As many people asked me about homemade pasta and sauces, this post will feature lasagna.
In Italy every region has its own traditional lasagna recipe. For example, in Genoa lasagna is narrow and served with pesto. In Trieste, it is dressed with butter, sugar and poppy seeds and served as a main course. I relate this to "poppy seeds noodles" traditionally served and popular all over Eastern Europe. Baked lasagna called "lasagna al forno", is the most famous and popular around the world; it originated in the Emilia Romana region and is made with green (spinach) lasagna sheets. The Marche region makes very rich lasagna sauces with wine. However, the most festive lasagne are made in Naples. Made near the end of the famous Naples Carnevale, for "Giovedi Grasso" or "Fat Thursday", this lasagna resembles Il Timpano. Cooked lasagna dough sheets are generously layered with sausages, meatballs, mozzarela, ricotta and hard cooked eggs and Neapolitan ragu (tomato sauce with wine).
Lasagna is one very creative dish, as Anna del Conte and Julia della Croce suggest in their books.
Beside pasta, the term often used in Italian cooking is antipasti. Antipasti means "before the meal", not before the pasta, like it sounds.
Antipasti could be hot or cold; hot antipasti usually replaces the first course meal.
After digging trough these cookbooks I discovered some very interesting antipasti. I can say that with a little bit of dressing even the most unattractive food can taste good. By creating some meals in the Tuscan way, even chicken liver can taste really good. That is, of course if you don't have problems with eating internal organs, as many people in North America do.
A pate recipe from "The Classic Italian cookbook" by Julia della Croce, combines liver with sage. Anna del Conte's "Gastronomy of Italy" combines anchovies, capers, tomato paste, celery and carrots. My version omits veggies and includes dry black olives. Anchovies and capers add some exotic saltines and the sage creates a special flavour which, for me, tastes better when combined with olives and wine. This pate is a great starter for a meal.
Crostini alla Chiantigiana
(chicken liver pate on crostini)
225g (8oz) chicken livers chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
3 tbsp dry white vine
1 tbsp dry sage
1 1/2 tbsp salted capers chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
2 canned anchovy fillets chopped
1tbsp dry black olives chopped
1 pinch of pepper
slices of ciabatta bread
Trim the livers and chop into quarters. Heat oil in a pan and add an onion and saute for 10 minutes, add livers and 1 tbsp of sage and saute until livers are cooked (about 10 minutes). Increase the heat, add the wine and cook for a few more minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the anchovies, olives, garlic, capers and pepper. No salt will be needed here because of the saltines of anchovies and capers.
Transfer into a food processor and pulse for few seconds or mash if you want more coarse pate.
Heat your bread, top with pate and good goat cheese.
This could be great lunch with a bowl of lettuce or a tomato salad.
(Festive Naples style lasagna)
Regular meat lasagna is made with a simple Bolognese and Bechamel sauce. Homemade pasta dough can be found on my Food-Recipes page.
The Festive Neapolitano recipe is a little bit more elaborate, but it's well worth the effort!
1/2 quantity of meatballs (originally Polpettine )
olive oil for frying
1lb (500g) dried lasagne or other fresh wide noodles
Sauce:1/3 cup (75ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 3/4 cups (875g) canned tomatoes in juice
2 3/4 cups (875g) canned tomatoes in juice
2oz (60g) pancetta or prosciutto, sliced paper thin, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib with leaves, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1lb (500g) sweet Italian sausages
3/4 lb (375g) ground lean beef or pork, or a mixture
1 1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup (175ml) good-quality dry wine
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2lb (750g) ricotta
1 1/4 cups (155g) freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan
1 1/4lb (625g) mozzarella, shredded
1. Saute the meatballs in oil, if using, then set aside.
2. Drain the tomatoes, reserving their juice. Strain the juice and seed the tomatoes. Chop the tomatoes and set aside with their juice.
3. Warm the oil in a pan. Add the pancetta and saute until golden. Stir in the parsley, carrot, celery, garlic, and onion, and saute until softened, 10-12 minutes.
4. Remove the casings of three sausages and mix the meat with the ground beef. Add to the vegetables in the pan and sprinkle with salt. Saute until the meat is lightly colored, about 8 minutes.
5. Stir in the tomato paste and wine. Simmer for 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and juice. Cover partially and simmer until a thick sauce forms, about 1 hour. Check the seasoning and set aside.
6. Meanwhile, cook the remaining sausages until lightly browned. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
7. Bring 4 quarts (5 liters) of salted water to a boil. Add the lasagne and cook until almost done, about 9 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/3 cup (90ml) of cooking water. Rinse the lasagne under cold water, then lay it out on wax paper.
8. Blend the ricotta, reserved pasta water, and half the pecorino in a bowl. Cut the cooked sausages into long thin slices. Halve the meatballs, if using.
9. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C)
1. Spread a little meat sauce over the bottom of a 10 x 14in (25 x 35cm) baking dish. Cover with a layer of lasagne noodles. Spread some of the ricotta mixture over the pasta, then sprinkle with pecorino.
2. Follow with a layer of sauce, some of the sliced sausages and meatballs, then a layer of mozzarella.
3. Repeat the process, layering all the ingredients in the same order until they are used up. You should have three layers of pasta. Top the final layer with meat sauce, and scatter with sliced sausages, meatballs, mozzarella, and pecorino.
4. Bake the lasagne at the top of the oven until it is bubbly and golden, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.