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!

Maybe it’s the way she grates her cheese

Maybe it’s the way she grates her cheese,
Or just the freckles on her knees.
Maybe it’s the scallions. Maybe she’s Italian.
I can’t reveal her name but Eggplant is her game.

When my baby cooks her Eggplant,
She don’t read no book.
She’s got a Gioconda kinda of dirty look.

Michael Franks, “Eggplant,” The Art of Tea, 1976

jeremy parzen

Lately, life has been brimming over, teeming with some wonderful “firsts.” Our first dance as a wedded couple, our first trip to Italy together, our first Saturday night at home together, our first meals cooked in our new kitchen — whether a quesadilla, a tuna fish sandwich or Tracie P’s killer chicken and dumplings (a wonderful new recipe she clipped from a magazine), every meal feels special and all-the-more flavorful if only because with every meal we christen another piece in our new flatware, dishware, and cookware. Can you see how much my super-fine lady likes her new Cuisinart sauté pan? Perfect for one of her signature dishes, sautéed broccoli raab.

Last night, although exhausted after a weekend of unpacking and hanging photographs and art work (and finally setting up my little home studio), we threw our first dinner party and Tracie P made her first ragù in our new home. Beyond the fact that it is unbelievably delicious, Tracie P’s ragù holds a special place in my heart because when we first started writing each other, in the very early times of our relationship when we were just pen pals, we traded a lot of notes on our respective ragù philosophies… As many of you know, ragù can be a deal-breaker in any love affair! ;-)

She served the ragù, which she made in our new Le Creuset, over penne rigate by Rustichella d’Abruzzo, one of our favorite dried pasta brands. The whole penne rigate (ridged penne) vs. penne lisce (smooth penne) could have also been a deal-breaker but luckily my gorgeous Tracie P and I are of “one mind” on this issue. ;-)

When choosing the colors for our table setting, Tracie P went with our wedding colors: robin egg blue and pomegranate red.

(Btw, some super fun wines were served as well, including the 2007 Villa Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi, paired with appetizers, and a wonderful 2006 Vin de Paille by Vins de Vienne, 100% Marsanne, that we paired with a cheese course for dessert.)

Maybe it’s the way she grates her cheese… I’m just crazy about her… :-)

Yesterday’s Wine: Merle Haggard

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here.
This is a hangout of mine.
We come here quite often and listen to music
Partaking of yesterday’s wine.

(from “Yesterday’s Wine,” written by Willie Nelson, performed by George Jones and Merle Haggard as a duet, and by Willie Nelson)

Above: The inimitable Merle Haggard at the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday night. Tracie B surprised me with tickets!

With the awesome show we saw on Wednesday night in Austin, Tracie B and I have fulfilled two panels in our “Yesterday’s Wine” triptych, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Merle Haggard (we saw Willie in October and so we’re just missing George Jones now). We had a blast: he played a lot of the hits, including “Okie from Muskogee,” “I Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink,” “If We Make It through December,” and “Are the Good Times Really Over.” It was amazing to think about how apropos the latter two are today, with the economy in tatters and the future uncertain:

    I wish coke was still cola,
    And a joint was a bad place to be.
    And it was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV.
    Before microwave ovens,
    When a girl could still cook and still would.
    Is the best of the free life behind us now?
    Are the good times really over for good?

    Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell?
    With no kind of chance for the Flag or the Liberty bell.

Above: Isn’t she a doll?

In other news…

I had some of the best ragù (not counting Tracie B’s) I’ve had in a long time at Samson’s in McKinney (north Dallas) where I was traveling for work. Served over potato gnocchi, it had just the right consistency and balance of sweet, savory, and fatty flavors. Chefs and brothers Samuele Minin (who makes the gnocchi) and Germano Minin (who makes the ragù) are from Udine (Friuli) and they really know what they’re doing. Paired wonderfully with 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, which is simply singing right now. Life could be worse… especially when you’re on the company dime!