I promised to make a lasagna for our office potluck lunch Thursday. As I got ready for a trip to LA I tried to beg off making the lasagna.
I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to make a lasagna because I was flying back Wednesday night. My office mates wouldn’t let off the hook.
I was stuck. After I unpacked I dashed off to the market to get everything I needed.
I was making a “lazy” lasagna. No homemade pasta sheets. No long-cooked sauce. This puppy is in the oven in a half-hour.
Don’t be intimidated. This is a simple recipe for a weekend meal or even for a leisurely weeknight dinner.
I used no-boil lasagna sheets, sausage browned out of its casing and a ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino filling. Canned San Marzano tomatoes made the quick tomato-basil sauce a snap. Leave out the sausage and you have a delicious vegetarian lasagna.
First start the sauce. It will be ready in about 30 minutes. Cook the sausage at the same time. In the meantime whip up the ricotta and mozzarella filling. When the sauce is ready assemble the 3-layer lasagna and bake it in a hot oven for about a half-hour.
How easy is that? You’ll be ready to eat in about 60 minutes start to finish.
The ricotta filling encased in tender pasta sheets is creamy and rich. The perky sausage layer bathed in the sweet tomato-basil sauce is a zesty counterweight. I savored every bite. 2 of my lucky mates snagged the leftover lasagna for their lunch the next day.
Serve the lasagna with a simple salad and a bold red wine. Have some crusty bread handy to wipe up the sauce left on the plate. You won’t have to wash that dish before you put it back on the shelf.
Here’s one of my favorite dishes that’s easy and quick to make for a weeknight dinner. You’ll be eating in a half hour or so.
Roast the sausage in a hot 425 degree oven until they’re golden brown.
While the sausage is roasting steam/saute the broccoli rabe in a big covered pot with garlic, red pepper flakes and extra virgin olive oil.
The broccoli rabe is infused with garlic and the hot chili flakes add a perky sparkle as you swallow.
I chose two Little City Meats homemade sausages to diversify a bit. One is the mild Sicilian with fennel seeds the other a hot Calabrese with dried chili.
Sometimes I want to extend the heat and I’ll grab a hot Calabrese. Sometimes I want to calm it all down and go for the mild Sicilian instead. Either way with a crusty chunk of Italian bread you’ll be in heaven.
For a vegetarian alternative I often just have a bowl of broccoli rabe with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the cooking broth.
Either way quick, healthy and delicious. Your dinner all on one plate.
I love Italian pork sausage. Luckily I can get the best right here in North Beach.
The Chronicle tasted 48 house-made sausages from all over the Bay Area, everything from traditional Italian pork sausage to Boudin Blanc and Spicy Georgia Peach Bourbon chicken sausage. Even with such a wide spread of sausage styles North Beach had 2 winners!
Calabrese pork sausage from Little City at Stockton and Vallejo came in second for “specialty sausages.” The Calabrese has a kick from the crushed hot pepper. It’s delicious.
My other personal favorite from the Little City guys is the Sicilian sausage, a mild pork sausage with fennel. I’m amazed their Sicilian didn’t make the top 5 in the mild sausage category. It’s a perfect blend of pork shoulder, salt, pepper and fennel seeds.
They sell a lot of sausage at Little City. If you get lucky you might catch fresh sausage being made on the counter at the back of the shop. You’ll want to see how this sausage is made. It’s an art.
The mild pork sausage with fennel from Molinari on Columbus got a favorable mention too.
Frittata is a versatile dish and you can make it in less than 20 minutes start to finish. Use whatever ingredients you want to make it your own. Here I use some of my favorites. Browned potatoes and onions are the base. Fresh mozzarella, roasted sausage, grated pecorino, and chopped parsley enhance the egg mixture.
Make yours vegetarian. Saute a couple of your favorite veggies to bring out their flavor. Roasted asparagus or sauteed zucchini work well too. Let the sauteed vegetables cool before adding them to egg mixture. Prosciutto or ham are good substitutes for the roasted sausage. Fontina or another soft cheese can replace the mozzarella. Or just use grated pecorino, parmigiano or grana padano.
Serve frittata for brunch or dinner. A side fruit or green salad completes the plate. Frittata is a nice addition to an antipasti platter too. However you serve your frittata make sure you have enough left over so you can enjoy frittata panini (sandwiches) later on.
I use a well-seasoned 11-inch cast iron pan for my 10 egg frittata. Non-stick saute pans work well too. For my smaller 9-inch cast iron pan I use 6 or 8 eggs. If you are anxious about flipping the frittata to cook the second side use an oven-proof pan and put it in the oven to finish cooking.
The golden crust is nutty and the frittata is cooked through but still a moist on the inside. Enjoy a mouthful of flavor in every bite.
Sunday Gravy brought me to tears. Check it out in the closing credits. Hand-crushed tomatoes and long-braised meats galore. The traditional, long-cooked pasta sauce from a small village in Campania. You have to make this one next Sunday!
