Adelina’s Lasagne

LasagneOne of the things Marco is always correcting is the American take on an Italian food that we call lasagna, with an “a”. You see, a lasagna is one piece of pasta. The “a” at the end of a word usually means that grammatically it is the feminine singular of a word. If you have an “e” at the end of the word it likely means that it is the feminine plural! Thus, a pan of many pieces of flat pasta is the plural form of the word and thus, “lasagne”.

Now that the grammar is out of the way. . . here’s how I make Adelina’s scrumptious lasagne.

First, begin by making the Ragù alla Bolognese (found here in the blog post by the same name). Once made, spread a layer in the bottom of the pan.

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Then, I use Mario Batali’s béchamel sauce (found here).

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After the bolognese, place a layer of pasta, one lasagna at a time. . .Then add another layer of bolognese. Next, a layer of béchamel, some pieces of fresh mozzarella, and some grated parmesan or Grana Padano cheese.

Repeat the layers: pasta, bolognese, béchamel/cheese. I usually do this so that I end up with three layers of pasta but you can go until the béchamel runs out.

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Be sure to have the top layer be the one with béchamel and cheese.

Cover in foil and bake in pre-heated 375º oven for 25 minutes. Bake an extra 5 minutes uncovered to brown the cheese. I often end with a couple minutes more with the broiler to brown the cheese even better than my version pictured below (just pay attention, because it doesn’t take long).

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 Buon Appetito!!!

daily rhythms

On a stressful day I find solace in the day-dream that transports me to our Condo in Cremona, Due Colonne. Sometimes this is as simple as imagining the opening of the shutters and glancing down the cobble-stoned street, smelling the fresh-baked bread from the bakery downstairs, and listening to the sounds of daily life from the city streets below. One of our guests recently began sketching and the pieces here came from her summer stay at Due Colonne.

An artist’s view from Due Colonne

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Other times, I find myself walking the corso, strolling in search of my favorite Italian breakfast, a cup of cappuccino and a brioche al cioccolato. In the warmth of a summer morning I sip and eat while watching the passersby. I enjoy the company of Marco and Matteo, sitting and participating in the rhythms of an ancient Italian city.

Café Tubino, around the corner from Due Colonne

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Later in the evening, we head to the Piazza del Duomo for an after dinner gelato from Cafe Pierrot. The city comes alive with people of all ages out for a summer evening rendezvous, a bite to eat, a drink at the bar, or simply a     long      slow     walk     through the narrow streets of Cremona conversing with friends.

 Piazza del Duomo, Cremona

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The sketches included in today’s blog all come from Janet Boynton, who recently stayed at Due Colonne with her husband Dan. They also wrote a nice review, describing their time in Cremona; experiencing joy in the simple pleasures of daily rhythms. Their review and her paintings bring me back to Due Colonne and Cremona!

Enjoy!

And, thank you Janet!!!

 

Shrimp and Grits alla Cremonese

Marco and I have a nice tradition.  We take turns planning a surprise trip for our wedding anniversary.  So, if it’s my turn, I plan a long weekend getaway without his knowledge.  He doesn’t find out about the destination until we are at the airport ready to board the plane. It’s fun planning and even more fun getting away for a long weekend together!

One time he took me to Charleston, South Carolina and another time I took him to St. Augustine, Florida.  On both of these occasions, we fell in love with shrimp and grits! We particularly remember a restaurant in St. Augustine where the shrimp and grits was so yummy. . . yet so rich, that we could actually feel our arteries and veins constricting as we ate!!

Last weekend I decided to make shrimp and grits. So, I began my internet search for recipes and found a traditional Charleston recipe.  It looked yummy!  It had lots of andouille sausage, bacon, butter, and cream. It also included different colors of peppers. “I’m sure it is wonderful”, I thought, but I began to think of our health and decided to continue the search.

All of my searching produced great ideas. I also began thinking about my blog, my mother-in-law’s cooking, Cremona, and all that I have learned about northern Italian cooking. This led me to pancetta and polenta. Northern Italian cooking often uses the simple cured pork belly meat called pancetta in recipes. It’s still not wonderful for the arteries, but, used sparingly, tastes great, and enhances the flavor of food!!

Southern Italians call the Northern Italians “Polentoni” because of their love of polenta. I decided to search creamy polenta and shrimp to see if there might be a traditional recipe similar to shrimp and grits. I came across a Mario Batali recipe for Very Soft Polenta and Rock Shrimp Ragout. His recipe is based on a classic dish from the coastal region outside of Trieste in the North of Italy. This is music to my ears as I know this would taste yummy yet have the healthy influence of the Mediterranean diet.

