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Monday, January 16, 2012

An International Affair

I love all things international. I love going to new countries and seeing places I've never seen before. I love just sitting and soaking up the local culture. I love the sound of other languages and trying to learn a new phrase or two. I love being surrounded by the smells of different cities and places. But most of all, I love the food. Street food. Family style. Haute cuisine. It's all a wonderful adventure for me. Maybe it was growing up in the Middle East. Maybe it was traveling to so many countries at such a young age. Maybe I'm just that kind of person.  Whatever the reason, I now enjoy making some of the international dishes I ate as a child at home here in the deep South.

Last night we had one of our dearest friends over for supper. Ralf is from Germany, but for six years he and his family were our neighbors. Our eldest daughters played together, went to preschool together. I drove his wife to the hospital when she gave birth to their second daughter. When they moved back to Germany, we visited them for a week over Christmas. Now we only get to see Ralf when work brings him back to Alabama, but it's always a treat.

So, I thought if I've got a German guest, what on earth should I cook? Italian, of course! Okay, admittedly this is not exactly a logical conclusion, but Ralf loves lasagna and I wanted to stick to a theme.

Seeing as this was not a formal affair, I kept my outfit low key. Just black skinny jeans, a magenta tank, a white and grey 3/4 sleeve fitted cardigan with a skinny magenta belt, my Repetto flats, and a huge hug for our friend. Obviously, there was no opportunity for a picture between the cooking and the chatting, so you'll just have to use your imaginations on this one, my lovelies.

For the supper I made baby spring green salad with fresh orange vinaigrette, traditional lasagna, fresh baguette, and torta de la nonna for dessert. First, let's get the salad course out of the way...

The salad is fairly basic, just fresh baby spring greens, carrots, tomato, green onions, dried cranberries, and feta cheese (I prefer gorgonzola, but my family does not agree). The vinaigrette is perfect for this time of year since citrus fruits are in season.

Orange Vinaigrette:

3/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (you can use blood oranges for more impact)
1 t. dijon mustard
3 T. white wine vinegar
1/2 t. salt
3 T. olive oil

Whisk together and enjoy! 

So simple and light. Like a little burst of sunshine in your mouth!

You have to understand I needed a hearty meal for my guest. Ralf is seven and a half feet tall, and, no, that's not an exaggeration.  He's really really tall. And, well, it takes a lot of calories to maintain that kind of height. So, we weren't going for a lighter meal tonight. Time to bust out the pasta and cheese!

Traditional Lasagna:
1 lb. ground meat (I only use grass fed beef, but I'm crazy picky about these things)
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes (trust me, they're so much better)
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. thyme
1/4 t. crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
3 eggs
1 30 oz. container ricotta cheese
1 c. fresh parmesan (not that icky canned stuff, reggiano preferably)
2 balls fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced (helps if it's super cold)

Cook beef and onion until pan juices evaporate and beef is browned. Add tomatoes and next 8 ingredients. Bring to a boil; break up tomatoes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

Mix ricotta, eggs, and parmesan together. Layer the lasagna-sauce, noodles, ricotta, repeating to make 3 layers. Top last noodle layer with remaining sauce. Cover with mozzarella slices. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for additional 15 minutes until brown, bubbly, and luscious. 

It will be difficult, but let it sit for 15-30 minutes before serving. Mouth wateringly difficult!

This is Torta de la Nonna-literally "grandmother's cake" in Italian. It is a custard tart in a way, but made with semolina flour, giving it a unique and fabulous texture. Likewise, the crust is made with Pasta Frolla which is similar to a Pan Sucre. It is a sweet and dry crust and the first time I made it I freaked out thinking that there was no way I would be able to get that crumbly stuff to roll out into a sheet. This recipe is from Martha Stewart.

Pasta Frolla:

2 1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
freshly grated zest of 1/2 orange
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. You'll add this later.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, better the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the zest, whole egg and the yolk. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture. Divide into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. flatten into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Before using allow to come up to room temperature.

Torta de la Nonna:

1 c. sugar
2 c. milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 semolina
1/2 t. salt
4 t. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Prepare an ice bath and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks and 1/2 c. sugar until thick and lightened. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine milk, vanilla bean seeds, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, semolina, and salt. cook over medium high heat until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; slowly pour 1/3 of the milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper, whisking constantly until combined. Pour egg mixture into sauce pan with remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly to combine.

Return pan to medium high heat. bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, until custard is thick enough to hold a visible trail when the whisk is lifted, 2-4 minutes.

Transfer the custard to a large heatproof bowl (I like to use my glass pyrex one). Whisk in the butter until combined. Set the bowl in the ice bath. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a well floured sheet of wax paper roll out the larger disk of Pasta Frolla to a large circle (slightly larger than your 9 inch tart pan). The dough will be scarily dry, cracking and splitting as you roll it. Just keep working with it and when you place it in the pan, use the extra bits to patch the cracks.

Fill with custard and top with rolled out smaller disk.

Bake, rotating tart halfway through, until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove from tart pan, let cool completely. Dust with powder sugar and serve. 

The best thing about this dessert is that it is best when eaten the same day it's made. So, you see, go ahead and have that second slice-it'll just go to waste otherwise, right? Right.


1 comment:

  1. I really shouldn't read your blog late nights - :)) I am hungry and that is one beautiful plate of lasagna!!!