The first time I made this lasagna was during the period where Jasper and I were dating long distance. He was living out here in NoVa, and I was in grad school in California. He invited some friends over to play rock band at his apartment so that we could all hang out, and I wanted to cook something for the party that would suit a crowd. I thought lasagna would be great, but I wanted to try something different from my usual. My favorite lasagna recipe came from an episode of Tyler's Ultimate on Food Network, so I decided to try the other recipe from that episode. I found the recipe online and went to work, but things did not turn out as planned.
We went to two Italian restaurants while we were in Bend for Thanksgiving. One of them was, unfortunately, pretty disappointing. But the other, Ariana, was fantastic!
The restaurant is inside what looks like an old house, so the dining room is small but cozy. The service was great, and the waiter liked Jasper's request for Champagne with St Germain so much that he said he was going to add it to the cocktail menu.
We were so excited about our appetizers that I didn't get a chance to take pictures! We ordered beef carpaccio with truffle oil and burrata with tomatoes; both were fantastic.
We have a tradition in our house of making a huge batch of meat sauce in the fall and freezing it for use all year. The recipe is a combination of the recipes we grew up with, both of which have a tomato base. My mother's recipe involves a combination of beef, pork, and lamb; along with garlic, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives, red wine and Italian spice blend. My mother-in-law's recipe is similar but uses only beef, no bell pepper or olives, no wine, and dried basil instead of Italian blend. I have merged these two recipes to form my own - I use a combination of beef, pork, and veal (which can be found in stores already mixed as "meatloaf mix"); yes on bell pepper and wine; no on mushrooms and black olives (Jasper doesn't like them); and I use both dried basil and Italian seasoning blend.
My sauce is American style, tried and true, and best served on spaghetti with Parmesan. But this month when the hankering for pasta came on, I decided to try some new things and see what would happen.
This was our last week of the CSA - I'm sad that it is over, but at the same time it's nice to have a break from the constant rush to cook and eat all that produce before it goes bad each week. I'm glad we did it this way for our first time, it really pushed me out of my cooking comfort zone and forced me to use ingredients that I wouldn't normally buy. I'm really grateful for the learning experience, but next year I think we will do a half-share.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my hometown - San Antonio, TX! I was able to see my family for the first time since January, and to have my Dad's epic BBQ for the 4th of July.
Anyway, I also got to hit up all the restaurants I have been missing/craving since I moved away.
First off - a San Antonio staple - Taco Taco. I know, I know - stupid name, right? And you may be daunted by the way this tiny, one room taqueria looks like it's about to fall apart. But Taco, Taco was named "The Best Tacos in America" by Bon Apetit magazine, and they were not kidding - the constant line out the door does not lie. My favorite thing to get is the breakfast tacos - served from open to close because the hours are 7-2, every day. They make their own tortillas fresh and they are huge and soft and pillowy and just perfect. Then they fill them with buttery eggs and potatoes (my favorite), bacon, or chorizo. For a full on breakfast extravaganza, make sure to get a side of their fantastic refried beans. Another favorite is the beef norteño - a flour tortilla filled to the max with refried beans, cheese, avocado, bell pepper, and tender fajita meat. You only need one to fill you up and oh my goodness, SO GOOD!
Another favorite - a Texas chain vs a San Antonio original - is Freebirds World Burrito. Don't even talk to me about Chipotle or I will get really mad. Seriously, I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. No, the only burritos for me are those rolled by my very own "roller" in the aluminum foil decorated haven that is Freebirds. What makes this chain so special? Four flavors of tortilla to start - including cayenne and, my favorite, spinach. How about choice of cheese, including queso fresco? Or an option for rice (Spanish) that doesn't have cilantro but still has flavor? Or, most importantly, refried beans! How do you have a burrito without refried beans?! I'm talking to you, Chipotle. Then you have those special ingredient options, like roasted garlic or roasted limes, and a ton of salsas and sauces to choose from. Customers also get to participate in decorating the shop - by using the foil that wrapped their burrito to make figurines and daisy chains and whatever they can think of, then placing them wherever they want. A tear comes to my eye when I think that it might be months before I get to taste my beloved Freebirds again.
