Classic lasagna al forno

Lasagna: an indefatigable classic

Originally appeared in the December 20, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Clasic lasagna al forno (1)

Lasagna is an indefatigable classic—sure, we could quibble over styles (think of the variations between cheeses: cottage or ricotta or the complete absence of either), but the traditional combination of pasta sheets, tomato-based sauce, and some sort of dairy or cheese—all baked together in a savory stratification—make for a hearty, family-style dish that’s difficult to beat no matter the permutation.

An old cooking chum once shared a story with me that his grandmother, in addition to red tomato and white cottage, employed a layer of spinach to her lasagna as a nod to the Italian flag—red, white, and green, of course.  I can appreciate those familial and familiar version, but with this week’s recipe I’ve included two elements that will be exercise for your cooking chops—Bolognese and white sauce.

The Bolognese (also called a ragu) is a mix of aromatic vegetables and chopped or ground meat, and the white sauce is a basic béchamel (one of the five leading or “mother” sauces) with an addition of two types of cheese.  And al forno is just a term that denotes a softened pasta noodle achieved through baking.

Classic lasagna al forno

Serves 4 -6

  • 9 oven-ready lasagna sheets
  • ½ onion, grated
  • 1 carrot, peeled, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 ounces minced sirloin steak
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • A few pinches dry oregano and dry basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 14 ½ ounces canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 ounces red wine
  • 2 – 4 ounces whole milk
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Cheese sauce

  • 1 ounce all-purpose flour plus 1 ounce unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces whole milk
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 ounces grated white cheddar cheese
  • 2 ½ tablespoons grated parmesan (plus more for topping)

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  In wide-bottomed, high-sided sauté pan or sautoir, heat small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and carrots, reduce heat slightly; sweat veg several minutes before adding garlic; continue till veg are translucent and fragrant.  Add in minced steak and ground pork; lightly season with salt and pepper; add dry herbs, bay leaf.  Using a wooden spoon, add tomato sauce; incorporate and reduce slightly; add crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire.  Pour in red wine and reduce until syrupy.  Remove from heat, stir in milk.  Reserve warm.

2.  In a high-sided saucepan over medium heat, add flour and butter, allowing butter to melt to form a paste.  Whisk in 1/3 of milk, removing any lumps by stirring.  Add in another 1/3 of milk along with pinch nutmeg.  Add last 1/3 of milk, bring to gentle boil.  Remove from heat, add in grated cheese in small installments; whisk in parmesan, season with salt and pepper.

3.  Evenly spread 1/3 of meat mixture to a 8-inch by 11 ½ -inch by 2-inch casserole dish (or 2 quart baking dish).  Line with three sheets of oven-ready lasagna; spread out 1/3 of cheese sauce and top with another 1/3 of meat mixture; add three more sheets of lasagna.  Pour out remaining 1/3 of meat mixture, spread evenly before applying final amount of cheese mix.  Top with additional parm; cover with aluminum foil, bake at 350° F for 30 minutes.  After removing, allow lasagna to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Top with extra parmesan.

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Published in: on December 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grilled bison steaks with pesto goat cheese gnocchi

Some bison advice: get to know buffalo

Originally appeared in the December 6, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Grilled bison steaks with pesto goat cheese gnocchi (5)

You may have noticed those bison steaks chilling in a slim row next to the organic chicken and lamb shanks at your local grocery.  And for whatever reason you’ve passed them over for the same old steaks—whether due to cost or culinary uncertainty—take it from me: you’re missing out.

As shared in the third edition of Labensky and Hause’s insightful tome On Cooking, bison (also known as American buffalo) were once found in huge herds in the plains states, but were hunted into near-extinction during the nineteenth century.

Cooking bison is a quiet affair—what I mean is that while the meat is tender and flavorfully distinct, it lacks the marbling of beef; and having said that, the lean profile of bison requires you to make a few adjustments to the cooking time.  Like other coveted cuts of red meat, I urge you: don’t…overdo…it.

The subtle aroma and flavor of bison is ungamey, and retains a texture akin to filet mignon.  My last three pieces of bison advice: season wisely, uncork a bottle of red, and serve with hearty starch that will do the noble buffalo justice.  See you next week, dear reader.

Grilled bison steaks with pesto goat cheese gnocchi

Serves 2

  • 2, 6- to 8-ounce bison sirloin steaks
  • 16 ounces prepared potato gnocchi (Delallo makes a very decent boxed variety)
  • 2 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons prepared pesto
  • As needed, ½ cup (or more) whole milk
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • As needed, fresh Italian parsley for garnish

1.  Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Meanwhile, place a grill pan over medium-high heat.  Liberally season bison steaks with kosher salt and cracked black pepper; and once grill is hot, place steaks on heat.  When water comes to a boil, pour in prepared gnocchi and cook for 3- 5 minutes.

2.  Prepare sauce for gnocchi: in a sauté pan over low heat, add goat cheese along with a small amount of milk; allow cheese to melt down.  When goat cheese has thinned out, whisk in prepared pesto; season to taste and keep warm.

3.  When bison has been grill-seared on both sides, place on an oven-safe dish, cover with aluminum foil, and continue cooking in oven at 375°F for 5-7 minutes or until desired doneness is achieved.  Drain gnocchi thoroughly and toss in goat cheese sauce.  Serve bison atop gnocchi and garnish with Italian parsley.

Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 10:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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