December 20, 2010

The Heart of an Italian Kitchen!

WINTER.... Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do - or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so. ~Stanley Crawford

Winter came down to our home one night... Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow, And we, we were children once again. ~Bill Morgan, Jr.

We try never to forget that the holidays are a time for sharing the comfort and joy of being together with family and friends and of celebrating by eating the foods that symbolize the true meaning of the holidays. Sometimes, these encounters are brief, other times they are more enduring – a quick trip to drop off home-baked cookies, or a holiday meal prepared for many.

What makes us happy at the holidays is to visit old friends and make new ones. We love the reassurance of the rituals of eating and drinking at the holidays. We find ourselves engaging with new friends in conversations reflecting what they most love about the holidays. We listen to their memories and join them in their preparations for these special days. We love to share the dishes they serve at the holidays, and we are eager to be introduced to foods and recipes.

We realize that the holidays are a time to talk and laugh and pay tribute to those who are no longer here. Holiday gatherings are a time to do a gentle interrogation of the elders to hear their stories and to cook and bake once again the food that both nourished and fulfilled them.

More than ever, at the holidays, we realize that every day is a gift and provides us with a chance to try dishes in kitchens that are new and unfamiliar. It is the baking and cooking together that we relish.

There is something universal about cooking or baking in a kitchen. We use the same elements, fire and water. We work with the harvest of the earth, and the air is permeated with the aroma of what we plan to serve.

Sheila's Heirloom Lasagna
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onion (about 1 large onion)
2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup water
1 pound ground beef
6 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed (about 4 links)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, quartered and cored
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or 1 tablespoon dried
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
4 cups whole milk ricotta
5 tablespoons prepared pesto
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
2/3 cup toasted pine nuts

8 ounces ground beef
3 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (about 2 links)
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons panko (Japanese) bread crumbs or regular bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
2 tablespoons grated onion
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil


4 sheets fresh pasta to fit a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or 1 (16-ounce) package dry lasagna noodles
12 slices provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan (about 6 ounces)

To make the tomato sauce: Put a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion, peppers, celery, and carrot, and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute more. Add the water, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for another 5 minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated. This will bring out the natural sugars of the vegetables.

Spray a large Dutch oven with cooking spray and put it over medium-low heat. Spoon the vegetables into the Dutch oven. To the skillet, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Add the ground beef and sausage, breaking it up with the wooden spoon, and cook until no pink remains. Do not let the meat mixture crisp or burn. Empty it into the Dutch oven and pour over the crushed tomatoes, quartered tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, oregano, and vinegar. Cover and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally with the wooden spoon so that the sauce does not catch. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 1/2 hour or until the sauce is thickened. The sauce will continue to thicken when taken off the heat. Remove the bay leaves and carefully transfer the sauce into containers. Allow the sauce to cool and refrigerate or freeze until needed. This recipe yields about 10 cups sauce.

For the ricotta-pesto layer: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the Parmesan, ricotta, pesto, black pepper, and nutmeg. Process until combined. Add the eggs and pulse until combined. Remove blade from the processor and fold in the pine nuts. Place the cheese mixture into a container and refrigerate until ready to use. Let it come to room temperature before assembling the Lasagna. This recipe yields about 5 1/2 cups cheese filling.

For the meatballs: In a large bowl, add the ground beef, sausage, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, cheese, onion, salt, pepper, parsley, egg, and chicken broth. Wearing disposable gloves, mix everything together well and form into tiny meatballs about 1-inch in diameter. Do not overwork or the meatballs will be tough. Roll the meatballs in the remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Do not overcrowd the meatballs in the pan. When the oil is hot, fry the meatballs in batches, until they are browned and a bit crunchy on the outside, about 4 to 6 minutes. The meatballs do not need to be completely cooked through, they will finish cooking in the lasagna. Drain the meatballs on a paper towel-lined plate. Let them cool and place them in containers, and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna. This recipe yields about 35 to 38 meatballs.

To assemble the lasagna: If using the fresh pasta sheets, fill a baking pan large enough to accommodate the pasta sheets with boiling water. Fill a second large pan with cold water. Immerse one pasta sheet at a time into the boiling water for 45 seconds. Remove the pasta sheet with the handle of a wooden spoon and immerse the pasta sheet immediately in cold water for 45 seconds. Remove the pasta from the cold water, shake off the excess water, and stack between layers of plastic wrap. If you are using the dry noodles, prepare according to package directions, drain, and rinse in cold water. Stack the pasta between layers of plastic wrap.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, shiny-side up, and coat with cooking spray.
Spread 3 cups of the prepared tomato sauce over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Place a layer of the cooked pasta on top. Spread 2 1/2-cups of the ricotta-pesto mixture over the pasta and top with 6 slices provolone cheese, overlapping them.
Place another layer of pasta on top of the provolone. Spread 2 1/2-cups of the tomato sauce on top of pasta. Set the meatballs in one layer into the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2-cup Parmesan cheese.
Place another layer of pasta on top of the meatball layer. Spread 3-cups of the ricotta-pesto mixture on top of pasta. Sprinkle 1/2-cup Parmesan on top.
Place the last layer of pasta over the ricotta-pesto layer. Spread 3-cups tomato sauce over the top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2-cup Parmesan. Place the remaining 6 slices provolone cheese over the Parmesan, overlapping the slices.
Spray the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the lasagna with cooking spray so the cheese won't stick to the foil. Cover the lasagna, sprayed-side down, and put the lasagna on the prepared baking sheet. Put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake the lasagna for another 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the lasagna starts to bubble. Replace the foil if the cheese starts to brown too quickly. A thermometer placed in the center of the lasagna should read 165 to 170 degrees F when done. Remove the lasagna from the oven and place on rack to cool. Let rest for 20 minutes, if serving immediately.

If serving another day, when the lasagna is completely cool, place a sheet of paper towel on the surface, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. To serve, remove the plastic and paper towel and cover with foil. Heat the lasagna in a preheated 350 degree F oven, until warmed through.
Serve the lasagna with any leftover tomato sauce and meatballs

The Mori's Rosa Marina Salad
1 lb.Rosa Marina (if you cannot find Rosa Marina, Orzo is a good substitute)
2 cans crushed pineapple
1 large can mandarin oranges
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs,beaten well
2 T. flour

Boil rosa marina first and set aside. Boil last 3 ingredients in pan with juices from the fruit until semi-thick. Pour over cooked pasta. Refrigerate 4 or 5 hrs. stirring 2 or 3 times to keep from clumping. Add fruit and one container of whipped topping before serving. We also chop up about 1/2 jar of cherries (tart or maraschino) and add with whipped topping. (it does tend to clump, but when you add the whip cream and fruit, you can separate it a little better). Beautiful topped with dark tart cherries!

"How bittersweet it is, on winter's night,
To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
As distant memories, through the fog-dimmed light,
Rise, to the muffled chime of churchbell choir."
- Charles Baudelaire, The Cracked Bell

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