Comforting Cravings on a Cold Night

I sit in the stillness of a quiet evening beneath an amber flame, warming my bones from the frigid, damp southern weather. I have conflicts on these evenings. Yearning for a warm morsel, but my body cannot seem to move from the heat of the fire. So, like in any good relationship, I compromise.  Throwing a wooly blanket around me, I swiftly walk to the kitchen like a fancy woman would in a long, tight skirt, except I am donning a plaid, woven bedspread. Nonetheless, I am on a mission. I crave the comfort of pasta, and not the skimpy sorts: the meaty, rich, velvety, luscious kind. I pour over the warmth of the flames from the stovetop as the sauces bubble and simmer. My spirits are instantly lifted. Ladling the white sauce over the dark, succulent meat sauce reminds me of the earth being blanketed by leaden snow. I gather up my vittles, traipse back to the fireplace, and gather with the ones I love over a warm, delightful meal. And in that moment, there is peace. In the midst of the chill, there is a gift, a gift of togetherness that both the bitter cold and the season bring. Give thanks for these moments when your heart and your tummy are both full and content.

Recipe: Serves 6

Bolognese Sauce:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 rib of celery

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Small handful of parsley, chopped

½ pound of ground pork

½ pound ground sirloin

1 Tbs. of flour

1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

1 14-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

¼ cup of milk

½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Béchamel Sauce:

4 Tbs. of butter

4 Tbs. of flour

2 cups of milk

Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

1 pound of tagliatelle pasta, cooked till al dente

Fresh chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese, garnish

To make the meat sauce:

Put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and grind until the vegetables are smooth. Coat a large pot with oil and sauté vegetables until fragrant and soft. Add the pork and beef to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in the pot while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Dust the tablespoon of flour over meat and vegetables. Add the stock, tomatoes and milk. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours. Add Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss in cooked pasta.

To make béchamel:

In a small saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour. Cook for just a few minutes to cook out the “flour” taste. Add the milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep on low heat and keep stirring while the sauce thickens. The sauce is ready whenever it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

To plate:

In each dish, spread a few tablespoons of the béchamel onto the bottom of the plate (or on top if you prefer.) Serve the pasta over the béchamel sauce and top with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Lasagna Bolognese

Those who are from the south know that there is a dish called “Southern Lasagna.” It is heavy with a beef, full-bodied tomato sauce and thick pasta. My grannie, grandma, and my mother all made their lasagnas the same. I could tell when we were having the dish for dinner because the smell of ground beef browning in a pan with fragrant Italian spices lingered in the air. After the sauce was made, I would watch my mom arduously layer the meat sauce and the thick noodles. She would then pile on mounds of shredded mozzarella on top of the dish. I remember watching the lasagna bubble and breathe through the window in the oven. It always seemed like it would never be done. An hour is a long time to wait for a 4th grader. It might have well been ready on my golden anniversary. Finally, the heavy pan was ready to make its debut. This dish is a labor of love that was crafted by the most wonderful women in my life, but if I had my perfect piece of lasagna, it would just be the topping! The cheese and pasta was always my favorite part. My mom would scold me for never eating the meat sauce. This recipe is a classic Italian lasagna and has a creamy texture throughout the whole dish. That way I eat my vegetables and meat too to make my mom a happy camper!

 

Recipe: Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Dinner at My Place: Makes 8-10 Servings

Fresh Pasta:

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 eggs

2 Tbs. of extra-virgin olive oil

Place the flour in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to the flour and mix well. Make a well in the flour. Add the eggs and 1 Tbs. of oil and incorporate with hook. Stop the mixer every so often to scrape down the sides. Knead the dough in the mixer until smooth and elastic. Place the dough on top of cling wrap and cover with 1 Tbs. of oil. Cover with wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in 4 pieces. Dust the dough with flour and pass through the widest setting in a pasta maker. Fold the dough over itself and pass again through the widest setting of the machine. Pass the dough through the machine, bringing the notch down to make the dough thinner and thinner, until you reach the thinnest setting.

Cut the pasta into sheets and let dry for 20-30 minutes.

Bolognese Sauce:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 rib of celery

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Small handful of parsley, chopped

½ pound of ground pork

½ pound ground sirloin

1 Tbs. of flour

1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

1 14-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

¼ cup of milk

½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Béchamel:

4 Tbs. of butter

4 Tbs. of flour

2 cups of milk

Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

1 pound of fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

chopped parsley to garnish

To make the sauce:

Put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and grind until the vegetables are smooth. Coat a large pot with oil and sauté vegetables until fragrant and soft. Add the pork and beef to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in the pot while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Dust the tablespoon of flour over meat and vegetables. Add the stock, tomatoes and milk. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours. Add Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make béchamel:

In a small saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour. Cook for just a few minutes to cook out the “flour” taste. Add the milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep on low heat and keep stirring while the sauce thickens. The sauce is ready whenever it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Preheat the oven to 3500

To assemble the lasagna:

Cut fresh pasta to fit a 9x13x3 inch pan. Set the pasta aside. Make a thin layer of béchamel at the bottom of the pan. Top the béchamel with a layer of pasta. Top the noodle layer with béchamel sauce and layer the meat sauce on top. Add mozzarella pieces. Continue layering with pasta, béchamel, meat sauce and mozzarella. For the final layer, shower the top with Parmesan and parsley. Bake, uncovered for 1 hour on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum. Let the lasagna cool for 15 minutes before cutting into.