Learn how to make tagliatelle by hand with our good friend Chef Simone Proietti-Pesci, owner of Le Delizie del Borgo restaurant in Bevagna, Italy.
Chef Simone quarantined with us in the US for nearly six months when his early spring return to Italy following his annual winter pilgrimage to the US was delayed. We made good use of the time together, including putting together this instructional video shot in our kitchen during the lockdown.
Editor’s note – This lasagna recipe was taken from Michael Ruhlman’s From Scratch cookbook, which was reviewed recently by Lindsey Menard. To read her review click here.
The thing people often forget about lasagna is that while the end result is one beautiful bite of pasta, the lead up to that result is three to five individual, time consuming recipes that are all layered together to create that bite. There is no reason that you can’t skip some of those steps by buying dried pasta and fresh mozzarella, using store bought bolognese (gasp!), or substituting the bechamel for a blend of cheeses that will melt down to mimic the flavor, but there is definitely something satisfying about going through the motions of creating each of those components yourself from scratch. Taking a bite of lasagna, any lasagna, simply means more, becomes more special once you have made it once from scratch, as you learn how to decipher the different parts that have been layered together and acknowledge the hard work of the person serving it to you.
For our purposes we set out to make our lasagna mostly from scratch in that we wanted to use the shredded mozzarella we already had on hand rather than wait until we could seek out the ingredients (citric acid, rennet) that were missing from our pantry. We opted to make ricotta instead to balance the need for a creamier cheese to top our lasagna. We made the ricotta first because it’s one of the few steps you can’t hurry along by turning up the heat if you get impatient.
Making pasta from scratch is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and is also something that gets far easier the more you do it. There are no real tricks to making pasta, you just have to take your lead from the ingredients you’re using and work at it until you learn the feel for what is correct and what needs adjusted. Having a pasta machine helps but isn’t necessary- the only thing that’s necessary is having the time and patience to work your dough until it’s done.
Lessons learned from making pasta: Always make more than you think you’ll need because there is absolutely no downside to having fresh pasta stored in your freezer for later on in the week.
Next come the sauces. Yes- sauces, plural. The first step, one you can absolutely skip if pressed for time but definitely enhances your feeling of accomplishment at the end is making your own tomato sauce as a base for the bolognese. This step is not complicated- it merely requires sauteing onions in olive oil (or butter) and then simmering them in pureed tomatoes over low heat for about an hour. If you’re using high quality canned tomatoes, you can definitely skip this step (and you can do so even if you aren’t) but embracing it lends a depth of sweetness and flavor to your bolognese that makes the added time worth it.
Once that tomato sauce has simmered, or while it’s simmering if you have enough functional burners to run two things simultaneously, start to work on the Bolognese. Again, there’s nothing fancy here- Bolognese is simply a pot of chopped vegetables cooked for a long time with alternating choices of liquids starting with milk and wine, and ending with your beautiful tomato sauce. The most important thing about cooking the Bolognese is patience- let the individual pieces cook as long as they need to before moving on to the next step- there are few benefits to rushing them.
The final component to make before you get to stacking is the Bechamel. Making Bechamel is basically an intricate dance of applying heat and creating motion so as not to let it become too hot. As I’ve said many times (twice) the two main ingredients of Bechamel are milk and a spoon.
The next and final step is arguably the most fun. Take all of these delicious ingredients you’ve made and start stacking them together. Tomato sauce first, noodle second, bolognese and bechamel third, and repeat until your dish is nearly full and then sprinkle as much cheese as you can possibly fit on top. The lasagna needs to bake for an hour and then sit for forty-five minutes before it’s ready to serve so that it holds its shape which gives you plenty of time to let your mouth water over the sight and smell of a perfectly browned lasagna.
Lessons from making lasagna: Make sure you carve out enough time and space to make all the components. Many of them can be made days in advance and can be reheated to assemble when you’re ready. You never need as many noodles as you think to build your lasagna but leftover lasagna noodles make a great maltagliati later in the week. There are very few ways to irreparably ruin a lasagna.
Easter in Umbria means it’s time for Torta Di Pasqua, a rich holiday cheese bread unique to the region. Visiting chef Jennifer McIlvaine stopped by to bake a scrumptious batch in our laboratorio kitchen, and gave us her recipe. But because every Umbrian family has their own special way of making Torta Di Pasqua, we asked several of our friends for their recipes. Simone, Ernesto, and Marco and Chiara all chimed in, and each of their ways of making Torta Di Pasqua sound amazing. Try them out at home with cheese from our cheese counter and tell us which version you like best!
Ernesto’s Torta Di Pasqua
1T of oil or 1T of pork fat (strutto)
2 cubes (50g) fresh yeast
5 pinches of salt
100g gruyere cut into cubes
100g parmigiano grated
Mix together eggs, oil, yeast salt and parmigiano. Add flour until you have a soft dough. Add gruyere cubes. Fill a buttered baking tin just under half full. Let rise for one hour. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 180c.
Marco and Chiara’s Torta Di Pasqua
200 grams wet yeast
800 grams grated cheese (parmigiana, pecorino, swiss) – leave some in larger pieces
250 grams unsalted butter melted
30 grams salt
10li grams sugar
Water, oil and flour as needed
Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks. Mix the yeast with sugar, warm water and tablespoon of flour and let sit.
Beat the egg yolks until creamy, add the melted butter, salt, pepper and cheese. Fold into the egg whites. Add yeast. Mix in flour, water and oil until you reach desired consistency.
