Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lasagne al forno

A classic of the Italian cucina.  This style of lasagne is a bit different than what most might know -- there's no ricotta, no mozzarella, no basil -- a style reminiscent of the lasagne I enjoyed when traveling in Toscana many years ago. 

It's a bit of work, no question, and requires creating both a pot of meat sauce, and the besciamella, then assembling all the components.  It's well worth making a couple pans of it at once, and freezing what isn't used immediately for another occasion. 

The meat sauce -- ragù alla bolognese
3 lb ground beef (or a mixture of beef-pork-veal, as you desire)
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
6 cloves garlic
1 onion
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 lb button or crimini mushrooms
28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 can tomato paste
10.5-oz can condensed beef consommé
1 c red wine   
Salt and pepper

Create a pestata (a well-chopped mixture) of the carrot, onion, garlic, and celery in a food processor.  In a 5-qt enameled Dutch oven, sauté the pestata in a few Tbp olive oil until softened and slightly colored.   Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove and set aside.

Film the Dutch oven with a bit more oil, and brown the beef (or meat mixture).  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove and set aside. 

Process the mushrooms in the food processor to a fine mince.  Add to the Dutch oven, and sauté a few minutes until the moisture has evaporated.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.

Add back the meat and pestata.  Add the tomatoes, wine, and beef consommé.  Bring to a simmer, then cook over very low heat about 2 hours, until the flavors have mellowed.  If the sauce seems dry, add some boiling water.  Taste carefully for salt and pepper. 

The white sauce -- besciamella
8 Tbp butter
8 Tbp flour
1 qt whole milk
1 Tbp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook for a minute or two to make a roux.  Warm the milk (either in a saucepan on the stovetop, or easier, in the microwave), and add to the roux.   Mix well with a whisk to eliminate any lumps.  Cook over moderate heat about 5 minutes until thickened.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, and a few scratches of nutmeg.  Taste carefully for salt – this is very bland, and it will need a fair amount.  Remove from the heat, and set aside. 

Assembling the lasagne
12 oz young provolone cheese, shredded
8 oz pecorino romano cheese
Ragù alla bolognese
2 lb no-boil lasagne sheets

In a roomy oblong casserole, spread about 1 cup of the bolognese sauce on the bottom.  Cover with lasagne sheets.  Cover with more sauce, besciamella, and cheese.  Repeat for several layers, finishing with the besciamella and cheese on top.

Cover the bottom of the casserole with sauce.

Lasagne sheets on top.

More sauce, then besciamella.

Cover with a mixture of provolone and pecorino cheeses.

Repeat, and finish with the cheese mixture.

Cover closely with non-stick aluminum foil.  Place on a baking sheet, and into a 350°F oven for about 1 hour, or until hot and bubbly around the edges.  Check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer – it should be 130°F or higher.  Remove the foil covering, and bake uncovered an additional 15-20 minutes, until the top is brown. 

Remove, and let stand 20 minutes before serving.  Cut into generous squares and pass grated cheese at the table.

Of course, I neglected to photograph the final product, so we'll have to go with this stock photo.  Mine didn't look all too different....


It's a snowy Saturday today, so what better thing to make than scrapple?  Yes, yes, I can hear the skeptics: "Why make scrapple when you can buy it?" My answer is that I can make scrapple that tastes the way I like it, I can control the amount of fat in it, and I can avoid using the pork scraps used for commercially prepared scrapple.

The signature flavor in scrapple is pork liver, which I think most don't realize.  You can't have scrapple without that liver-y flavor.  It's masked with the spices and mellowed by the mush, but the fundamental flavor is liver.  You get that flavor using liverwurst, which is a sausage made of pork liver.  I then add good roasted pork to that, to bolster the meatiness, season it aggressively (I like sage and pepper), and bind it all together with a cornmeal mush.  Old-fashioned scrapple typically used buckwheat mush as well as cornmeal mush, the buckwheat imparting its own distinctive flavor.  I didn't have buckwheat flour in my pantry, so I used a whole-wheat cooked cereal, along with the cornmeal, in a one-to-one ratio. 

