I can’t deny it. i miss home. i miss my wife, i miss my kids, i miss my house, i miss my kitchen… all that being said, i’m feeling a bit nostalgic and connected to life as it was before this little trip. there is a certain comfort in routine. and i miss that comfort.
every family has a group of meals that they rotate through cooking, perhaps a large complicated selection, perhaps a small selection of instant microwavable meals. the point is that this is one of the many things that defines family as a distinct subgroup within the larger group of a subculture and the larger still group of society as a whole. our individual family meal choices are colored by the mores of society and trends of our subcultures but each and every table in your neighborhood has something different to offer. i find it fascinating. those of you who have been following this blog probably have already figured out that i have a penchant for culinary experimentation. i like to try new dishes, pass them by the test of the family palate and if they are successful, they get entered into the informal rotation that makes up our meal selection. this has no timeline, no structure… things fall in and out of fashion without a word, it just happens. some things are so firmly entrenched in our rotation that they have become traditions. Sushi is the best example of this. almost every other sunday, we, as a family, make sushi. it’s an ideal family meal for us as everyone has their role in the setup and everyone rolls their own sushi at the table. it’s a great way of being independent together… it’s these sorts of rotational culinary dishes that i latch onto now, missing the structure of family, the closeness of sharing meals that we have shared many times before. and so, this week and next week i will be making two of our “traditional” meals that have been in heavy rotation, my silent salute to my family that i miss so much and a chance to give Eddie a glimpse of what dinner time is like at our household.
I feel guilty about this to be honest. to date, each of my feasts has been something i have either never made before or a new way of making it, new ground broken. i discussed it at length with Eddie and i have came to the conclusion that although these meals are old hat to me and the family, this in no way invalidates their quality and the worth of sharing them. i hope that some of you out there try them out and even enjoy them. the great thing about culinary traditions is that nothing is lost in the sharing. you can add them to your rotation in your family and it won’t lessen our enjoyment of them one bit. these meals aren’t exclusive, they’ll taste great for anyone, the dirty little tramps.
anyway, enough of that, lets get down to business… today i made lasagna rolls, slightly modified from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis whom in addition to being incredibly hot is quite the chef and champions so great traditional italian cooking. my standard disclaimer, if the posting of this recipe in any way violates any intellectual property rights, please contact me and i will remove it. just please don’t sue me, i have kids to feed. To go along with the lasagna rolls, i ventured once more into the breach and made a quite passable spicy olive loaf. A new corkscrew also ensure that the reluctant bottle from last week gave up its goods.
i’ve had such bad luck with bread recently that i just said to hell with it, i’ll not worry about recipes and just make bread. people have been making bread for eons without the help of recipes off the internet so why not me? and honestly, this turned out better than the bread i fussed over for hours last week. simple, anyone can do it, here is how. 3 1/2 cups of flour in a large bowl, make a crater in the center. 2 tbsp dry yeast into the hole, sprinkle salt around the edge of the flour, a drizzle of olive oil and 1 1/4 cup of warm water. stir this to combine until it starts clumping together then turn it out onto a floured counter. knead the dough for no less than 5 minutes, not stopping until it is smooth and elastic. pour a bit of olive oil into your mixing bowl, shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl, turning it to cover all side with oil. place a dish towel over the bowl and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until about doubled. i cheat a little and turn my oven on to 350 degrees and leave the bowl on top of the stove in the back. the rising heat helps the yeast out quite a bit.
after the first rise, turn the dough out onto a floured counter again and punch it down. i spread mine out into a flat oval to facilitate the addition mix ins as seen in the photo above. i used chopped olives, mixed italian cheese, oregano, black pepper and red pepper flakes but whatever suits you will work just as well, its easy like that. dry out any excess liquid such as my olives had so that you don’t change the water/flour balance of the dough too drastically. knead the bread again to evenly distribute the ingredients and shape into whatever shape you plan on going with for a loaf. i went with a large ball, no real reason, just because.
put the loaf onto an oiled pizza pan or cookie sheet, cover with your towel and let rise for another 45 minutes in a warm place. uncover the bread and make two gentle cuts across the top of the loaf in a cross. brush the top of the bread with olive oil and bake at 375 for around 12 to 15 minutes or until nicely browned.
the constant discussion in our household regarding this dish is in relation to the two sauces and the balance thereof. i prefer a heavier balance of bechamel while my lovely wife prefers more tomato sauce. that is an issue you will have to work out for yourself but as for me, since i’m the one cooking, i doubled up on the bechamel. i can’t resist it, its just too damned tasty. however, here is where my deviation from standard began… in addition to making a double batch of bechamel, i found myself out of nutmeg… so, although not tradition or an intended substitute of any sort, i kicked it with a little sprinkle of cayenne, subtly changing the impact of the dish. it certainly suited me. in addition to this minor change, i decided to make a homemade tomato sauce, its the least i can do since people take the trouble to read my blog. here is my directions for the tomato sauce followed by a cut and paste of the original lasagna rolls recipe.
Tomato sauce a la greg
it’s nothing special but was tasty and passable for this dish. take 1 and a half onions, roughly sliced and cook them down in a bit of olive oil. man, almost everything i cook starts that way. weird. add to this 6 cloves of chopped garlic and 4 chopped tomatoes. cover and cook over medium heat until everything is very soft, around 15 minutes. season with oregano, basil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. bonus points for a tsp of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes but i left it out today, not critical to this dish. break out your immersion blender and puree the sauce. cook it down until its reduced to a nice thickness and spoon over the lasagna rolls as below. it would thicken quicker if you used tomato paste but i like the fresher flavor of using nothing but fresh tomatoes and cooking them down. or just buy a jar of your favorite storebought sauce. up to you, really…
i have probably reworded the text of the below when i put it in my recipe box but it is taken wholesale from Giada’s recipe, all credit to her please, i just made it today…
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Show: Everyday Italian Episode: Italian Fast Food
2 tablespoons Unsalted butter
4 teaspoons All-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Whole milk
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package Frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 cup Plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 ounces Thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 Large egg, beaten to blend
3/4 teaspoon Salt, plus more for salting water
1/2 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons Olive oil
12 Uncooked lasagna noodles
2 cups Marinara sauce
1 cup Shredded mozzarella (about 4 ounces)
To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the bechamel sauce.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Whisk the ricotta, spinach, 1 cup Parmesan, prosciutto, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.
Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.
Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Lay out 4 lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread about 3 tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle. Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll.
Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the bechamel sauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture. Spoon 1 cup of marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls.
Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.
Well, what can i say… it was a fairly easy meal to make since i was covering well trodden ground but it one that i really enjoy and could probably eat on a weekly basis. it was by definition comfort food and my only improvement would have been to have made it in another land for my family. sorry Eddie but given the choice, well, you know…
The wine was well worth the weeks wait and it’s rich flavor was incredible with the lasagna rolls. overall, a nice evening meal.
and i think i sparked Eddie into getting this one into his families rotation. he is even talking about trying his hand a baking bread. it makes me feel good to think that in addition to keeping me relatively sane, this blog is encouraging others to get into their kitchens and cook something that they normally wouldn’t.
until next week…