Cooking Italy~Lasagna…Step by Step 1

19 01 2010

First off, this isn’t the pasta box recipe for lasagna.  This takes time.  Plan to make the sauce on Day 1 and the lasagna on Day 2. Why?  Because it THIS IS Italian.  We made bolognese sauce awhile back, according to the recipe in Essentials of Italian Cooking.   Since then, there was quite a lot of discussion between the ladies in Cooking Italy about the differences between the Bolognese sauce recipe in Essentials and her original recipe in The Classic Italian Cookbook.  A couple of the ladies said they didn’t particularly care for the Essentials Bolognese sauce, because it was too sweet for their tastes.  I remembered that it was a bit on the sweet side, and when I compared the recipes, it was easy to see why.  There are a lot more vegetables in the Essentials recipe, particularly carrots which will add a lot of sugar.

We’ll be preparing the sauce from The Classic Italian Cookbook this time around, and I’m making a triple batch of sauce.

Bolognese Ingredients:
2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped carrot
3/4 pound lean ground beef (chuck)
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

As you can see, there aren’t any, what we consider “typical Italian” seasonings.  Restrain yourself.  This is the real deal. You don’t need to add to it.  It’s how they prepare meat ragu sauce in the Bologna region of Italy.  They use milk to season their meat.  I realize it’s a foreign concept, but roll with it for this one dish.  Think of it as an experiment…

The unique thing about bolognese, as well as the time consuming part, is that it’s cooked in layers of flavor.  The vegetables are cooked briefly in the oil and butter; the meat is added and cooked just until the redness is gone; wine is added and cooked until the wine has evaporated.  The picture above shows the last of the wine cooking out of my meat mixture.  The next addition is milk and nutmeg.  The milk is also cooked until the meat has absorbed the milk and the excess liquid has evaporated.

The final stage is adding tomatoes and simmering a minimum of 3-1/2 hours, preferably 5 hours at a bare simmer.  To achieve this “bare simmer” I put my Mexican comal on the burner, then my cast iron chicken fryer on top of that, and then put my heavy soup pot inside of that.  There’s an air space between the soup pot and the chicken fryer, but that’s ok…that means there’s no way there can be burning from contact.

Once you’ve added the tomatoes, you don’t need to pay close attention to the sauce any more.  An occasional stir, every 20-30 minutes will do fine.  Just enough to keep an eye on it.  A single batch will cook more quickly than a double or triple batch.  However, once you get a taste for it, if you’re going to invest the time in a single batch of sauce, you may as well spend the day with a triple batch!  I started my sauce at 11 a.m. and took it off the stove at 10 p.m.  Remember, I knew I was in for the long haul, and I didn’t care. I chose a rainy day when this was my game plan.  I roasted a chicken for dinner and made lemon bars while this was going on in the background.  It’s a great background dish that way!

Here we are a few hours later.  You can see by the line on the pan where we started off, and where we are now.  The excess liquid is evaporating, concentrating the flavors of our sauce.  The oil you see on top is primarily the olive oil and butter we added at the beginning when we cooked the vegetables.  And below is our finished product after correcting for seasoning ONLY WITH SALT!!

The sauce will actually be better if it has a chance to rest and mature, at least overnight.  You’ll need about 2-1/2 cups for the lasagna, so package the rest for the freezer or for use on tagliatelle…oh, so good!   Sauces that are dense like this need to be spread as thinly as possible to cool quickly so food borne pathogens don’t start growing…tomato is one of their favorite mediums to grow in!  40°-140° is the danger zone, so chill your work down quickly!  I’ll see you back here soon to work on the Spinach Lasagna Noodles!


52 Weeks of Cookies~Buttery Lemon Bars (Take 1)

19 01 2010

This recipe will come around again because there are some structural flaws in it.  They can only get better, and they’re pretty darn good to start with.  The crust is a very delicate, buttery shortbread that crumbles if you breathe on it, it’s so tender.  It’s also extremely susceptible to the heat, and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t bake it in a pan I couldn’t see through.  Since it bakes twice you don’t want it to color the first time except perhaps barely.  Second…since it doesn’t specify salted or unsalted butter…I used unsalted and added salt to the dough…maybe it needed just a wee bit more.  Yet there’s no salt in the recipe.  I also put a bit of salt into the lemon filling, which could still have been more lemony to me.  So the recipe is a good place to start, but I’m going to play with it some, and we’ll be back with it when it’s been renovated some.

Buttery Lemon Squares

Prep and Cook Time: about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Notes: The lemon squares can be chilled airtight for up to 2 days.

Yield: Makes 24 bars

* 1  cup  (1/2 lb.) butter, at room temperature
* 1/2  cup  plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
* 2 1/3  cups  all-purpose flour
* 2  cups  granulated sugar
* 1  teaspoon  baking powder
* 1 1/2  teaspoons  grated lemon peel
* 6  tablespoons  lemon juice
* 4  large eggs


1. In a bowl, with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in 2 cups flour until dough is no longer crumbly. Pat into a ball.

2. Press dough evenly into a buttered and floured 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350° oven until golden, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a food processor, or in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, whirl or beat granulated sugar, remaining 1/3 cup flour, baking powder, grated lemon peel, lemon juice, and eggs to blend. Pour onto hot crust.

4. Bake until lemon mixture is no longer runny in the center (cut to test), 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and dust with remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.

5. Let cool completely in pan, then cut into 24 bars.

Tasting Notes:
These bars tasted fine, with the following exceptions:
•  They over bake very easily, and I feel the temp is too high in the recipe, try 325°
•  Bake in a clear glass baking pan to be able to monitor the darkness of the crust on the bottom
•  And as we already noted there’s no specification of salted or unsalted butter, or salt in the crust.

Needless to say, I over baked these little gems.  They handled it well, and tasted fine regardless, but they were still over cooked.  Since I know we’re going to run this play again…sorry…it’s football season…I’ll be increasing the lemon juice to 1/2 cup, and the lemon peel to 1 Tbsp.   Those adjustments aren’t enough to keep it from gelling.  With that many eggs, you could easily add quite a bit more lemon!  I think the lemon curd will cook up nicer at a lower temp also.  So…watch this space.  These will be back in the not too terribly distrant future.  They were tasty and rich, oh my, but they’re rich!  LOL!