hands on some beautiful cherry tomatoes off-season (they seem to be tastier than larger tomatoes in the winter months), it’s worth having a go at it as well.

 

 1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 hot Italian dried peppers, finely chopped
¼ cup white wine
8 to 10 chopped plum or cherry tomatoes (as ripe as possible)
12 to 15 torn fresh basil leaves
½ stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 ball of fresh mozzarella (about 12 oz.)
1 lb. of spaghetti, or better yet, bucatini (Using GF pasta will keep this whole dish gluten-free)
Sea salt
Fleur de Sel (optional)
Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil and toss the pasta in.
Almost burn—as in “heavily caramelize”—the tomato paste in a large pan with the olive oil, salt, and the dried peppers. Add the white wine to de-glaze, and simmer until reduced by half.
Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer on medium heat until they start to break apart. Hand tear the mozzarella ball into shreds and add to the sauce, stirring gently. Add the basil.
Add the butter, gently stirring until it melts.
When the pasta is slightly firmer than al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the sauce.
Serve immediately, finishing with a little Fleur de Sel.

 

Finito!

LASAGNA, MY WAY

Posted: March 17, 2017 in Food, Italian, pasta, Recipes
Tags: , , , ,

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

Although the basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, baked ziti is wetter, using more cheese and sauce. So when I started making lasagna, I followed this same path.

It was only recently that I decided to take the more classic Italian approach and make a “drier” lasagna. Once I did, I realized I had done it wrong all this time!

My lasagna consists of 2 sauces and 4 cheeses, using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. I really don’t like the flavor or texture of no-boil pasta sheets, so I never use them.

This lasagna can be gluten-free (and just as delicious) when you use the alternatives listed in the recipe.
lasagna

 

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them and then chopping up the peeled pieces, so that they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef and cook until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to lasagna.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

12 oz. lasagna pasta sheets (I use Garofalo GF pasta to keep things gluten-free)
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 4 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 4 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the lasagna sheets in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. The pasta will want to stick to itself, so work quickly.

Lay a thin layer of the meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan, which will keep the lasagna from sticking. Then start your layers: a layer of pasta, a thin layer of the Béchamel sauce, the 4 slices of Provolone, a layer of pasta, a layer of the meat sauce, small teaspoon-sized dollops of the ricotta, another layer of pasta (press down occasionally to remove air bubbles), another thin layer of Béchamel, the Parmigiano Reggiano, more pasta, more meat sauce, etc….

Make it as thick as you like. I like to cover the final layer of pasta with the meat sauce and then finish the dish with the mozzarella, sprinkling a touch of oregano on top.

Place the lasagna pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Shut the oven off, but leave the pan in for another 10 minutes, then serve.

Basic lasagna on the left, gluten-free on the right. I couldn't find GF lasagna sheets, so I used bundles of spaghetti! It worked really well!

Basic lasagna on the left, gluten-free on the right. I couldn’t find GF lasagna sheets, so I used bundles of spaghetti! It worked really well!