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.

Published in: on December 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Spring into action with this “sandwich”

Originally appeared in the May 10, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Yeah, yeah, I know—a sandwich should contain some sort of “body”; one or more condiments; perhaps a garnish or two; and (save the open-faced variation) all these components compressed between two slices of bread (toasted or not is a topic that will have to wait for another installment of this humble column).  But who says your sandwich has to be bookended with bread?

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe as it is a suggestion:  Look at your ingredients with a bit of nuance.  Here, this sandwich consists or two, sweet slices of tomato and a thick disc of fresh mozzarella “sandwiched” between a couple earthy medallions of Portobello mushroom.  The condiment is drizzled basil oil.  I’ve used skewers to hold the ingredients in place slicing and presentation.  This savory strata makes a guilt-free snack or healthful entrée—something you can eat and then retreat to a springtime activity  (I can’t remember the last time I ate a Frisco Melt, but I’m sure I didn’t feel like taking a walk around the block after consuming it).

Chips are a nice, crunchy compliment, and there are plenty of baked permutations to honor the healthy theme of this dish.  Hungry?


Portobello, tomato, and mozzarella sandwich skewers with basil oil

Serves 2

  • 4 large Portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 large plum tomato
  • 2 thick slice fresh mozzarella
  • 2 ounces fresh basil leaves
  • 8 ounces extra virgin olive oil

1.  For basil oil: stir basil leaves into boiling water for 60 seconds until color becomes vibrant.  Quickly “shock” the basil in ice-water to retain color.  Remove, pat dry, and add to a blender; pour in olive oil and blend (adding more oil if needed) until oil is bright green.  Strain mixture through mesh sieve and set aside.

2.  Using round biscuit cutters, cut through two thick slices of fresh mozzarella; reserve dics; and use the biscuit cutters to punch-out four medallions from the Portobello caps and reserve.  Slice tomatoes into four thick dics.

3.  Stack sandwiches as follows: mushroom, tomato, and mozzarella, then repeat backwards with another slice of tomato and mushroom.  Insert four skewers evenly at 2-, 4-, 8-, and 10-o’clock positions, and cut down between the skewers, yielding four triangle chunks.  Serve sandwich skewers with basil and crispy potato chips.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 5:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Roasted corn and brie ravioli with sage and browned butter

A ravioli to rave about

Originally appeared in the April 12, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

To be quite honest, I considered taking a shortcut here, with the pasta.  In an effort to save you, dear reader, a step or two in this recipe’s execution, I tried tracking down fresh sheets of pasta that you could utilize for ravioli.  But then I realized: the time it takes to get your hands on a package of fresh pasta sheets, is time better spent in the comfort of your kitchen, happily knocking out batch after batch of homemade ravioli.  So, for the sake of time, let’s get to it, shall we?

Homemade ravioli is, to employ an overused word, easy.  All that’s required are four ingredients, a rolling pin (if you have a pasta machine, use that, but it’s not necessary), a clean counter, and some pastry cutters.  The technique to use is the “well method,” in which a small indention is made in a mound of flour; the egg mixture then gradually incorporates the flour.  Once you’ve accomplished a batch of this homemade pasta, you’ll be eager to experiment with your own fillings.  The combination of corn and brie was something I’ve tinkering with, but don’t be afraid to simply substitute with your own amalgamation of ingredients.  Just make it fun, filling, and fulfilling.

Roasted corn and brie ravioli with sage and browned butter

Makes approximately 12 – 14 ravioli

  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 ½ ounces bread flour (plus more for kneading and rolling)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 ears of sweet corn, peeled form husk and kernels sliced from cob
  • 6 ounces brie, cut into small cubes
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • As needed, toasted breadcrumbs and grated parmesan

1.  Using the “well method,” pour flour onto clean counter surface, and create a small indention; place eggs, oil, and salt in this indention.  Using a fork, swirl the liquid against the flour, slowly incorporating the flour to create a soft dough.  When it’s dry enough to be workable, knead the pasta dough for about five minutes until the texture is smooth.  Form dough into a rectangular shape, wrap tightly in plastic, and place in refrigerator to rest.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, toss corn kernels with a bit of olive oil (just enough to coat) and a pinch of kosher salt.  Place aluminum foil on a sheetpan, spray with nonstick cooking spray, and pour kernels out evenly.  Place in oven and roast until kernels have gained golden color (about 15 minutes).  Remove corn from oven and place in bowl to cool; when cooled completely, add in cubed brie and basil.  Set aside.