Watch the video once, then follow along with Gianni, glancing at the recipe when you need to cheat:
Pork braciola: Thinly cut slice of pork shoulder or pork loin
Beef braciola: Thinly cut slice of beef chuck or round
Meatballs: Mixture of 1/3 ground beef, ground pork, ground veal,
11/2 pounds total
4 Italian sausage links
1 cup Italian flat parsley, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the pork braciole: about 12 lightly toasted pinoli (pine nuts) and 12 raisins
For the meatballs: ½ cup of stale bread soaked in water or milk and squeezed dry to form the pinade (la pinada)
1/8 cup canola or other vegetable oil
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes imported from Campania, Italy
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 carrot, cut in half and then in 2 inch pieces
1 celery stalk cut in 2 inch pieces
½ white onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh basil
4 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
½ teaspoon salt
1 lb or 500 grams pasta. Fusilli napoletani is used in the recipe, but you can use any pasta you want. Make sure that it is durum wheat pasta imported from Italy that is extruded through a bronze die. Look for something like this on the package: “Pasta trafilata in bronzo”.
4 quarts water
2 tablespoons sea salt
In a thick-bottomed pot, put the olive oil, the battuto (carrot, celery, onion, garlic and bay leaf). Turn heat to medium-low and sauté slowly. This is your soffritto (the odori, flavoring vegetables and herbs). You want these ingredients to be translucent, not browned, so they infuse the oil with their flavor.
Crush the San Marzano tomatoes with your hands until they are all broken up into rough chunky texture. Discard any basil, peel or stems or veins on the inside of the tomato (usually white or yellow).
When the soffritto is translucent and sizzling a bit in the oil, add the tomatoes. Stir to mix the tomatoes and the suffritto. Add the basil and parsley sprigs and submerge in the gravy. Add the sea salt. Reduce to low heat, cover the pot and simmer gently. Stir the pot frequently so it doesn’t burn. This is a long-simmered sauce and will cook for at least 3 hours after the meat is added to the gravy.
Finely chop the parsley and garlic. Set aside. You will use half for the braciole and half for the meatballs.
Lay the pork and beef braciole out flat on the board. Take ½ of the garlic/parsley and equally divide the garlic/parsley paste between the two braciole. Spread the paste evenly over the surface of each braciola leaving about a 1/2 inch border at the long edges. Sprinkle ¼ cup grated Pecorino evenly over both braciole. Sprinkle salt and tower to taste over both.
For the pork braciola only: Spread 12 toasted pinoli and 12 raisins evenly over the pork braciola.
Tightly roll up each braciole and tie with string to keep the paste inside and to maintain the shape of the braciole.
Put the ground meat, the remaining chopped garlic/parsley, Pecorino, stale bread pinada, egg, and ground salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Combine the ingredients with your hand. Squeeze everything together so that it is a homogeneous mixture. Put about 2 tablespoons of the meat into the palm of your hand and roll into a ball, round and slightly flat.
Over a high flame, heat a large sauté pan, add the canola and EVOO and heat until it ripples and smokes a bit. Add all the meat and reduce heat to medium-low and cook the meat until a brown crust forms. Cook the meat in batches if necessary so you don’t crowd the pan. Do not touch the meat until you can easily move the meatballs, sausage and braciole in the pan, without them sticking. Turn over and brown on the other side. You want to caramelize the meat and form a nice brown crust.
When well browned, transfer the meat, except the meatballs, in the gravy. Make sure all of the meat is submerged. Leave the lid of the pot ajar a bit to let some of the water evaporate so a thicker gravy forms. Gently simmer for at least 3 hours on a low flame. You want the braciole to tenderize by simmering in the gravy. Add the meatballs to the gravy about a half hour prior to cooking the pasta.
Cooking the Pasta and Finishing the Dish
Put the water and salt in a large pot. Make sure that the pot is big enough to allow the long fusilli to “dance” in the salted water. Cook about 8 minutes until the pasta is very al dente. It will finish cooking in the gravy in a sauté pan.
Put about 2 cups of the gravy in a large sauté pan and heat over a medium flame. Pull out the al dente fusilli and put in the sauté pan. Finish cooking the fusilli in the gravy, turning it so that the gravy is absorbed by the pasta to finish cooking. You should just have enough gravy to fully coat all of the fusilli.
Close the flame. Grate Pecorino to taste and mix to distribute it throughout the pasta. If you wish, drizzle with a good quality EVOO.
Remove the strings from the braciole and slice into ½ inch slices. Put the braciole, meatballs and sausage on a serving platter and top with some of the gravy.
Serve the pasta in a warm bowl or plate. Traditionally, the pasta is served as a separate course, followed by the meats as the next course. To be honest, I usually serve the pasta and the meats at the same time. My guests can decide how to enjoy the pasta and the long-simmered meats.
Serve with a hearty red from Campania, an aglianico or taurasi perhaps.