Lasagna (from scratch)

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As you can see, I’m not a dainty cook. I serve what I call generous Tudor portions (i.e. Henry the 8th activity). If I could, I would have an ancient Tudor kitchen complete with a big fireplace and a pit. My favorite cooking includes slow cooking meats on a hardwood fire. In my kitchen would be baskets of fresh produce and herbs and lots of preparation tables. And since the kitchen would be hot from the fire, I might even employ a lady or two to walk around topless. Now don’t laugh, I read that his kitchens were so hot Henry the 8th had to give orders that the scullions (kitchen servants that do menial work) “should stop going about ‘naked’”.  The Little Woman would not approve much (actually, at all) of any naked scullions hanging around – so fear not.

Back to the food: I like sauces, gravies, soups, gumbos and salsas. I think food should rest in its natural juice. I don’t care much for a piece of meat garnished with a side of something, usually a dry lump of something. To me, that’s like a drink with a paper umbrella.

I like dark ale to a pale lager, a Cabernet to a Pinot Noir and anchovies over sardines. That would make me Mediterranean. So, I lean more toward food from Italy, France, Spain and Sardinia; which, I’m still petitioning to change its name from Sardinia to Anchovianini. Hey, it could happen. Oh, and I like classical guitar music over rock-n-roll.

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Everyone has a favorite lasagna recipe. Mine does not come out of a box and is not crusty or hard. Mine is made with soft fresh pasta, a light turkey Ragù – Roman style and a savory cheesy Béchamel sauce.

A few tips to consider.

Bacon: Typically Roman Ragù calls for prosciutto. The challenge is locating prosciutto thickly cut. Most is cut thinly for Antipasto. Prosciutto has a tendency to be a salty pork flavor rather than sweet.  Instead, I find a lean cut of bacon hardwood smoked. I boil water; turn off the heat and let the bacon soak in the water 8 minutes. This cuts down the smoky flavor. Then I drain and chop the bacon.

Peeling tomatoes: The best way to do this is boil water, then with a sharp knife cut an “X” into the top and bottom of the tomato. Let the tomato boil for 8 minutes. Remove and cool under cold water and peel the skin starting at the “X”. This makes it real easy.

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Preparation: It is far easier to prepare this dish in stages rather than rush all at once.  I rely heavily on a large and small food processor.

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Ingredients:

Lasagna: (“Are a wide, flat pasta shape, and possibly one of the oldest types of pasta”)

1 ¼ cups flour
2 eggs
1 TBSP olive oil
(Extra flour for rolling board)

Turkey Ragù – Roman Style:

2 strips bacon, soaked in water 8 minutes, finely chopped
1 Lb. ground turkey
½ onion – finely chopped
1 medium carrot – finely chopped
1 celery stalk – finely chopped
1 garlic clove – thinly sliced
3 TBSP olive oil
3 TBSP tomato paste
¾ cup dry red wine
3 Roma tomatoes – peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper

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Cheesy Béchamel Sauce:

5 TBSP butter
5 TBSP flour
½ onion – finely chopped
2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
½ cup Italian Five Cheese mix – shredded
Parmesan cheese – grated

1) Pasta: In a food processor add flour, one egg and olive oil.

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Start the mixer and then add the 2nd egg. Allow to spin until the dough forms into a thick round ball.

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Place dough on a floured board and shape into a thick pancake. Use a pastry cutter and cut into 1 inch by 1 inch strips. Roll out to the desired shape and then cut the ends. Continue this until the dough has been completely rolled. The entire dough will be needed.

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Place the pasta on tray and let stand while the other dishes are started.

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2) Turkey Ragù – Roman Style: Use the 8-8-8 rule. Cook these stages in 8 minutes. Heat the olive oil and with a wood spoon sauté the onion, carrot and celery mix 8 minutes. Add the turkey and bacon and cook on high for 8 minutes until it browns. Add the wine and tomato paste, reduce heat and cook until the wine evaporates – 8 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes and sliced garlic and cook on low for 30 minutes. Allow as much of the liquid to evaporate naturally.

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3) Béchamel Sauce: Heat a 2 quart sauce pan and place in the butter then the flour. Use a heat resistant baking spatula and mix the “white roux”. Add the onions on medium heat and allow the flour to cook about 5 minutes. Then add ½ cup milk and mix into a thick paste. Add another ½ cup and mix. Add another ½ cup and mix. Add the final cup of milk and mix making sure the sauce stays thick but not runny. Mix in the cheese and the bay leaf and leave on a warm heat setting. You want the sauce smooth and creamy, not dry or over cooked. Go slow and mix and cook in stages.

