The Weekend List 10/20/2012

— Food is always on my mind – what to cook for dinner, what to buy at the grocery store, what to get at the farmers market, how to get fresh produce into every American kitchen. But I never actually sat down and asked myself, as a human being and as a journalist, does food writing really matter? And luck would have it that Michael Ruhlman answered this tricky question for me.

As he writes,

Because food is all around us, everywhere, easy and cheap, we’ve taken it for granted. Do you ever stop to wonder how it is that you can buy pea pods 365 days a year, whether you live in Maine, Montana, or Manitoba? Few do. The fact is, most people don’t think about food until they don’t have any. Then it’s pretty much all they can think about.

And we don’t think about food obsessively until it starts making us sick, which is what has happened in this country. Our food is making us sick in myriad ways. Our toddlers develop allergies unheard of when we were growing up. Children develop a type of diabetes once seen only in late adulthood. Obesity is rampant. And because of this we’ve become so hyperconscious of what we eat that we believe all kinds of nonsense. Dieticians once preached that eggs were bad for you–eggs! People far and wide still believe that fat is what makes you fat and that cutting salt and fat from one’s diet will make a healthy person even healthier. The way we produce food is destroying the land, polluting rivers and oceans, debasing the animals we raise for food and the workers who slaughter and process them. Nothing good comes from shitting where you eat, and this is what America has been doing for half a century.

So true. We have become detached from our primary resource and are now dependent on quick, unsavory meals that are deprived of any nutrient. Processed. Unremarkable. Frankly, ugly. Where did the art of cooking go? How about the art of eating even? We, as a society, should rethink our priorities.

Lots of fresh veggies from our garden.

 

— I have a soft spot in my heart for both of these men and now that they are debuting a new PBS show, well, I obviously cannot contain my excitement. Anthony Bourdain and Momofuku’s David Chang’s ‘The Mind of a Chef” follows Chang during travel and, of course, what is going on in his head. Chang is a visionary. I cannot wait to set my eyes on Season One.

 

 

— Speaking of another man I adore, The New York Times recently asked Jose Andres to show off his library. With more than 1,500 books, there are a few gems: 1825 first edition of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s “Physiology of Taste;” (his favorite) and a notebook that belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s chef, Honoré Julien, that dates back to 1795. Reading Andres is always a pleasant experience.

Any interesting food read you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

Homemade lasagne

La lasagna is without a doubt one of the most well known Italian dishes. It’s like an old legend depicting the beginnings of Italian cuisine.  It is also an art and as such, it comes with artistic freedom: there isn’t a right or wrong way to create the dish; you have your secret recipe and I have my recipe and grandma has her recipe. It’s the circle of life.

I have learned making lasagne from my mom, who, in turn, learned from her mom…. you get the drift. Every family in Italy adds a slight twist to the original recipe and it is not an exaggeration to say that each lasagna tastes a little bit different – more besciamel, less Parmesan cheese, a pinch of oregano, etc.

Without further ado, here is my family recipe. (Mom and dad have graciously agreed to be hand models….)

The Lissoni/Canzi Family Lasagne Recipe

1 large onion

1 pound of ground beef

1 box of pasta for lasagne (I would recommend making it from scratch)

As much besciamella as you like (recipe follows)

2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano are by far the best)

2 carrots

celery

a splash of white wine

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

First things first. Water in a pan. Pan on the stove. Add Extra virgin olive oil. Dice an onion. Add the onion to the oil and let it brown nicely. The base for a lot of Italian pasta sauces is this simple. Let the onions cook for about 5 minutes or until tender and brownish.

Once the onions are the perfect combination of tenderness and color, add the ground beef. We choose a leaner meat option, but you can choose the level of fat your heart desires. Let the beef cook until brown and well mixed with the onions. It is at this point that white wine comes to play.

Add white wine to the ingredients and gently stir until the remnants of the beefy goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan is finally incorporated. It is serious deliciousness. Next, add the cans of tomatoes and stir. There is a lot of stirring involved in Italian cooking – whether you like it or not, you stir pretty much everything.

Next, add the diced celery and carrots to the tomato-beef-onion goodness and let it cook for about 10 minutes. You can add as much or as little (even nothing, nada, zip) of either of these veggies as you prefer. I, for example, LOVE celery and would add pounds and pounds of it, but Francesco is not a big fan. Compromise? You betcha. Results? Still yummy.

Italian cooking is as much as about ingredients as it is about love. No joke. You can add your own secret ingredients to any dish and you’ll always have a spot-on meal. That is the main reason I love my culinary culture: I love to improvise and with a dish like lasagne, I can be as creative as I want to be.

Before going any further, preheat the oven at 350F. And now, my favorite part: besciamella. The light, fluffy, buttery sauce is, no surprise, French. It’s so simple, I often wonder why I don’t use it in more dishes or just eat it out of the pan.

Essential ingredients: butter (of course), milk, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Melt 1 stick of butter in a medium sauce pan. Add 1 cup of flour slowly whisking continuously to avoid clumps. Warm 1 liter of milk and add it to the butter/flour/milk mixture.  Cook the sauce for a 10 minutes and add salt, pepper and nutmeg as desired.

Once the besciamella is thick and creamy, add it to the tomato sauce and stir until well incorporated.

After mixing the sauce it’s time to build the dish. Lay a generous spoonful of sauce on the bottom of a dishpan (foil, ceramic or glass) covering the entire area. Add a layer of pasta sheets. Cover each layer with shredded mozzarella cheese. Repeat 2 or 3 times and on the last layer, add the mozzarella and a pinch of Parmesan cheese.

Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 25 or 30 minutes in a 350F oven. Once cooked, let it rest for 5 minutes and serve hot.

Buon Appetito!