Friday, November 7, 2008

La Cucina senza Nicola

I have news! I have started Italian cooking classes with the nice, knowledgeable, and 100% Italian Ennia. She is a long time friend of my friend Pien, and she is happy to teach this clueless Colombian some of her secrets. We met for the first time on Friday to cook a traditional lasagna bolognese as well as a delicious tiramisù. All this for a Saturday's dinner party in honor of my sweet husband's birthday.

Ennia cooks like all great cooks, without measuring while tasting here and there. I am not going to write down the recipe, as I do not have exact measurements, but I will try to pass on some of the particulars that make her cooking special.

See this great looking bundle of fresh rosemary? It is all tied around a big garlic clove, and its purpose is to flavor the sugo without leaving a trace of itself in the bolognese (you take it out once you are done).

What about this luscious meddley of colors? It is a soffrito, which means to fry gently. The vegetables (carrots, celery, and onion) are softened in good olive oil, enough of it so that the vegetables do not brown. Do not cover it while cooking, as you do not want to steam the soffrito. Cooking takes about 15 minutes. Soffrito is the base of many Italian dishes.

The bolognese sauce is made with equal parts ground veal, and ground pork. The meat is browned with the finished soffrito over high heat. Once browned, add the peeled and diced tomatoes, the wine, the garlic-rosemary bundle, salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a minimum and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The smell will let you know that the sugo is ready.

Real lasagna bolognese includes many layers of thin pasta, bolognese sauce applied thinly, bèchamel sauce, and grated parmigiano. The picture above showcases the delicious bèchamel sauce, which Ennia mixed with the bolognese before spreading it on the noodles.

Making lasagna the traditional way is a labor of love. It takes a long time, but it is worth the effort. You will use every cooking implement you own, as every layer needs its own pan, saucepan, or container. It is better to make the lasagna the previous day, as it will have time to sit and when served it will keep its shape. I will share the tiramisú recipe on another post. Our Italian friends were impressed, and to tell you the truth, so was I.

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