Cake and cookies, cookies and cakes. Sheesh..you’d think that’s ALL we eat around here. While it does seem that way, it’s not so. Sure, after a full day in the kitchen of mixing, baking, frosting, and piping, I have to admit, it’s a bit daunting to then begin another round of something else. Food bloggers, you [seemingly] have it made. You test recipes, you cook, photo, write, AND put it on the table for your family to enjoy. Even if we could eat cake and cookies for dinner, it still wouldn’t be feasible, since my day’s work is ‘for customers only’. It’s lucky we both enjoy simple, nourishing dishes during the week…hearty bean soups, composed vegetable salads, an occasional chicken stew. We don’t starve, that’s for sure. It gives me great pleasure, especially during the cold winter months, to prepare a dish that’s satisfies my psyche as well as our taste buds. Now that we’re on our winter holiday, cooking tops my activity list. To start the season off, I made one of our traditional winter holiday concoctions, Caramelized Onion Lasagne. The first time we had this dish was over 15 years ago at a favorite tavern of ours in Connecticut. It was so lovely and flavorful, I decided to recreate it at home. What differentiates this lasagne from others is, of course, the richly caramelized onions and Fontina Val d’Aosta cheese layered between fresh, UNCOOKED sheets of pasta (purchased from Raffetto’s, NY’s historic pasta store), ricotta cheese and a sweet and spicy tomato sauce. Yes, I said, UNCOOKED sheets of fresh pasta. My theory is, the moisture from all the other elements seeps into the pasta when baked. The result is a toothsome bite of pasta in your mouth. No overcooked lasagne sheets. Pretty smart, right?
Make no mistake; as simple as this dish is, making it my way requires a fairly significant time commitment. This is no 30-minute-semi-homemade- easy-peasy-let’s-wear-our-high-heels-and-good-silk-blouse-to-cook-in-kind-of-dish. This is a fill-the-house-with-incredible-aromas-whil-wearing-your-grandma’s-bib-apron kind of recipe. So, here’s what you’ll need to assemble my lasagna in a pan measuring 13 inch long, 10 inches wide and 2 1/4 inches deep. Make whatever adjustments you’d like…this is always a work in progress.
Caramelized Onion Lasagne
- 1.25 lbs Fontina Val’d Aosta cheese (freeze for about 20 minutes to half hour to make slicing with a cheese plane a breeze)
- 1 1/2 sheets of fresh UNCOOKED pasta. If you can’t get fresh sheets, use Barilla No Cook Lasagne noodles
- Sweet and Spicy Tomato Sauce
- Ricotta filling
- Marcella Hazan’s ‘Smothered Onion Sauce
- 1 – 1.5 c freshly grated parmesan cheese (amount quantified by highly scientifice ‘eyeball’ process)
Oh, and I won’t bore you with a chronicle of lousy step-by-step photos. I’ll just show you the important photos.
Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Tomato Sauce
Cooking time : 40 minutes in total. 10 minutes prep., 30 minutes cooking time
- 1 c. roughly chopped onion
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 36 oz. San Marzano tomatoes, drained & crushed
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
- Saute onion and garlic in oil til translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, paste, salt, cinnamon, oregano & allspice. Simmer for 25 minutes.
* I used Chinese 5 Spice Powder this last time. Feel free to use your imagination.
Recipe: Ricotta Cheese Filling
- 2 lbs whole milk ricotta cheese 2 eggs 1/2 c. chopped Italian parsley 1 – 1.5 cups freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (optional) salt & pepper to taste
- Mix ricotta and eggs in large mixing bowl til fluffy. Fold in other ingredients. Taste & adjust salt & pepper, if necessary. Reserve til needed.
Recipe: Smothered Onions Sauce a la Marcella Hazan
Summary: Adapted from “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”
Cooking time (duration): 2+ hours
- 2 Tbsps unsalted butter 2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil 1.5 lbs onions, sliced very thin (aprox. 6 cups) Salt, Freshly ground black pepper 1/2 c dry white wine (use what you’ve been drinking…I like something dry, not too sweet, like a Sauvignon Blanc)
- Put butter and olive oil in deep sauté pan, with onions and a good pinch of salt. Cover pan and turn heat to very low. Cook for about an hour til onions are very very soft.
- Uncover pan and turn heat up to medium high. Cook onions til they become deep, dark gold. Any liquid released by the onions must also boil away now.
- Taste the onions and add salt if necessary. Add lots of freshly ground pepper, now, too. Add the wine, turn the heat the up and stir frequently while wine bubbles away.
- After liquid has sufficiently boiled off, take onions off the heat. And, try to resist eating them out of the pot.
Now, to assemble: Spread a small amount of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. This will prevent the pasta from sticking. Lay the pasta into the pan. Either trim pasta to the exact size of bottom of pan or make sure no pasta corners stick out with being covered by sauce. ricotta, etc. You’ll have burnt, dried out pasta if you don’t. Schmear (old Italian phrase) about 1/3 amount of ricotta onto top of pasta. I use an offset spatula for this. Very useful tool, that offset. Schmear 1/3 of onions on top of ricotta…think thin. Next comes a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. Followed by more sauce. Followed by thin slices of the fontina covering the sauce. Next layer of pasta sheet. Continue filling the pan with this order of elements so that you end up with tomato sauce and fontina as your last additions. Adjust a rack to the upper portion of the oven and preheat to 400º F. Bake for roughly 20-25 minutes til bubbly and a crust begins to form on the top. It may or may not need more time…use your judgment. Once it’s out of the oven, let it rest for about 10 minutes before cutting.
And now, the important photos.
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