3.  Remove pasta from plastic and cut in half, rewrapping the other half and setting aside.  Dust clean work surface with a small amount of flour, and lightly dust a rolling pin.  Maintaining the rectangular shape of the pasta, roll dough out into a long, thin sheet, rotating and flipping sides as you go.  Once the pasta is very thin, add a small spoonful of filling to bottom half of the dough, allowing enough room at the top to fold the pasta over the filling (sort of like a pasta sleeping bag).  Use a bit of eggwash (just a broken egg) to trace around the filling (this will act like glue).  Fold top portion of dough down over the bottom, allowing for a small amount of space around the circumference of the filling.

4.  Use your fingers to squeeze out any excess air, and use round pastry cutters to cut out the ravioli.  Set completed ravioli aside.  Once one batch is ready (about 6 at a time), gently drop into salted boiling water and cook for about 3 – 4 minutes.  Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Allow butter to gain some browned color.  Use a slotted spoon to remove drained ravioli from water, and place pasta into sauté pan with browned butter.  Add in sage and toss to coat ravioli.  To garnish, sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs and parmesan.

Turkey mantou burgers with parmesan wafer

Get cooking with kids: part 4

Originally appeared in the March 22, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

For this fourth installment in this kid-centric series, I had my mind set on some sort of sandwich.  And to avoid the same old, same old, I set my sights on introducing the little ones to a unique sort of bread—mantou.

You likely won’t find this at your local market, so it will take an investigative trek to an international market.  But like so many of these little adventures, it’s unceasingly rewarding.  Mantou is a yeast-leavened bun, similar to bao (pronounced bow), a sort of stuffed bread popular in Chinese cuisine.  The buns are usually steamed, producing a delicate dough yielding an enjoyably chewy texture, and its fermented flavor is mildly sweet.

In the midst of your gastronomic quest, steer toward the freezer section of the store, where you’ll find a host of frozen rolls and doughs—of both the stuffed and plain varieties.

The turkey is, of course, lean, so I’ve added in a little hoisin sauce as both binder and flavor component.  And I won’t even get into the host of toppings you can pair with these burgers—the sky’s the limit.  Combined, these elements create a kid-friendly sandwich that’s predictable enough to be pleasing, while abnormal enough to be enticing.


Turkey mantou burger with parmesan wafer

Makes 2 sandwiches

  • 8 ounces ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • To taste, salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 plain mantou or bao buns
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • As needed, all-purpose flour

1.  Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine 8 ounces of turkey with hoisin sauce.  Add a small amount of kosher salt and pepper.  Divide meat into 2 portions, and shape portions into patties.  In an oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat, add a small amount of canola oil.  When heated, add patties one at a time, searing to golden brown color, reserving the cooked one on a plate.  When patties are cooked, put back in pan and place pan in oven to finish cooking (12 -15 minutes).

2.  Meanwhile, place mantou buns in a large freezer bag; seal halfway, allowing an open portion to release steam; cook for 30 – 40 seconds, or until buns have softened.  Set aside.

3.  Now make parmesan wafer: In a small bowl, combine parmesan with just enough flour (a few sprinkles) to coat the cheese.  Using a non-stick sauté pan, place half the parm mixture flat in the center, making a wafer-thin disc.  When wafer has started to get crispy (about 40 – 60 seconds) flip with a spatula.  Set wafer aside.

4.  Slice mantou buns and proceed to assemble sandwiches—turkey patty, parmesan wafer, and choice of toppings.