Moving away from the Mexican food (which is hard to do in San Antonio - I mean, La Fonda on Main, La Fonda Sunset Ridge (not related), Tomatillos, Taco Cabana... where was I?), let's hit up some other San Antonio favorites.
Paesanos is a San Antonio institution. This Italian restaurant has been around for 40 years, and was made famous by the signature dish - Shrimp Paesano.
(image taken from restaurant website) Floured shrimp is sauteed in oil and served with a lemon, butter, and egg yolk sauce that is TO DIE FOR. Twirling long strands of spaghetti through that decadent sauce is something akin to heaven. You can actually make this at home (recipe here), but it's just oh-so-much better to get the real thing. While there is certainly lots of good food to be had at Paesanos, I can never pass this up. Neither can my family, apparently - we had a table of 6 people and everyone ordered it in some form or another - appetizer, main, add-on to steak. This San Antonio favorite is simply not to be missed.
A family favorite, though not necessarily a local institution, is Tre Trattoria - an Italian restaurant located in the boardwalk area near the Zoo and overlooking the San Antonio River. The menu is small, but all of the dishes are very good.
Here, we have a selection of small plates: house pulled mozzarella with sea salt and olive oil on charred bread; white cannellini beans with gremolota; bruschetta with house made ricotta and cherry tomatoes; and farro salad. The goat cheese, pistachio, and balsamic cipollini onion pizza is quite good; and the pappardelle with bolognese is outstanding. Favorite desserts include the ricotta cake and the seasonal crostada (raspberry and mint this trip).
Finally, on to the cream of the crop - Bohanan's Steakhouse. You can't visit Texas without getting some steak, and Bohanan's is the place to get it in San Antonio. First of all, let's talk about the FANTASTIC bar with a long list of incredibly creative cocktails with a classic flair. On this visit, I opted for the Rome with a View - an aperitif made with campari, sweet vermouth, lime juice, sugar, soda. When you are done sipping your excellently crafted cocktail, head up the elevator to the second floor for dinner. The service is impeccable and the food is even better.
Obviously the steaks here are wonderful - they use USDA Prime aged center cuts of Midwestern corn-fed beef. Off the menu they also have Akaushi beef from Japan, which is exclusive to Bohanan's in the United States. It is much more expensive ($100 for a filet), but so worth it. The heavily marbled meat just melts in your mouth, and has so much more flavor than regular beef. The chef will not cook these steaks above Medium, so don't even bother trying. Don't get a sauce to accompany it either (even though we all love bearnaise), it doesn't need it.
The sides are swoon-worthy as well: white truffle steak frites, goat cheese mashed potatoes, creamed spinach.
The seafood is also excellent, if that's your thing.
Lastly, the deserts. Along with the other selections - creme brulee, cheesecake, chocolate tart, etc... - are the "flaming specialties". A cart is brought along, and the waiter prepares one of a number of flambeed desserts tableside - choose from Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee, Strawberries Imperial, or Crêpes Suzette - all served with ice cream.
So there you have it - San Antonio favorites from me to you. If you ever get a chance to stop by my hometown, check out these places and raise a glass for me.
I stopped in at this Rockville Italian restaurant for lunch with a friend. Amici Miei debuted on the Washingtonian's Top 100 list in 2007 at #65, in 2008 it fell to #85, then to #91 in 2009, by 2010 it was off the list. Falling rankings have a lot to do with new restaurants opening, so we decided to try it out despite indications that quality might be declining. We arrived around 1:00 for lunch, and were pretty much the only ones there (the deli next store was packed), so I was a little wary. We ended up having a lovely meal and lovely time, though, so I wonder why this place is not more popular. It is located in a strip mall that is a bit hidden, which might have something to do with it. There is patio seating next to a nice little fountain, but we decided to eat inside. The interior is fairly upscale and nicely designed.
