Italian Archive

Sunday, February 12, 2012

lasagna bolognese

lasagna bolognese

This, this is my culinary Mount Everest. This twenty-layer striation of noodles, ragu, béchamel and cheese, repeated four times and then some took me more than five years to conquer. To be honest, six years ago I didn’t know what it was. Sure, I had heard of lasagna but I wasn’t terribly fond of it because I don’t much care for the texture of ricotta once it has baked. (Ricotta, I’d argue, is best rich, fresh, and cold on toast.) But I was galloping through a post on an Italian food blog and I stumbled upon a parenthesised side-thought that stopped me dead in my tracks. It said something along the lines of “I don’t know whose idea it was to put ricotta in lasagna but… shudder.” And I thought, but wait! What’s supposed to go in lasagna? But there was no answer, so I set out to find one.

minced mirepoix (love this step)
browning the meat, vegetables

Lasagna alla Bolognese is an epic dish. Oh sure, it looks like an ordinary broiled mass of cheese, pasta and meaty tomato sauce but it’s so much more. To make it as I dreamed from that day forward I wanted to, everything gets a lot of love and time. The ragu is cooked for hours. The béchamel (ahem, besciamella), although the simplest of the five “Mother Sauces,” is still a set of ingredients that must be cooked separately, and in a prescribed order. The pasta doesn’t have to be fresh, but I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to really, really do this and I wanted fresh, delicious sheets of pasta to support the other cast members I’d so lovingly craft. And the cheese? There’s just one, Parmesan, and it doesn’t overwhelm.

simmered and dreamy

Continued after the jump »

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

naked tomato sauce

naked tomato sauce

Every year at just about this time I renew my obsession with tomato sauce. It’s late August, after all, and just about anyone who has ever gardened or knows people who garden is drowning in tomatoes and I am here, with my virtual bucket, eager to help you out. Don’t be too fooled by my so-called benevolence, however, as it’s really a selfish endeavor; I find spaghetti with tomato sauce to be one of the universe’s perfect meals, so I’m hardly kicking and screaming my way to the kitchen the next time the whim for a new one strikes me.

a basket of plum tomatoes
peeling tomatoes

But I always think that the new one will be the one that closes the book on tomato sauce, that it will be done, that I will be able to move on and find new codes to crack in the kitchen knowing that I’ve locked in my tomato sauce nirvana. Unfortunately, these moments of spaghetti calm are increasingly short-lived. This baked tomato sauce made me happy for a few years, before curiosity got the better of me and I fell for Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce with butter and onions. Even then, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and but seven months later was taking pity on the cheap buckets of “ugly but tasty!” tomatoes at the market, creating a heartier sauce that could be made with any tomato, whether a prom queen or not.

just tomatoes, cooked until saucy

Continued after the jump »

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

roasted peppers with capers and mozzarella

with mozzarella

Most of the time, I don’t choose the recipes I share here, they choose me. I’ll be bumming around, reading my epics, keeping to myself when suddenly the urge for rhubarb muffins will come upon me, and I will have no choice but to address it, or remain distracted until I break down and, you know, address it. Other times, the market controls me, as will happen when you live in a climate that deprives you of field-fresh produce for over half the year, leaving you to go completely berserk and overdo it in the months that you’re graced with it, bringing home buckets when you only have enough stomachs in your family to require a small armload. But with a 20 months of parenting under my belt, I’m long overdue to introduce a new reason to cook: my toddler; he’s got cravings too.

red, orange and yellow bells
roasted and blistered

It started one night at Motorino when he was in the middle of another of his hunger strikes conscientious dissenting against his mama’s cooking phases where he’s just not that hungry and we ordered both the roasted pepper salad and appetizer meatballs in hopes to quietly tempt him into eradicating crankiness through the consumption of life-sustaining calories enjoying good food. And lordy, he went nuts for the peppers. Slurp, slurp, slurp, it was hard to believe that just hours before he’d overturned his lunch in disgust. A week later, we returned (I’m currently fixated on a certain pizza, you see) and the peppers elicited the same reaction. And so it only made sense that I would recreate the dish at home.

peeling, not so pretty

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, February 24, 2011

spaghetti with lemon and olive oil

linguine al limone

Look, it wasn’t my finest moment but my Happy Valentine’s Day gift to my husband was an epic meltdown over book deadlines and recipe flops and the near impossibility of getting anything done with a toddler underfoot in a kitchen that doesn’t actually fit the two of us. It wasn’t pretty. We ordered pizza and watched How I Met Your Mother.

Now, just in case that story elicited even a wisp of pity, you should take it back right now because the week, it got better from there. First, I realized that my “hey, let’s not do gifts this year” conversation with my husband may have never left my own head when he busted out tulips and a spa certificate. (Oops. I’m a real catch, aren’t I?) Then my very kind agent and editor talked me off the book ledge, they’re good at things like that though I suppose they have to be, taking on nuts like me. The following night, I made an actual dinner that involved those insane green beans and this little spaghetti dish I’ll get to in a bit because you know, it’s hardly as interesting as what we did the day after that:

so, this happened

Here’s where the story could continue in any of the following ways: How hard it was to be away from our little baby for the weekend (so hard! except for all of that sleep!) How quickly we adjusted to views like this, boats like that, beers like this and sunsets like that.

the viewasailbalashirequisite sunset photo

Continued after the jump »

Friday, November 5, 2010

spaghetti with chickpeas

spaghetti with chickpeas

Anyone running the marathon this weekend? I have a hunch that the overlap between people who, say, read a home cooking blog that unapologetically embraces butter and people who, say, run 26.2 miles in their spare time as an personal challenge, is slim-to-none. And yet, I know a handful of people running this weekend that love good cooking as I do, despite the fact that we obviously have nothing else in common. Seeing as they run when not chased, I bet they also do dishes for pleasure and go to bed advisably early for a less cranky tomorrow. Weirdos.

broth, chickpeas, onion and pancetta

But we can meet at a middle ground affectionately called “carbo-loading”. Runners do it before big races. The rest of us do it because it’s winter and we’re evolutionarily programmed to pad ourselves for warmth. Or because we’re hungover. Or because we’ve been eating too much salad and strive for balance (snerk). And when it comes to carbo-loading, I think this spaghetti with chickpeas wins all trophies. It’s the potato pizza of pasta dishes; the squash risotto of comfort foods; the breadcrumb-topped baked macaroni-and-cheese from the files of So Good It Could Not Possibly Be Bad, Right?

onions, garlic and pancetta

Continued after the jump »