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4) Pasta: Boil water in the very large pot. Set a large bowl with cold water next to it. Place three pasta sheets in the boiling water. Boil 2 minutes, remove the pasta with tongs and place in the cold water. Remove and set aside. Continue this process until all the pasta is cooked.

5) Build the dish: In a heat proof dish with a lid, ladle in some Béchamel sauce, then layer pasta, add some Ragù, layer pasta, then Béchamel sauce, then pasta, some Ragù, pasta, and finish with Béchamel sauce. Then sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

6) Bake in 350° oven 30 to 45 minutes. Serve.

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Or, send me a check and I will mail you some leftovers. 🙂

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Chicken Cacciatore

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In Italian the word Cacciatore means “hunter”. Whatever the hunter catches, mostly rabbits, is cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, green peppers, herbs and wine.

Chicken Cacciatore

Base Sauce:
For each piece of chicken
½ garlic glove crushed
1 Roma tomato skinned chopped
1 TBSP tomato paste (I use Contadina)
1 oz. dry red wine (I use a dark red blend)
1/3 TBSP olive oil

In a skillet heat the olive oil. Sauté garlic in oil. Add the paste and stir. Add the Roma tomato and stir. On low heat cook roughly 20 minutes are until the fluids have evaporated. Add the wine and cook another 20 minutes. Remove and cool. 3 Roma tomatoes should make ½ cup of base sauce.

Dredge Chicken in Flour:
For each piece of chicken
1 piece of chicken (I use thigh)
Salt and pepper chicken
1 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 produce bag
1 TBSP olive oil (enough to brown the chicken)

Salt and pepper (season) both side of the chicken. Add the flour to the bag. Add the chicken in the bag. Shake bag until the chicken is coated. In a large Dutch oven add the olive oil on exactly medium heat d brown. Remove

Sauté the onions and green pepper:
In a clean pot… (I poured out the oil and cleaned the Dutch oven)
For each piece of chicken
1 TBSP yellow chopped onion
1 TBSP chopped green bell pepper (Some like red, but I use green owing to a New Orleans preference)
1 TBSP chopped celery
(Yellow onion, green bell and celery is considered the New Orleans Trinity Mirepoix)
1/3 garlic clove cut into coins
½ TBSP Olive oil
1 oz. of dry red wine (I use a dark red blend)

In a clean pot sauté the mirepoix in the oil. Add the wine.

Combined:
For each piece of chicken
1/3 bay leaf (Some use oregano and basil)
3 oz. of the prepared sauce
3 oz. of your favorite can sauce
1 oz. of dry red wine (I use a dark red blend)
Salt and pepper

Add the sauce, wine, salt and pepper, taste add the bay leaf, chicken. Don’t stir, just combine. Bring to a boil. Set to the smallest burner and simmer on low for 45 minutes.

Serve over thin spaghetti.

Osso Buco (Bone with a Hole)

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(Osso = bone) + (Buco = hole)

This meat is a shank cut. The best part is the marrow in the center of the bone when cooked. Mostly, it is made with veal. However, veal shank can be expensive. Since the meat will cook in the oven for an hour and one-half or more, I substitute the veal with a beef shank. I can find beef shank for a third of the cost of veal and actually I think it has more flavor.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 beef shanks
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup of dry red wine (dry white will also work)
Polenta
Flour
EVOO
Salt and pepper
2 cups meat broth (I use veal stock)
1 clove garlic (pressed)

Mirepoix:
2 carrots chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 half onion chopped
2 celery stalks cut into ½ inch pieces

Bouquet Garni:
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs oregano
1 bay leaf

Gremolata (Chopped herb garnish, mix all ingredients in a bowl):
1 lemon grated for its lemon zest
1 clove garlic minced
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley finely chopped
¼ tsp. dried sage
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary finely chopped

Cooking Directions:
Salt and pepper the meat and then dredge in flour. Brown in a Tbsp. or more EVOO in an oven proof pot. I use a 5 quart cast-iron pot with a lid.  Remove meat after browning and set aside.

Add another Tbsp. EVOO and sauté the mirepoix.

Mix the red wine and tomato paste in a cup or bowl until the paste has dissolved.  Add the wine mixture to the mirepoix and stir.  Add one cup of stock or broth and stir.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a light boil then reduce heat to simmer.  Add bouquet garni and simmer 20 minutes.

Return meat to the pot and then add pressed garlic. Add remaining stock or broth until the meat is covered. Then add a dash more of wine.

Place pot with a lid or aluminum foil cover in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 1½ to 2 hours.

Serve on a bed of cooked Polenta or Risotto and garnish with Gremolata to serve.