Sunday, February 12, 2012

Trattoria Brown - Lasagne al Ragu'

Life doesn't get much better than eating lasagne on a Sunday afternoon. (Note: yes, it's proper to use the plural lasagne instead of the singular lasagna, because, well, you eat more than one lasagna. Further note: lasagna refers to the type of pasta used to make this dish; and, more specifically, it refers to only one sheet of that pasta.) Tonight, we invited over some friends that performed with my wife last summer in Italy (she was Angiolina in Rossini's La Cenerentola). And while we ate insalata caprese, crostini, and cheese plates to our heart's content, the star attraction was the lasagne.

We actually made two lasagne because we have some vegetarian friends (why they're vegetarians heaven only knows, but they are). The following recipe, however, is all about lasagne al ragu'. Ragu' is the heavy meat sauce of Bologna (the city, not the meat) fame. Keep in mind, this was originally a dish made for farmers, so it's loaded with fat and meat and fat. Nonetheless, there are few dishes in all of culinarydom more satisfying or befitting a Sunday feast with friends. (Final note: the besciamella recipe is more or less that of Mario Batali.)

Ingredients - Ragu Bolognese

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, finely diced
  • 2 clove garlic, sliced
  • ½ pound beef, ground
  • ½ pound veal, ground
  • ½ pound pork, ground
  • ¼ pound pancetta or bacon, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomato
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

Directions - Ragu Bolognese

In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrot, and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned ¾ about 10 to 15 minutes. About one minute before the vegetables are ready, add the garlic and sweat. Then add the beef, veal, pork, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over medium-high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the crushed tomatoes and sauce, milk, and wine, and beef stock, and simmer over medium-low heat for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Add basil and season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.

Ingredients - Besciamella

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • White pepper, to taste

Directions - Besciamella

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt, nutmeg, and white pepper, and set aside.

Ingredients - Final Assembly

  • 1 box Barilla no-boiling-required lasagne

Directions - Final Assembly

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a 8”x11.5” pan, assemble the lasagne, beginning with a layer of ragu, a layer of pasta, a layer of besciamella, a layer of ragu, and so on, until all sauce and pasta are used up. The top layer should be pasta with besciamella over it. Bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and the sauces are bubbling. Remove and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Trattoria Brown - Zuppa Toscana

I disdain Olive Garden. Its faux Italian dishes and always overcooked (to the point of squishiness) pasta make my brains boil. My wife digs the soup, salad, and breadsticks, however, so I am forced to partake every so often. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the zuppa toscana. It's simple, savory, and loaded with kale. (Anything loaded with kale has to be good, right?) It's also super simple to make at home. Here's how.


1 lbs Italian sausage
4 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1/8" slices with mandolin
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, whole
3-4 cups kale, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 quart water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste


Place a large cast iron dutch oven over medium high heat and crumble in sausage. Brown sausage. Add water, broth, onions, potatoes, and garlic. Cook on medium heat until potatoes are cooked but not falling apart (approximately twenty minutes). Turn heat to low, then add kale and cream. Cook for an additional five minutes. Remove garlic cloves. Salt and pepper to taste. Immediately before serving, grate over parmesan cheese to taste.