Friday, February 22, 2008

Nonna's Lasagna Pats and Braciole

This was an exceptional eating month for me. In fact, should it have been even day longer, I would risk getting gout. Actually, as it is a leap year, so there is still a chance. I have been eating multiple course meals frequently this month. Though, with all that eating (plus Belle and working) I haven’t written about all of these meals but I shall. (I did write about the kaiseki-style meal.) The first, and I know my favorite, was the one lovingly created by my husband last week. We were having guests over for dinner and my husband decided to recreate a family meal that he had never actually eaten.

My husband was raised on the East Coast outside the reach of his large extended Italian-American family that lived in Ohio. This means a lifetime hearing about Italian food interspersed with moments of actually tasting his family specialties. His grandmother had left Italy, because it needed to be left—that is if you felt that you needed to eat and support your family. Whole villages left Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century and reformed anew in America. Like so many immigrants, for his Nonna, America meant hard work and small quarters, but also, eventually, prosperity. The providence of this success resulted in many children and grandchildren who would come to equate pork chops, meat ravioli, meat balls, and roast beef with her love.
How do you build a meal that you have not tasted and also only know third hand? Luck and sense-intuition. My husband used the Big Night cookbook (Stanley Tucci’s family recipes), and then improvised. He knew that he wanted to make braciole. The meal is to be served with homemade pasta as the first course, the meat as il secondi, and then a salad, before a finish of cheese. We had hoped to start dinner at 6 so that Belle could join the adults for food. Sadly, parenthood has stolen our watches and we no longer do anything on time or as planned. We ended up serving the antipasto of cheeses and salamis, all from Gust Gallucci’s, and finished cooking while the guests milled amongst themselves. (Martha would cringe.) Luckily, my husband had decided to break the bank with many, many cheeses and a few meats. There was a Piave Vecchio, Sicilian Fresh Pepato, and Spanish Romao.

We also ended up serving the next three courses (pasta, secondi, and salad) together. In having the party, we were hoping to entertain rather than serve, as Nonna would have. No one cared. The pasta was the best my husband had made—it was smooth but with a bite. The braciole was tender and rich. I was responsible for the roasted potatoes for the secondi but I got lost making dessert (lemon, orange and blood orange tarts) so instead we had baked potatoes tossed with Meyer lemon, olive oil, and kosher salt. Really people only ate the potatoes to prepare themselves to eat more of the meat. We also had a plain arugula salad with fennel, meyer lemon supremes, orange supremes, grapeseed oil and black pepper. Dinner was wonderful. Who knows how it was supposed to be, but I thought my husband got it right.
My husband never ate enough food according to his Nonna. As a new mom, I am starting to adopt the “food pushiness as love attitude” that his Nonna practiced (perfected.) So, there was not just stilton with mango and ginger for dessert, but also three types of tarts and chocolate cake from Heinen’s. That the guests left dazed and full proves to me that it was a great meal.

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