November 28, 2010

Italy

Tonight we visited Italy and it was delicious! We had ideas to go to Portugal but lacked the forethought, so that will have to wait till next week. This lasagna came out so good, much much better than it looks in the picture. I'd never made lasagna before, the main reason being that all the stellar recipes called for ricotta and it happens to be $6.50 for just over a cup at the store. Because I had the time and patience today I made the ricotta myself and saved a lot of money. Ricotta is very simple to make but takes some time.

To make the ricotta I took 2 L of 2% milk (next time I'll use whole milk) and 6 T of vinegar with 1 1/2t salt. I stirred it until it reached 140F then let it heat itself to 180F. Immediately I took it off and strained it into a colander lined with three layers of cheesecloth. I hung the cheesecloth from a cupboard for 40 minutes and then it was done. From the two litres, however I only got 6 oz of ricotta, so it should be noted that the waste is huge. I couldn't figure out what the byproduct of the process was (whey?) so I threw it out.

The lasagna was great. The ricotta was the only cheese except for a little parmesan, it provided a good creamy, cheesy flavour but without the grease and heaviness of most cheesy lasagnas. The meat was a mixture of spicy italian sausage and ground beef which was essential to the success of this recipe. The only thing missing for me was some of the tomato flavour, but Shane said he didn't miss it.

For dessert I made vanilla panna cotta and had with it some of the strawberries I preserved in syrup this spring. It was not flavourful enough unfortunately and to heavy. The portion sizes were to big as well, overall not a successful dessert. I had used the recipe from David Lebovitz. On it's plus side it was not to jelly as some panna cotta are and did have a nice creaminess to it. Next time I'll replace some of the cream with milk.

Lasagna
Serves 3-4
Adapted from Osteria by Rick Tramonto

Meat sauce:
1 1/2 T olive oil
1/4 large yellow onion
1 T minced garlic
500g ground spicy italian sausage
500 g ground beef
1/4 c white wine
14 oz crushed tomatoes
1/2 T ground fennel seeds
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 t dried oregano

Cheese filling:
500g ricotta cheese
1/2 beaten egg
1/4 c freshly grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Lasagna:
500g lasagna sheets (about 8)
1/2 c freshly grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 F

To prepare filling heat oil in large saute pan on medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes until softened but not colored. Add the sausage and ground beef and cook 10-12 minutes until cooked through. With a slotted spoon scoop the meat and vegetables onto a plate and drain the fat left in the pan.
Add the wine and cook over medium-high, stirring with a wooden spoon to release any brown bits. Let the wine simmer for about 2 minutes or until the pan is dry. Add the spices and meat mixture back in. Add the tomatoes and let simmer together for at least 5 minutes.

To make cheese filling combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together very well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside until needed.

To prepare lasagna bring to boil a large amount of salted water. Cook for about 8 minutes until the pasta is cooked 75% through. Drain the pasta and work quickly to assemble so they don't get sticky.

To assemble take a 9x5 pan and spoon about 1/4 a of meat sauce in bottom. Trim two lasagna noodles to fit the pan. Top the noodles with 1/3 of the cheese mixture and 1/3 of the meat mixture and 1/3 of the parmesan cheese. Add more sheets of pasta and repeat layering, finishing with the parm. Bake for 1 hour until bubbling around the edges. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

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