Batali’s recipe has more of a tomato base than I want, but I like the emphasis on the olive oil, the inclusion of parsley, and it confirms my hunch that I can create my own Italian version of Shrimp and Grits. So, I take the core ingredients from the traditional Charleston (shrimp, cheesy grits, peppers, meat), make sure I used olive oil and less butter, take out the bacon and sausage and substitute pancetta, add a little crushed red pepper, make a creamy polenta (or grits) with parmesan rather than cheddar cheese, and come up with what I call “Shrimp and Grits alla Cremonese“!

Here is the result:

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Here are the ingredients:

Shrimp:

  1. 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 garlic cloves sliced thin
  3. pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  4. 1/4 pound pancetta
  5. 3 peppers (one red, yellow, orange) sliced thin
  6. 1 pound large shrimp peeled, deveined, tail on
  7. salt and pepper
  8. parsley

Grits:

  1. 1 cup stoned ground grits
  2. 3 cups chicken broth
  3. 3/4 cup heavy cream
  4. 1 Tablespoon butter
  5. 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

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Here are the steps:

Steps for the shrimp:

  1. heat the olive oil and garlic, and red pepper flakes in a pan on medium high heat until the garlic is golden brown
  2. add the pancetta and cook a few minutes
  3. take the mixture out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside
  4. add the peppers and cook about 10 minutes or until soft
  5. apply salt and pepper to the shrimp, add to the pan, and just when it turns pink, add the pancetta mixture back in
  6. keep the shrimp on low heat while preparing the grits

Steps for the grits:

  1. bring 3 cups chicken broth to a boil
  2. whisk in the grits and cook slowly for about 5 minutes
  3. add the cream and grated parmesan cheese
  4. stir and serve in single serving bowls

Spoon the shrimp mixture over each bowl of grits and serve with a simple green salad garnished with olive oil and salt.
Serves 4

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Cotoletta Comfort

Cotoletta di Pollo

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In January of 1998, Marco left his family, friends, work and Italy to move here to the Boston area and live with me.  How hard this must have been for him!  How devastating for his mother! In her life and culture, children moved out only when they got married.  Then, they established their new family just 5 or 10 minutes down the street!

Marco’s mother sent two items with him:  a cookbook, “La cucina facile di Suor Germana“, and a little wooden good luck charm.

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The cookbook is like the Betty Crocker of Italian cooking.  It is our Italian cooking bible, our “go to” when we just don’t know what to cook. In the introduction, Suor Germana says, “L’amore è vita, così come il cibo ailmenta la vita e regala gioia, attraverso il cibo possiamo parlare al cuore.” “Love is life , like food it nourishes life and gives joy, through food we can speak to the heart.” His mother sent him with all her love and with her desire to nourish his life with food and love.  It’s no wonder that the archetypal Italian mother embodies this wonderful marriage of food and love!

She also sent this good luck charm that sits on a bookshelf in our living room:

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Remember, this was ’98. . . way before she was ready to hear about her son marrying a man. . . before she had any inkling that we would soon have her only grandchild. . . before our marriage was a legally recognized union. . . and way before Italy as a culture even deals with its LGBTQ citizens. . .She gifted a good luck charm that had been given to them, Enzo and Adelina, wishing them a long life of wedded happiness!

Comfort, for me, is found in the love of family embodied in our home together. Even more, it exists as we sit around the table for our meals. As Suor Germana states, life itself is built upon the love we share and food nourishes us in such a way that love expresses itself in the meal.  Marco and I often strive to cook our meals with love and we can often tell when our hearts just weren’t in it. . .

We have a Monday night meal that we prepare and eat pretty faithfully.  It is our comfort food; our way of coping with the transition to a new week; a simple meal that each one of us relishes. It’s our take on a classic Cotoletta alla Milanese.

The original is bone-in veal chop, thinly sliced, dipped in egg and bread crumbs and fried in clarified butter.  It hails from Milan and is often compared to wienerschnitzel of Germany. Variations on the classic include chicken and pork. In Lombardia, it is the closest thing Italian children have to our chicken nuggets.

Marco’s mother made her version of Cotoletta throughout his childhood and now makes it for Matteo.  It’s simple:

  1. Take a chicken cutlet and pound it out so that it is quite thin and dip in a whipped egg.
  2. Then, dip in bread crumbs and it’s ready to cook.  (Marco’s mother sautés the cutlet in olive oil.  We typically bake it at 425 for 15 minutes)
  3. Serve with a simple Boston lettuce salad garnished with olive oil and salt.
  4. And add any other side that you’d like.  (full disclosure – – we cheat here and it’s the one item per week that we do not make from scratch – – we serve with Alexia Onion Rings for us and the same brand of fries for Matteo)

We look forward to our Monday night comfort Cotoletta and after you try it, you might too!