my lasagne alla bolognese for @MyLifeItalian’s birthday

For her birthday dinner this year, Tracie P requested lasagne alla bolognese, one of my pièces de résistance in the kitchen.

In my experience, lasagne alla bolognese are best prepared over the course of two days: the key is to make the ragù the day before (classic soffritto, equal parts ground pork and lean beef, one sausage link crumbled, tomato purée, white wine, chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste, a bay leaf, and a dash of chili flakes, simmered slowly for a few hours after the meat has browned well and been deglazed with the wine).

I cover the ragù and reserve it over night in the oven (there’s no need to refrigerate it since it will be reheated after you assemble the lasagne).

Making the lasagne isn’t as challenging as it seems: all you need is a food processor and a pasta rolling machine. (There’s a great recipe for making pasta sheets in Cesare Casella’s Italian Cooking Essentials for Dummies.)

Once you’ve rolled out and trimmed the lasagne, you layer them (in a oven-ready casserole dish that’s been greased with butter), alternating between ragù (the first), béchamel (second), and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (third, topped with a layer of pasta).

For my béchamel, I always use a tablespoon of white wine and a tablespoon of chicken stock, two subtle ingredients that give the sauce great nuance in my experience. And the Parmigiano Reggiano must be freshly grated, a sine qua non to great lasagne alla bolognese.

The combination of the rich flavors and textures is one of the supreme expression of Italian gastronomy and well worth the time and effort it takes to make this dish. We paired with a bottle of 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco. (The classic pairing would be Lambrusco, of course.)

Georgia P is still not ready for the fattiness of lasagne alla bolognese but she did get to have some pappardelle that I made from the trimmings. We tossed them in a pat of butter and topped them with a dust of Parmigiano Reggiano. She loved them…

We’ve had such a wonderful year, with too many blessings to count.

Thanks for reading and buona domenica, yall!

The best pork store in New York (cast your pearls at this swine)

Of all the places on earth to open an Italian pork store, the Upper West Side is not the first that comes to mind. But, then again, stranger things have happened…

Two Saturdays ago, Tracie B and I had time for lunch in the City after an overnight layover in New York on our way to Paris and so we decided to experience celeb chef Cesare Casella’s new collaboration with the owners of Parmacotto, the Rosi family: Salumeria Rosi, on Amsterdam and 73rd, in the heart of the Upper West Side (not exactly known for its pork consumption).

For those of us who gave up buying and/or ordering sliced prosciutto and other Italian affettati in the city, our traif dreams have been answered: whether you stay to dine or you take out, the slicing at Salumeria Rosi is performed with a grace and precision worthy of Brescello’s favorite son (that would be Don Camillo to you laypeople). Even my previously favorite pork store, Faicco (on Bleeker in the heart of what was once Scorsese’s Little Italy), has too often dashed my dreams with ineptly sliced charcuterie (although the arancini there are still the best).

The mixed affettati platter (above, including speck, mortadella, and porchetta) was simply the best I have ever had outside of Emilia-Romagna.

Cesare’s leek torte was sublime, the crust flaky and light, the filling balanced with the savory and piquant flavors of the wintry allium porrum. It paired perfectly with an aromatic Müller Thurgau by Terlano.

It’s not easy to photograph eggs but I had to include my attempt at capturing the warm, pillowy mouthfeel of the scrambled eggs matched with crisp and slightly bitter ruchetta in the Pontormo salad inspired by the Renaissance master, who was obsessed with his diet, digestion, and the consumption of eggs — not to mention author of one of my favorite paintings, The Deposition in the church of Santa Felicita (pronounced feh-LEE-chee-tah) in Florence. Cesare created the dish many years ago for a story I worked on with Luigi Ballerini on Pontormo and his sometimes bizarre culinary habits.

The rigatoni were slightly overcooked but the guanciale in the amatriciana was entirely and decadently delicious. (Check out this old and fun post on the meaning and etymology of guanciale.)

Beyond the oxymoronic fact that it is located on the Upper West Side, one thing, among many others, that sets Cesare’s pork store apart from the traditional newyorchese temple to swine is the design by celebrated Italian production designer and Scorsese-veteran Dante Ferretti. The centerpiece is an Arcimboldo-inspired map of Italy, a beautiful expression of culinary anamorphism whereby every region is represented by its gastronomic tradition (it’s done in white stucco but Emilia has been adorned with polychromy). My skills as a photographer proved ill-suited when I tried to capture it in jpg: it spans the back wall and the ceiling. I won’t conceal that I found it to be wholly exquisite.

O Cesare, I cast my pearls at your swine!

Check out Tracie B’s ecstatic post Suino divino.