Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday, Thursday...Skip This Wednesday

So as Tuesday dawned, a truth dawned with it:  Italian food is heavy.  I woke up still full of polenta and involtini, and didn't actually get hungry again until about 10:30 a.m.  Nevertheless, the show must go on, and Tuesday's show involves Pesto Lasagna.

I came home from work -- as many of these ELTW entries begin -- to find my wife in a frenzy, trying to roll out pasta dough, mix pesto, make sauce and so on.  We'd broken out the pasta machine for the first time in several years, and despite her efforts, she was unable to get the noodle dough thin enough without shredding in the machine.  I traded my shirt and tie for shorts and t-shirt, and relieved her at the pasta station so she could focus on the other elements of the dish.  After re-reading the recipe several times, I figured out the mis-step, and began getting decent pasta rolled out.  The dough had dried from sitting and was hard to work, and we worried that we'd have to throw it out and run to the store for some noodles, but I had an idea, and sprinkled the dough-balls with water and wrapped them in plastic cling-wrap while I worked on the first one.  The idea worked, and I was able to run all of the dough through the machine and make decent noodles.

While I wrestled with that, Angel had created the pesto and bechamel sauce for the filling -- which I might say had filled the house with a wonderful aroma -- and was able to assemble the lasagna.

The plan had been to make a cake, but the pasta had taken too long, and I was sent out to a new Italian market around the corner from the ELTW kitchens -- Scigliano's -- for "a tiramisu and some garlic bread."  I tagged Evie (oldest girl around ELTW) and we buzzed over there.  We came away with a round bread product, and a half-dozen hand-made cannoli.

I've never had cannoli.  Evie's never had cannoli.  The store owner leaned over the counter and asked in his Brooklyn accent:

"So, ya gonna have cannoli with dinner?  Pretty good, eh?"  Evie just blinked at him.
"I've never had it," she said in a tiny mouse voice.
"Ya never had cannoli?  Aww, ya gonna be addicted!"

So, when we got home, the lasagna was out of the oven and on the table, and we began in earnest.  I have to say, a green lasagna isn't what I'd normally expect to be good, especially a meatless one, but this was a hit.  Savory, cheesy, and thin, chewy homemade noodles that are just worlds better than storebought.  Everyone liked it, which is rare.  It also bled a lot of olive oil into the pesto left on my dinner plate, and the bread made an awesome bruschetta out of it.  There were only two pieces left over after dinner.  One went with me to lunch the next day, the other with Evie.

Then for dessert, we broke open the cannoli.  It's true, I've never had one.  My gawd, they're good.  Rich, mildly cinnamon-y cream, crispy shell -- I think a picture sums it up pretty well:

Wednesday was another day that I woke up still full from dinner.  The problem as I see it is that the food is not only incredibly heavy, but incredibly delicious, which spurs one into eating way too much of it.  I don't know how there can be a single skinny Italian, with food like this around.  As for dinner on Wednesday, I admit we fell off the wagon.  At work it was the last week for a consultant that we'd gotten to know pretty well, and he took us out for dinner.  Very good, but Not Italian.

So, Thursday.  I didn't have much of a hand at all in this recipe.  I think I came home a bit later than usual from work, and most of the creation was already done.  We had summer-squash pancakes, simmered white beans and fennel sausage, and "old lady's handkerchief's," -- green beans and cheese folded in pasta triangles that looked like handkerchiefs.

This was another delicious dinner, and this time a light one!  The pancakes were stupendously savory and salty, very similar to deep-fried eggplant, actually.  The handkerchiefs were a great mixture of green-tasting beans, melted cheese inside, melted parmesan outside, and crispy shell.  And the beans, a very traditional dish from what I understand, were initially a bit off-putting from the licorice flavors imparted by the fennel, but the dish quickly grew on me and melded quite well in my mouth.  The kids liked the pancakes and the shell on the handkerchief.

Lasagna al Pesto
From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux 

I'm going to do something different with this recipe because a)It's three pages long, b) It's 12:30 at night and c) I'm typing with 9 fingers because of a butcher-knife incident that happened yesterday.

Savory Summer Squash Pancakes
From Italian Home Cooking, 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, by Julia Della Croce

8 oz zucchini or yellow summer squash
2 tsp sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 large eggs
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino romano or grana padano cheese
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Olive oil for frying

Grate the squash on the coarse side of a box grater, or shred it using the shredding attachment of a food processor; transfer it to a colander.  Toss with 1 tsp of the salt.  Put the colander in a sink and place a plate and heavy weight such as a large, filled can on top.  Allow the liquid to drain, about 30 minutes.  Using your hands, squeeze as much liquid from the squash as you can.