The waiter brought us fresh bread and poured olive oil for us to dip it in. We had to ask for balsamic vinegar, but he brought it immediately. We walked past a wood burning pizza oven on our way to the table which made it hard not to order a Margherita pizza, but I wanted to try more of a variety. I ordered the Piatto Unico, a lunch sampler plate, which consisted of a caprese salad, gnocchi alla Bolognese, meat balls, and panna cotta (they also offer a vegetarian sampler). The caprese was good, but not outstanding. I prefer my Mozarella fresher and softer. The gnocchi were very good - soft and delicate and covered in a rich meat sauce. The meatballs were a little firm for my taste (I like them fluffy), but drowned in a lovely tomato sauce and topped with cheese. The panna cotta was unfortunately covered in a caramel sauce that tasted burnt, rendering it practically inedible. I tried to cut into the center of the custard to try some without the caramel, and what I managed to get was very nice. My friend is a vegan and the waiter was very helpful in suggesting a dish that would fit her diet. She ordered the fusilli all norma - fusilli pasta with roasted eggplant and tomato sauce. It normally comes topped with ricotta, but they left that off for her.
All in all, Amici Miei is an upscale casual restaurant with solid (but not fantastic) Italian food at very reasonable prices.
When Americans think of lasagna, we typically think of the noodles, meat, and melted mozzarella variety. But in many parts of Italy, lasagna is not made with mozzarella. Instead, it uses creamy and fluffy bechamel with Parmesan as the only cheese. This is my favorite type of lasagna, it is much more delicate (and I have a serious bechamel obsession). My favorite recipe (courtesy of Chef Massimiliano Bartoli, Miss Williamsburg Restaurant) also uses ground veal instead of beef, and white wine instead of red - which provides the meat ragu with a really distinctive and tangy flavor. Enjoy the best lasagna recipe ever!
Begin with the Ragu, as it takes several hours to make:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons finely chopped onions
6 tablespoons finely chopped carrots
6 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1 pound ground veal
1 cup white wine
1 pound canned or fresh tomatoes (pureed and passed through a strainer)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium in a large pot. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the veal and brown, breaking up any big chunks of meat. Add the wine, increase the heat and simmer until the pan is once again dry, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and enough water to cover. Bring the sauce to a simmer then reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is deeply flavored and no longer watery, about 4 hours. Season the ragu with salt and pepper and keep warm or refrigerate until ready to use.
3 ounces butter (6tbsp)
3 ounces all-purpose flour (6tbsp)
1 quart milk
Freshly ground nutmeg
Place the milk in the saucepan, and heat over medium-high until bubbles form at the edges of the pan.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until the mixture is creamy and no longer smells floury.
Gradually add the milk to the roux a ladle at a time, working with a wooden spoon after each addition until the mixture is smooth. After all of the milk is incorporated, continue to cook over medium-high, whisking constantly. As the sauce returns to a boil, simmer until it thickens sufficiently to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 min. Season the bechamel with the nutmeg and salt; cover and keep warm until ready to use.
* Fresh Lasagna, recipe follows (**I use store bought no-boil sheets instead**)
* Kosher salt
* Bechamel Sauce
* 3 cups freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cook the pasta, boiling salted water until just tender, drain and refresh in ice water. (**if using no-boil sheets, skip this step**)
Put a thin layer of bechamel in the bottom of a shallow baking dish or a jelly-roll pan. Cover the bechamel with a thin layer of ragu and a little cheese. Top the sauces and cheese with a layer of lasagna noodles. Repeat 6 times ending with a layer of bechamel, ragu and cheese. Bake the lasagna until it is warm at the center and the cheese topping golden brown, about 45 minutes (cover with some aluminum foil if the lasagna browns before it is fully heated).
1 pound high gluten flour (recommended: 00 flour)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Mix the eggs, salt, and olive oil with 2 tablespoons of water in a mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together then knead the dough using the dough hook until it is smooth and elastic. (Alternatively combine the flour with the salt and mound in a large bowl or on a clean work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour mound. Combine the wet ingredients in the well then gradually incorporate the flour. When the dough comes together, knead it until it is smooth and elastic.)
Divide the dough in thirds. Roll each sheet of dough through the machine starting at the widest setting then graduating to thinner settings and stopping when the sheets of dough are a medium thickness. Place the sheets of pasta on a lightly floured surface and set aside until ready to use.