Butter the baking molds. Split the dough into four pieces, roll into balls and place into each mold (filling approximately half full). Cover and let rise (sitting next to a pot of hot water) for 3 hours.
When the dough reaches the top of the mold bake in a 160c oven for 30 minutes. Raise the temperature to 180c and cook for additional 10 minutes. When the top starts to brown cover with aluminum.
Simone’s Torta Di Pasqua
2.2 lbs pizza dough
1 cup parmigiano
1 cup Romano
1 cup strong pecorino grated
1 tbs yeast
1 cup butter
1 cup pork fat
1 cup olive oil
Work all the ingredients together. Add 00 flour until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Let sit for three hours and then knead it. Fill a buttered pan half full. Let sit again in the oven off with a pot of hot water (to maintain humidity). Wait until doubled. Bake for 2 hours at 325 degrees. Test with a tooth pick . When it’s ready, set upside down until cool.
Let us know how you Torta Di Pasqua turns out and send photos of your bake-a-thon to firstname.lastname@example.org. Best of luck!
The classic Aperol spritz is one of our go-to drinks before dinner. In Italy, around 5 PM, the piazzas and patios fill up with beautiful orange colored glasses full of the refreshing and palate-exciting cocktail.
We decided to add a bit of whisky, rosemary from the garden, and wildflower honey syrup (which the taste-testers agreed was the key to binding all of the flavors together) for this smashing take on the classic.
This updated version just might be our new go-to before dinner. As stimulating as the original Spritz, but with more depth of flavor, it is a drink we will reach for again soon.
But your perfect aperitivo drink needs some food, of course! The abundance of zucchini has us slicing some very thin pieces, then drizzling them with olive oil and and pinch of truffle salt. A three minute luxury well-deserved at the end of a long workday. We’re taking some olives and artichokes to nibble on as well, and heading outside to enjoy the long hours of summer.
Here’s how to recreate the Whisky Spritz and our Truffled Zucchini Bruschetta.
For the Drink:
Place 3 long sprigs of fresh rosemary, and ice, in a glass.
Pour one part whisky and two parts Aperol into the glass, stir.
Take 1 tablespoon of highly flavored wildflower honey, drizzle into a canning jar. Heat water until almost boiling, and pour a bit into the glass. Mix well until you have a syrup.
Pour the honey syrup into the glass and stir.
Top with prosecco, garnish with a grapefruit slice. Enjoy!
For the Antipasto:
Slice your bread thinly, and your zucchini even more thinly. Drizzle high-quality olive oil over the zucchini (we used Mancinofor its slightly spicy flavor) and top with a generous sprinkle of truffle salt.
Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. Family and friends all get together to eat, play games and watch football. No gifts are exchanged and everyone can join in the preparations. Perhaps we overdid a bit this week – but we sure had fun along the way. Five nights – 30 people each night. My kitchen will never be the same.
Tuesday — Pizza night! Gotta love having a wood burning pizza oven in the kitchen. I’m still working on my dough technique (Austin definitely has to come back from Italy and take on this task) but I did manage to put together a passable dough. The pizzas take 3-5 minutes to cook so everyone can put together the pizza of their choice and we crank them out until everyone groans to stop.
Best pizza of the night?
Of course drizzled with a spicy olive oil when it is finished
Wednesday – Lobster bake. My favorite email the week before Thanksgiving was from my brother Chad “warning” us that he was going to make a big mess in the backyard on Wednesday night. The email had an attachment of anticipated deliveries of seaweed and shellfish and directions for where and how to storeeverything. I missed the preparation process – but we did end up with 30 lobsters cooked in the firepit out back, clams and fresh oysters.
Thursday – The big day! Having a fridge full of seafood on Wednesday necessitated a trip to the grocery on Thursday morning to pick up a few essentials – namely turkey, potatoes, cranberries and everything else we wanted to cook. We had avoided the crowds all week and the Safeway was well stocked and peaceful. Everyone was still sleeping when we got back and Debbie and I were able to prep the veggies, bake a couple of pies and get breakfast out for the kids. We left for the movies at 1:15 with the kids (mostly teen-agers now) and left the spouses and uncles in charge of fire and meat. Seemed like a good fit. Dinner was precisely at 6:00 and in addition to the mashed potatoes, cranberry chutney and vegetables the boys served up roasted turkey, grilled prime rib, lamb roasted over the fire, tuna poke and octopus. Where to begin?
Best veggie of the night?
Brussel sprouts steamed tossed with candied walnuts, butter and pomegranate seeds.
Friday – No leftovers for us. This is where our competitive side comes out and its all about the Chili cookoff. The kids are experts and they spend the weeks before researching and testing their new chili ideas. Uncle Michael has been making the same chili for years and keeps winning year after year – you’d think the kids would give up but it just makes them more determined to best him. The best part of the cookoff is standing back and watching the kids go to work. Everyone is slicing and dicing and sneaking off to add a secret ingredient to the pot. The kitchen is noisy and chaotic but everyone has a plan. And then, it gets quiet. The five chili pots are simmering and everything is being washed and put away in anticipation of the judging. Big victory this year. Josh’s chili comes in first and Uncle Michael comes in second. Of course my team comes in dead last. Oh well, there is always next year.
Secret to winning?
Fritos, sour cream, grated cheese and freshly diced onions
Saturday — Pizza delivery never tasted so good – and the cleanup was a breeze!