You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

giovedì 13 maggio 2010

Stupid, Stupid Rain and Lasagne

In the marvelous 1991 movie Impromptu, the Countess d’Antan, played by Emma Thompson, has gathered to her country estate a host of Parisian artistes, including Georges Sand, Frederic Chopin (improbably but nicely played by an unknown Hugh Grant) (Chopin turned 200 this past February), Franz Liszt, and others. She’s hoping for witty conversation, great entertainment, and all she gets is rain, and a whole lot of it. “Stupid, stupid rain!” she exclaims, much to the amusement of Sand and Company.

But here Stupid, Stupid Rain truly does apply.

I have spent, and am spending, the better part of a morning making lasagne for a celebratory birthday dinner (Heather turned 23 a few days ago). This has led me to the conclusion that I will (probably) never post or create a recipe for lasagne. If you find yourself in a good restaurant, or even a fair-to-middling one, and lasagne is on the menu, order it. If you are the guest of a dedicated host or hostess who serves you homemade lasagne, consider it as the act of love that it truly is, eat it with relish, and praise effusively – even if it’s bland, as it so often is. If it’s good, there’s nothing like it. It’s a marvelous excuse to eat Lipitor-defying ingredients amassed in a béchamel-laden heaven.

(Do note that in the United States, we call it “lasagnA.” This is technically incorrect: the Italian is lasagnE, which means more than one sheet of pasta.)

Santo Pellegrino Artusi includes no lasagne recipes in his La Scienza in cucina.[1] Elizabeth David, in her seminal (if such an adjective can be applied to women and/or their work) Italian Food (1954) refers to the lasagne verdi al forno from Bologna. She provides a recipe, and remarks: “… a salad and fruit is about all one can eat after a good helping of lasagne.”[i] This green pasta dish is made with the classic ragù Bolognese and béchamel. Lynn Rossetto Kasper, in her splendid Splendid Table[2], writes, “Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragù coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheeses; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavors. The results are splendid.”[3] (Right now I am wondering why I didn’t make her recipe.)

Making lasagne is quite a business. Such a business that today’s recipe has nothing to do with it/them (—a/—e). It is, in fact, a recipe for polenta with a ragù of tomatoes, green olives, and mushrooms. Simple and easy to prepare, it takes about 1/10 of the time it takes to make the swell lasagne I’m serving up tonight. This polenta recipe is perfect for cold, wintry nights after a day spent snowshoeing in feet’s worth of snow, or for a cold, windy May night in Tuscany when you have bites to eat in between stoking the wood-burning stove. Tonight’s lasagne is called “Many-Mushroom Lasagna” and was created by Carol Kramer and Lori Longbotham; it appeared in the New York Times Magazine of September 16, 1990. It’s divine. But if you want to make it, organize a house party and assign tasks.

Polenta with a tomato, mushroom, and green olive ragù
For the polenta:
1¼ c. polenta
3-4 c. mushroom broth (vegetable broth will do, but mushroom broth enhances the sauce)
½ c. grated Pecorino
½ c. cubed Fontina
A handful each of fresh coriander and parsley, stemmed, chopped

For the ragù:
1 small red onion, chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced (for those who don’t like heat, omit)
2 T. extravirgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ c. mushrooms, trimmed, cut into small dice
¾ c. tomato sauce (preferably homemade)
¾ c. green olives, pitted and chopped
3 T. triple tomato paste
Additional Pecorino for grating, optional

Make the ragù: heat the olive oil in a saucepan, and add the chopped red onion and chipotle (if using). As soon as they become golden, toss in the garlic and mushrooms, and stir ‘til the mushrooms give up some liquid. Add the tomato sauce, turn flame up to high, and bring to a gentle boil. Immediately lower, throw in the olives, and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
Heat the mushroom broth on a medium-high flame in a deep saucepan. Pour the polenta in a steady stream, stirring all the while. You’ll be stirring for about 15 minutes, perhaps a little more. Towards the end of the cooking (perhaps at 14 minutes or so), toss in the cheeses, and stir furiously to melt. You’ll know the polenta is done when it starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Toss in the freshly chopped herbs, stir to combine, and pour into a bowl which has been rinsed with water (unsure why one does this, but one does: perhaps it prevents sticking?). Ladle a generous amount of polenta into a bowl, and top with the ragù. Eat immediately.
This from globe-trotting Dogaressa of the Broken Halo (who, with her husband, created the Venetian Dog Theory) with two great suggestions should you luckily find yourself in San Francisco: (she thinks it gives Chez Panisse a run for its money) and (she raved about the fantastic oysters, Dungeness crab cakes, grilled local squid with gigantes and basil-almond pesto, and artichokes poached in olive oil served with shaved pecorino, marjoram and pickled red onion).

[1] Plenty of recipes abound using pappardelle, spaghetti, and macaroni.
[2] New York, 1992.
[3] The Splendid Table, New York, 1992.
[i] Elizabeth David, Italian Food, New York, 1963.

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