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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Little Lasagna Lunch

None of us could decide where to meet up before going to an early evening concert over the weekend on the far side of town (although I won't tell you what concert it was, I will admit that it was a regrettable, crashing bore), so Baby and I suggested our friends come over to the apartment first, while we served drinks and made a late, little lasagna lunch! How were we to know that we should have all just stayed in, snacked on more lasagnette, found more wine and played a rousing game of Philadelphia Rummy?

I had been itching to make the gorgeous Little Lasagnas with Tomato, Burrata and Pesto that graced the cover of the June issue of the fantastic La Cucina Italiana magazine, which I always pick up at Buon Italia (a fine purveyor of the best, imported Italian foodstuffs) in the nearby Chelsea Market.

Baby and I hit the Market before noon, intending to plunder Buon Italia of their meats and cheeses, but the rest of Chelsea and beyond had beat us to much of it! We had never intended to make our own pasta as we often rely on the easier, fresh sheets of it that we can cut to our liking--but they were sold out. After some rooting around, I did find frozen sheets that managed to work out quite well. The extraordinary burrata had also vanished, the beasts! Circling burrata buzzards probably descend as soon as the doors open. But that's not so surprising: after trying this mozzarella cheese with an oozing buttery cream and mozzarella interior just once, there's no turning back. We purchased stracciatella instead to sub for our burrata; we felt its similarly creamy consistency could pinch-hit.

I grabbed a 28-oz can of chopped Valle tomatoes for the sauce, since we were limited on time, and as I'm always loathe to blanche, peel and chop vine-ripened tomatoes anyway. Italy's vibrant San Marzano tomatoes always work out to my taste. We found some walnuts, pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano for our pesto, ordered a quarter pound of speck (smoked proscuitto) from the meat counter, and picked up a package of grissini (elegant, elongated bread straws) for appetizers. We paid and high-tailed it out of the bustling Buon Italia!

Manhattan Fruit Exchange in the Market usually has great produce, but the basil was lacking this trip, with brown spots, although it was good and fragrant enough to use in the pesto that our recipe required. Onions and garlic were for our tomato sauce.

As we had fresh pasta, we found ourselves with extra time and made the pesto first, as it needs an hour to chill. I'd made pesto before many times but the interesting inclusion of a little effervescent club soda was good news to me.
We found more time by using our can of San Marzano tomatoes, already chopped. It was added to the mix of oil, butter, onion and garlic with double concentrated tomato paste (available at Whole Foods) and a few basil leaves. I also added a little sugar, which I find sweetly perks up any tomato sauce.

The sheets of frozen pasta thawed on the countertop as we busied ourselves with the filling of pesto, sauce, stracchiatella and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cutting the pasta sheets in half, they were larger than the 4 " x 4" serving that the recipe suggests--but the edges crisped just the same in the oven and there was that much more to enjoy!

When our guests arrived, we had already juiced a yellow watermelon for cocktails with Leblon cachaca, a natural sugar cane liquor, muddled with mint, limes and sugar. Once we sat down to eat, we put a slightly chilled, fine bottle of Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir on the table.
A simple salad of shredded red and green leaf lettuces was tossed tableside with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, finely ground Darling Buds sea salt perfumed with rose petals, and freshly cracked pepper. As we'd brought back a glut of chocolate from our recent trip to Switzerland, for dessert we unwrapped a Frey bar with the most fascinating crystalized chocolate filled with boozy Poire William pear liquor.
After such a nice lunch, no wonder the concert we slogged our way to in the rain was disappointing!


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  2. Good lord, how lovely! Sorry about the rain.
    The food sounds incredible!

    Now Pietro, I've been meaning to ask you about this dilemma we often meet before shoving off for a few days on the Chesapeake.

    Our 40' Jenneau sailboat has a galley with a literal icebox and a smallish stove which mercilessly heats up the galley and 4 cabins below deck. We often have to be very creative with our meal planning (for our captain and 6 mates.) It would be awfully easy to make the trite, cliché kinds of things one would take on an extended camping trip or with which one might stuff hampers prior to riparian excursions. But we, being us, require the cuisine to match the stunningly beautiful coves and inlets where we anchor for the afternoons and evenings. We do have a grill (think of an Hibachi on mild growth hormones) for above deck.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Breakfasts are really no problem at all, it's the lunches and dinners that are becoming increasingly difficult to imagine.