My family is coming today. I have lost all sense of time, I’m not getting enough oxygen, and I am considering buying a last minute ticket to the Far East for this afternoon. New York is a big city; I’m sure that they can entertain themselves once they figure out that I’m not home. Plus, I have never been to China, and I can’t see why this isn’t a perfectly good time to go.
In case I make it another hour and a half, here’s what they’ll be eating: Tuscan lasagna with homemade noodles (I’m not going to even give you the recipe for the noodles. No one should have to spend their day making noodles the same day that they make lasagna. That is for desparate times, like the middle ages, or before the invention of packaged pasta. The only reason I made the noodles was to keep myself occupied. A ticket to the Far East can be prohibitively expensive. There are noodles all over my kitchen at the moment. Just peeling them off the counter is going to take me at least another hour.) You would think that since entertaining is my job I could entertain in my own home, but ixnae.
I know this looks like it is incredibly involved, but you can make two and freeze one, or you can just make loads of extra sauce and freeze that. I love making my own frozen food.
Lasagna starts with a meat sauce, gently cooked for a few hours, and if you get this part right, itâ€™s hard to go wrong. Layered with a white sauce, grated Parmesan, and a good noodle, it is up there with the best of baked pastas. Lasagna can be refrigerated or frozen; follow the directions to the end, and bake the day of, or stick it in the freezer before baking it, and put it directly in the oven. For this method, you will need to allow an extra hour of baking time.
For six to eight people, buy a one pound pack of mixed ground meat (veal, pork and beef). Chop a medium to largish yellow onion into a small dice, and cook with three to four cloves of garlic in quality olive oil. If you like the flavor, chop up the livers from a chicken, and cook these for a few minutes in the onion. (This is Umbrian style) Add the ground meat, and cook for at least half an hour over a very low flame. Skim off any fat. Throw in a twig of rosemary, a bay leaf, and a sprig of parsley, with half of a carrot, and half a celery branch. Stir this around a bit, then add 2 28 oz. cans of whole plum tomatoes, that you have squished with your hand, into the pot. Add a few pinches of kosher salt, and cook for at least an hour, preferably, two to three hours, over a very low flame. Continue to stir occasionally, and skim the fat from the top as it cooks. It should reduce to be quite a thick sauce, with a deep, rich flavor. Remove the rosemary, parsley, celery, carrot and bay leaf. Add one and a half pounds of seriously al dente pasta, and a few Tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley. Stir around to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano. The classic pasta for this sauce is Tagliatelle.
You can use any white sauce recipe for this, but I like to slowly melt two Tablespoons of butter in a pan with about the same amount of flour. It should come together in a light paste, not too thick, when you stir it with a whisk. Slowly add about two cups of milk (if you heat the milk first, itâ€™s easier to incorporate), and continue to whisk, until the sauce thickens slightly. If you love garlic, you can simmer a whole clove in there, along with half a bay leaf, which gives it a nice flavor. Just donâ€™t forget to take them out when you are done. To make the white sauce really rich and extravagant, and why not, add one third to half a cup of mascarpone cheese. Even a few tablespoons of regular (not low fat) creamed cheese will add a nice oomph, if you canâ€™t find the mascarpone.
For the lasagna, I like to use the Barilla noodles that donâ€™t require pre cooking, or a fresh lasagna noodle that you purchase, or make yourself if you have the time and inclination. Otherwise, you have to blanch the lasagna noodles in salted water, and lay them out in an oiled pan, so that they donâ€™t stick together. Once you have your noodles ready, spread about a half cup of meat sauce in the bottom of the pan. Cover with one layer of noodles. Cover with meat sauce, and drop white sauce over it, in tablespoonfuls. Let there be a few inches in between each spoonful of white sauce, because this will spread, as it cooks. Scatter with grated parmesan, and repeat these steps, two more times. Cover the lasagna tightly with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake for fifteen more minutes so that the top browns and bubbles slightly. If this doesnâ€™t happen for you, you can set the pasta under the broiler for a minute, but donâ€™t leave it, because it only takes seconds to burn. Let the lasagna sit for fifteen minutes before serving, which allows it to rest, and makes it easier to slice. The only thing you need to serve with this is a simple salad, and maybe a dish of your favorite olives.