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Friday, September 21 2007

Do you think of lasagna as an awe-inspiring gourmet impression or a hard to digest, school food staple?

In Tuscany I have tasted superb layers of meltingly warm, fresh pasta. This traditional meat sauce of Italy is made with finely minced beef and chicken livers or pancetta and slow cooked gently for hours until the flavors smooth. In spring the subtle pasta sheets have been layered with tender artichoke hearts, béchamel and ham, a wedding of delicate flavors to delight the most gourmet appreciation.

Lasagna is a meal that has left home and travelled the world. It has made it into the majority of microwave meals, grocery store dinners and been destroyed in the process. Thick, heavy sheets of pasta packed in oozing quantities of sauce and bear little similarity to their Italian forbears.

To taste the real Italian lasagna that I am recounting, you must take a gourmet journey to Italy; visit the hills of Tuscany or Emilia Romagna with its rich, butter-based cooking and huge amount of fine restaurants. In any Italian city you will be able to be grateful for the fragility of flavor, the melting consistency with which authentic Italian lasagna can pleasure the appetite.

Here the lasagna is only a part of a relaxed meal. In the fall you might have started with antipasto bread, and then sampled the lasagna, leaving enough room for your main course of a steak with fresh mushrooms harvested from the area around you.

Lasagna is a meal planned for feasting - to make it as it should be is time intense: rolling out your own freshly made pasta to make sheets that are thin enough not to be heavy, boiling it briefly a few sheets at a time; making fresh meat sauce and allowing it three or four hours to simmer at your convenience; stirring sauce cautiously so it does not burn; lastly assembling all the special workings and layering them, thoughtfully spreading just the right amount of sauce for the pasta to take in and have a bit left over; adding in freshly grated parmesan to get the equilibrium of flavors just so; baking it all in the oven for just the right amount of time for the flavors to join into a celestial whole. It is a labor of love made at home for special occasions or ordered in a restaurant where you know they do it well.

I plead guilty to not having the staying power for making my own fresh pasta and so do without lasagna all told at home. I am just waiting for an occasion to get back to Italy so that I can make a fuss of in a gourmet holiday, feasting on lasagna, mushrooms and truffles!

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 09:48 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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