Monday: Fennel and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese Toasts with Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014
Tuesday: Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil, Green Salad
Wednesday: Hot dogs -home alone
Thursday: Pistou Soup with Irish Soda Bread
Friday: Niçoise salad
Janice (the horse whisperer) and John – John is firing up the creme brulee
Saturday: Ky. Derby Party – Goat Cheese Brie, Kerrygold and crostini / Salumi, cucumbers, pickles and olives
Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce and Bechamel
Dessert – Janice Hart’s Créme Brulée torched by John
Sunday: Pan-fried Sirloin with Chianti Butter Sauce and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes Green Salad.
Whatever you do, never tell your mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, aunt, or spouse that you have found a better lasagna recipe, but trust me, the recipe we’ll share with you below is hands down the champion of lasagnas. This version from Mario Batali, taught this old dog a very fine new trick. It features a superb Ragú Bolognese and a béchamel sauce, either of which would taste good on any form of pasta or bread or on those old gym shorts your spouse keeps throwing away because they are faded and have a hole in them, but which you keep retrieving because they are comfortable and look good against your pasty white legs. This version is lighter, incredibly savory and, if you have taste buds still functioning, it will become your new favorite, except when you are speaking to your mother, your mother-in-law, your grandmother, your aunt or your spouse.
We ate this after watching the Kentucky Derby. The Harts and Greg and the kids joined us, as well as Billy and Emily. Janice won the damn betting again, being the only person to place a bet on ‘Always Dreaming,’ who was the favorite by race time. She came into the house saying that she wanted to bet on ‘Angel’ something. Two years ago she wanted to bet on “The Shah of Iran,” which we eventually decided meant American Pharaoh. There is a method here that is hard to explain but that clearly works. We may have to start putting real money behind Janice’s horse-sense.
Perhaps the most special food of the week was Janice’s Crème Brulée (which you will see a picture of below). The rest of the week was also good, particularly the salad and wine pairing on Monday, but I’m going to end the post here, since we are organizing me for a knee replacement. I asked my orthopod if he would give me one of Pete Maravich’s knees, since Pete doesn’t need them anymore. Apparently, that’s not considered ethical among orthopods and I will be receiving some middle-of-the-road manufactured joint (titanium and plastic).
Lasagne alla Bolognese al Forno
(based on a recipe from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano)
This involves cooking three recipes, the Lasagna (about 80 minutes),a Ragú Bolognese (75 – 105 minutes), and a Béchamel sauce (20 minutes). If you’re in a hurry, you could get everything done in 155 – 190 minutes. If not, could the Bolognese, then the Bechamel while the Bolognese cooks, and then cook the noodles, assemble the Lasagna and finish, starting about 1 hour before you want to serve it.
Ingredients for the Ragú: Makes about 5 Cups
1 lb. of ground veal
1 lb. of ground pork
4 oz. pancetta or slab bacon, run through the medium holes of the butcher’s grinder
(Wait, what? Well, Whole Foods would not do this for me, so I had the deli counter give me a ¼ pound of thick-sliced pancetta and diced it again and again till it looked ground to me. Don’t sweat this – just cut the pancetta (or bacon) into dice and you’re good)
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped (or 1 of the big honkers you find at Giant Eagle or Whole Foods)
4 ribs of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic sliced (we used 3)
6 oz. of tomato paste
1 cup of whole milk
1 cup of dry white wine
1 teaspoon of freshly picked thyme leaves
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
Cook the Ragú:
In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium until it gets hot, then add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic and cook until translucent, but not browned – takes about 5 minutes.
Add the veal, pork and pancetta, increase the heat to high and brown the meat, stirring and breaking it up – this is a lot of meat and will take maybe 8 minutes.
Add the tomato paste, the milk, wine and thyme leaves and bring just to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Season with salt and pepper and let cool. (You can refrigerate for up to 2 days – even freeze for use in 1 month or so.)
Ingredients for Béchamel: Makes about 3 ½ Cups
5 tablespoons butter
3 cups whole milk
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (Look, Clem, buy whole nutmegs and grate them – it is a cleaner, lighter taste than using those pencil shavings in that jar you’ve had in your pantry since you moved into your current place)
Cook the Béchamel (“Besciamella” in Italian):
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk to just under a boil.
At the same time In another medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium. Add the flour and stir until smooth, then cook, stirring, until light golden brown (don’t go dark here). This takes 5-7 minutes.
Now begin to add the hot milk to the butter mixture – about 1cup at a time – whisking constantly to keep it very smooth. Still whisking, bring the mixture to a boil. Now cook, whisking, until thickened. This will take a while – maybe 10 minutes – and you will get a little hot, but you will feel totally righteous when, after all this work, you have created a proper béchamel.
Remove from the heat. Season with salt and nutmeg. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Ingredients for the Lasagna: Feeds about 8
Either 2 ½ lbs. fresh pasta dough or (per us) one box of dried Lasagna noodles
Ragú Bolognese (see above)
3 ½ Béchamel Sauce (see above)
8 oz. grated Parmigiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 F
Cook the noodles, per the instruction on the box – or cook the fresh pasta in boiling water for about 1 minute in batches. (In both cases, you’ll want to stop the cooking with an ice bath after the noodles are done.)
Assemble the lasagna in a 10-by-20 in. pan or whatever you have, using 2 pans if necessary. We used an 18.5-by-8.75 inch casserole dish and ended up with an extra noodle or two and some leftover ragú.
How to assemble:
Spread a layer of ragú over the bottom of the pan and top with a sprinkling of Parmigiano, then a layer of pasta, a layer of béchamel and another layer of ragú and another sprinkling of parmigiano. Repeat until the ingredients are used up and finish with a layer of pasta topped with the béchamel and a sprinkling of parmigiano.
Bake for 45 minutes – until the edges are browned and the sauces are bubbling. (You may want to cover the lasagna with foil for the first 30 minutes or so. We did not and had a crispy top which we covered with some of the leftover ragú.
Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
This goes great with a green salad and a lighter red wine like a Côte du Rhone.