November 03, 2002
Lasagna from Scratch

This meal was supposed to be an homage to the fine women at the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia, Italy. When I was at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, we lived in a wonderful villa in a small town near Florence. (See a picture of the villa at the bottom of this page.) Every night, the women who took care of the villa would cook dinner for us. One of the most memorable and delicious of these dinners was the freshly made lasagna. The meaty sauce had a wonderful richness and depth of flavor and the homemade noodles were simply the best pasta I've ever had.

I knew that in order to try to recreate this dish I would have to be cooking all day. What better way is there to spend a Sunday than breathing in the scents of a slowly simmering bolognese sauce? I started the sauce around noon after a quick trip to the store for some supplies. I decided to get some Italian sausages to put in the sauce in addition to the ground beef as an experiment. (Verdict: delicious) This part of the process was easy: cut up the vegetables and meats, cook them together, add some liquids (wine and stock) and simmer 'til it's done.

The pasta proved to be a bit more trying. I was using the recipe out of Mario Batali's Simple Italian Food that advises the "traditional well method". The idea is that you mound all your flour on a board, made a depression (or "well") in the mound so that it looks like a volcano, then put your eggs in the caldera of your little Vesuvius. You gradually mix flour into the eggs while the unmixed flour keeps the wet stuff from spilling. That's how it's supposed to work. When I tried it, the eggs overflowed the top and flowed down the side of the flour. I finally managed to coerce the egg and the flour to stick together and not spill on the floor, but then found that the whole mixture was too dry and couldn't be kneaded. This same thing happened to me the last time I tried to make pasta. (That time, as with this time, I changed the recipe a bit by using half semolina flour and half all purpose so maybe I should stick to the recipe before complaining too much.) Luckily, I was able to rescue the dough by sticking it into the food processor and adding another egg.

I thought that with the delicacy of the homemade pasta it would be okay not to cook the noodles before assembling and baking the entire thing. I don't think I'll make that mistake the next time. The dish turned out fine (and no less delicious), but the noodles were noticeably undercooked and even dry around the edges. Nadia didn't mind the noodles, but she didn't have the memory of the original with which to compare. In additional to them being fully cooked, I would also have liked a smoother noodle so next time I'll be certain to use all AP flour or even the 00 flour. However, as I write this a day or two after the fact, I can report that the noodles improve tremendously upon reheating. All in all, a good first attempt at trying to cook like an Italian grandmother.