Beat the eggs and add the garlic, the other teaspoon of salt, pepper, and grated cheese.  Whisk in the flour.  Fold in the squash.

Warm 3 TBS of the olive oil over medium heat in an ample frying pan.  Drop 2 TBS of the squash batter in the pan to form small pancakes.  Fry until golden on both sides, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to a serving dish.  Sprinkle salt on the pancakes as soon as they come out of the pan.  Serve at once.

Simmered White Beans with Sausage and Tomato
From Italian Home Cooking, 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, by Julia Della Croce

2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 sweet Italian fennel sausages (about 1/2 lb total) casings removed
1 TBS tomato paste
3 chopped fresh sage leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 cup tasty meat broth, or water
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked, drained cannellini or great northern beans
1 TBS chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In a skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic and saute gently until totally softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion and garlic from the pan and transfer to a side dish.

Heat the oil that remains in the pan and add the sausage meat to it, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.  Saute until browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Return the onion and garli to the pan.  Add the tomato paste, sage, broth or water, salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.  Add the beans, bring to a boil again, and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Partially cover and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot or warm.

From Marcella's Italian Kitchen, by Marcella Hazan
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups milk
3 eggs
2 to 3 TBS butter

Put the flour in a bowl and add the milk in a thin stream, a little at a time, mixing vigorously with a fork to avoid making lumps.

Add 1 egg at a time, beating it in rapidly with the fork.  When all the eggs have been added, mix in a pinch or two of salt.

Smear the bottom of an 8-inch skillet with 1/2 tsp of the butter.  Place the pan over a burner and turn on the heat to medium low.

Stir the batter and pour 1/3 cup of it into the pan.  Tilt and rotate the pan to distribute the batter evenly over the entire bottom.

As soon as the batter sets and becomes firm, turn it over with a spatula.  When the other side is firm, remoe the pan from the heat and transfer the wrapper to a platter.

Add 1/4 tsp of the butter to the pan, return to the heat, stir the batter in the bowl, and put 1/3 cup of it in the pan.  Cook as described above and repeat the operation until all the batter has been used up.  Stack the wrappers as they are done, one on top of the other.

Fazzoletti della Nonna col Ripieno di Fagiolini e Mozzarella
Baked Crepes with Green Beans and Mozzarella Stuffing
From Marcella's Italian Kitchen, by Marcella Hazan

3/4 lb fresh, young green beans
5 TBS butter, plus additional butter for smearing the baking dish
2 medium garlic cloves chopped very fine
1/2 lb mozzarella, preferably buffalo-milk (!) if available, otherwise whole-milk
2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
A 9x12 inch oven-to-table baking dish or equivalent
The crepes from the basic fazzoletti recipe

Snap off the ends of the green beans and wash the beans in cold water.  Bring a pot of water to a boil, add 2 TBS of salt and when the water resumes boiling, drop in the green beans.  Cook until they are just tender but still firm to the bite.  Drain and cut into 1/3-inch lengths.

Put 3 TBS of butter and the chopped garlic in a saute pan and turn on the heat to medium.  When the garlic becomes colored a pale gold, add the cut-up green beans.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer the green beans ot a bowl.  Taste and correct for salt.

Grate the mozzarella on the large holes of a grater or chop very fine.  When the beans are cool, toss them with the grated mozzarella and half the grated Parmesan.

Turn on the oven to 450.

Butter the bottom and sides of the baking dish.

Lay a single crepe wrapper flat and spread over one-half of it about 2 to 2 1/2 TBS of the green beans and cheese stuffing.  Fold the bare half over the stuffing, making the edges meet.  Fold again in half, making a puffy triangle with 1 curved side.  Stand the triangle in the baking dish with the curved side down.  Proceed in this manner until all the fazoletti have been stuffed and placed in the dish, with the curved sides all facing down.

Sprinkle the remaining grated Parmesan over the fazoletti.  Dot with tiny dabs of the remaining 2 TBS of butter, making sure that there is 1 dab on the peak of each of the fazzoletti.

Bake in the uppermost level of the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until the top is speckled with a golden brown crust.  Remove from the oven and serve when the dish has settled for a few minutes.

1 comment:

  1. I am so hungry right now. And thanks...now I want to try a cannoli!!!

    Love reading these blog posts.