Friday, December 22, 2006

Craziness. Absolute craziness.

'Tis the season to be REALLY REALLY busy.

During the rest of the year, I find myself sitting at home evenings thinking, "I know I could be doing something constructive right now, but Trailer Park Boys is on in ten minutes...."Well, careful what you wish for. Over the last two weeks, I have conducted and performed with a small brass ensemble for a Carol Service at a local church (incidentally, the same church at whose book sale I scored a whole pile of cookbooks), organized the annual holiday potluck lunch at my office, baked about fifteen dozen cookies and a four-pound lasagna, and still managed to (almost) finish my Christmas shopping. Oh yeah, and my full-time job.In addition to all of this, the friend of mine who I visited in New Orleans back in May flew into town for the holidays (and boy are his arms tired), so copious partying was required.

The cookies pictured above are an adaptation of the Minnesota Munchers I mentioned in my last post. However, after some more modifications and alterations I have made these my own now, and they will now forever be known as (drumroll) "The Gallumphing Gourmand's Chocolate Toffee Holiday Cookies". Kinda trips off of the tongue, doesn't it? The reason I don't have more pictures of these, is that the little suckers tend to disappear quickly when I bring them to work with me.I have to tell you about the lasagna, though.

I got the idea (and the basic recipe) from my friends Rob & Rachel at the incomparable Hungry In Hogtown, but as a good meat sauce is different for everyone, I consulted several recipes before settling with the one below. Plus, instead of the standard ricotta cheese, I made a nice Béchamel sauce, and bought a big chunk of fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese. The bonus in this whole thing, however, was the fact that the mother of one of my co-workers offered to make me some fresh pasta (thank you, Mrs. Ignagni).She made me sixteen noodles that were about six inches wide and between ten and twelve inches long, and they were all individually wrapped in plastic wrap. This was the most beautiful pasta that I have ever worked with, and definitely improved the taste of the lasagna.

Now, to the nuts & bolts:

Lasagna Bolognese

First, I made the meat sauce and let it rest in the fridge in a sealed container for a few days.
Ragu Bolognese (the meat sauce):
500g (1 lb) extra lean ground beef
500g (1 lb) ground veal
500g (1 lb) mild italian sausage
125g (¼ lb) pancetta, diced
5 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
1 can whole roma tomatoes, with liquid
1 C milk
1 C chicken broth
¼ C sherry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

* In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat.
* Add the onions, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.
* Add the ground beef, veal, sausage, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables.
* Turn the heat up to high, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until it's all browned.
* Add the tomatoes, milk, wine and sherry and stir to combine. Snip the tomatoes into smaller pieces with kitchen scissors. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 3 hours. You could even turn the heat right down to low, and let that bad boy go the whole day. I simmered my sauce for only three hours due to time constraints. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.
* If not using it right away, place in sealed container and store in the fridge. This can also be frozen for up to a couple of months.

On the night before the potluck lunch, I decided to assemble the lasagna, but not cook it until the next morning. So I whipped up some Béchamel sauce to go with the meat sauce.
Bechamel Sauce ~ A Traditional Recipe
1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut into small dice
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
½ celery rib, cut into small dice
½ C unsalted butter
1/3 C unbleached all purpose flour
4½ C milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
small bouquet garni

* Scald the milk. Remove from heat and set aside.
* Heat the butter in a small saucepan until the foam subsides, then add the diced vegetables. Saute until the onions are translucent.
* Take the pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Put the pan back on the heat and cook about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
* Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the scalded milk.
* Return to heat and bring up to a boil, stirring constantly with a woodem spoon.
* Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the bouquet garni, lower heat and simmer for 35 minutes.
* Remove and strain the sauce, without pushing on the vegetables.
**Note: I pushed on the vegetables. I couldn't help it. I'm sorry.
* Cool the sauce in a cold water bath and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. May be frozen for up to 3 months.

Now, for the assembly.
* Preheat oven 400°F.
* Cook lasagna in abundant boiling water. When not quite al dente, stop cooking, drain and lay each noodle on a damp towel in preparation for assembling.
* Using a baking dish about 2 inches deep, butter bottom of dish. Line with layer of lasagna. Cover with a thick layer of meat sauce, a little béchamel and some grated parmigiano cheese. Repeat layers in same order. Spread last layer with bechamel and dot with butter.
* Bake in preheated 400°F oven for 20 - 30 minutes or until very browned. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The lasagna turned out great, and as you can tell from the picture at the top, it went very quickly.

Gotta go now. Only two more days of craziness before I can relax.

1 comment:

evelyn said...

I love bechamel sauce instead of ricotta for lasagna - the texture is much better and I think the taste is superlative.

You've been busy! I now feel bad that I didn't bake a single cookie this year, and have been eating only food prepared by other people. I'm now going to cook something to assuage my guilt.

Happy New Year -