The mush:
1 c cornmeal
1 c whole-wheat or mixed-grain cereal
6 c stock
3 T bacon fat
1 Tbp salt

Add the cereals to cold water.  Add salt.  Bring to a boil.  Cook over low heat until, well, mushy, and sufficiently stiff that upon cooling, it will hold its shape.  That might take 30 minutes over a low flame. 

The meat and seasoning:
10 oz leftover roasted pork (I used spare ribs)
8 oz liverwurst
1 Tbp dry sage, rubbed
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt

The assembly:
Mince the pork in a food processor.  Dump into a mixing bowl.  Add the liverwurst, and mash up the liverwurst with the minced pork until there is a uniform mixture.  Add herbs.  Add about 6 cups of the mush.  Mix well.  You can add more mush if you want, but I've kept it to just enough to hold it all together.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning.  There's nothing raw in the mixture, so don't be fearsome about tasting. 

Pour the mix into loaf tins that have been lined with non-stick foil.  Smooth the top.  Cover.  Cool completely.

To serve, remove the loaf from the tin, slice it into half-inch slices, dredge in flour, and fry over medium heat in an oil-filmed skillet.  Turn and brown each side.  Serve with eggs, pancakes, waffles, toast.

Fried scrapple, with a couple eggs....

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pork & broccoli stir fry

Quick.  Simple.  Delicious.  Satisfying.

Cheater shortcut -- I buy pre-seasoned thin-sliced pork shoulder at HMart, the local Korean supermarket.

Steam the broccoli in salted water for a few minutes in a deep skillet, drain, and set aside.  In the same pan, heat some peanut oil.  Add chopped red bell pepper, sliced onion, chopped garlic, and the white parts of a few scallions.  Saute until tender.  Season with sesame oil and a bit of soy sauce.  Add back broccoli, and warm through.  Set aside.

Wipe out the skillet, and film with a bit more peanut oil.  Saute the pork, which has been cut up into bite-sized pieces, until just done -- it only takes a few minutes.  Add back the veggies, combine, and top with the chopped green parts of the scallions. 

Serve with steamed white rice.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Shepherd's pie

Had about half the boneless lamb roast leftover, so decided to use it up and make shepherd's pie. 

I minced the cold lamb into small pieces and set it aside. 

In a saucepan, I sauteed two small onions, and two carrots in 4 Tbp butter, until softened a bit.  Salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of thyme added to season it.  Added 4 Tbp flour, and cooked a minute or two.  Added the leftover lamb roast drippings and a 10.5-oz can of chicken stock (Horrors! Canned stock!).  Brought it to a simmer, then added 2 Tbp Worcestershire sauce.  Added one cup frozen peas, and the reserved minced lamb meat.  Stirred until combined, and warmed through.  Turned out into a shallow baking dish. 

Made some mashed potatoes.  (If you need a recipe for that, you're reading the wrong food blog.)  Topped the lamb stew with the mashed potatoes, and tossed a handful of shredded cheddar cheese on top. 

Into a 350°F oven for 25 minutes, until bubbly around the edges and the cheesy top was browned. 

Looks especially tasty in the new china.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Le Creuset roaster

My brother and sister-in-law gave me a beautiful oval 5-qt Le Creuset roaster for Christmas.  It's beautiful.  It's a great addition to the other enameled cast-iron pieces I own -- a perfect size for a chicken, a small roast, or a pot of sauce or soup.

To christen it, I roasted a 2.5-lb boneless lamb roast.  Browned it in some oil, seasoned it well, then surrounded it with quartered onions and carrots.  Covered the roast, and into a 350°F oven.  An hour into the roasting, I made a paste of parsley, rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, and slathered it on top.  I poured a bit of red wine around, too.  Total time -- about 2 hours (N.B.  the roast was nearly frozen solid when I started, so this is a longer roast time than if it has been thawed.)