We were going to see the Nutcracker Ballet in DC and wanted to find a restaurant w/ a Pre-Theater menu. We settled on Tosca, an upscale Italian restaurant, which has two courses and a dessert for $35. It is also within walking distance of the Warner Theater, where we were heading, and the Metro Center station. The dining room is rather large, with a small and crowded bar tucked in by the door. The wine list was wonderful - we are more familiar with Italian wines than any other, so we love a good Italian wine list.
There are two dishes that are mentioned in every single review of Tosca I have read. They were both on the Prix-fixe menu, so of course I ordered both! The first was a carrot flavored pappardelle, topped with a rabbit ragu and fresh thyme. The idea is really cute (rabbit, carrots...), and the execution was wonderful. Big, soft pasta noodles smothered in a rich and comforting ragu, with just a hint of freshness from the thyme. This was my favorite dish of the night. The second course was a ravioli dish with a roasted veal, prosciutto, and pistachio mortadella filling, topped with a red wine reduction sauce with sage. This dish was very good as well, but having two hearty pasta dishes in a row did not allow for much differentiation. Jasper, who had a caprese salad as his first dish, loved it. We ordered a cheese plate for dessert - four cheeses selected by the chef with a few accompaniments. Overall - the pre-theater menu is a great deal, I will definitely return and I would order that carrot pappardelle any time.
We didn't want to get our kitchen dirty again after having just cleaned it, so we decided to go out. I suggested Bonaroti - an Italian restaurant in Vienna that I had heard good things about. It is located in a strip center and the decor (over the top old world luxury) reminded us of Cafe Renaissance* - which we hated - so we were a little worried. But luckily our fears were unfounded, Bonaroti is quite good.
With the table bread, they serve olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olive tapenade, and sun dried tomatoes. Jasper ordered Prosecco to start and they brought out a tiny bottle that was very good. We also ordered a very nice Chianti Classico. For our first courses, we had beef carpaccio, caprese salad, and risotto with scallops. The carpaccio was lovely - fresh and very thin, with only lemon juice, olive oil, and shaved Parmesan. The caprese came with Mozzarella di Buffalo that was soft and creamy and wonderful; large, ripe slices of tomato; and huge fresh leaves of basil drizzled with balsamic and olive oil. The risotto was the perfect texture and the scallops were nicely cooked. The sauce was savory and not too fishy (unlike Assagi Osteria). For our entrees we both ordered pasta. I had the spaghetti "Chris Cooley" (local football player), which is served with a bolognese sauce, truffle oil, fluffy meatballs, and a little dollop of mascarpone cheese. It was tasty and satisfying, but I must say that I was jealous of Jasper's capellini carbonara - angel hair pasta in a rich cream sauce with Parmesan, bacon, onion, and egg yolk. It was decadently delicious. I also had a side of creamed spinach in a Parmesan bechamel sauce - very creamy and comforting. Neither of us were able to finish our pastas because the portions were so large (comforting since each was $20+). We decided to try dessert anyway. I had a cream puff cake that was pretty much like a cream puff in cake format, and a wonderful moscato. Jasper had a chocolate mousse cake and a tawny port. Just when we were ready to be rolled home, the waiter came back with complimentary sambucca and biscotti.
While Bonaroti is too expensive to be a weeknight haunt, it would be lovely for a date night or a big lunch.
*I never got a chance to write about Cafe Renaissance, but it was awful. The server was pushy, the food was so-so, and the wine made us instantly sick (and sick the whole next day) after one glass.
This Italian restaurant in McLean is the sister to Assagi Mozarella Bar in Bethesda (#90 on the best of list), and also Open Table's winner of Diner's Choice 2010. But the reason we decided to eat there was because we missed Italy. We were sat in the private-ish wine room at the back of the restaurant, which fills up pretty quickly. The view out of the large windows was, unfortunately, of the Irish Pub next door. Other than that, it was a very nice table. The outdoor sitting at the front of the restaurant looks lovely, though.
We were served fresh bread accompanied by some FANTASTIC olive oil that needed no salt or vinegar added to it. The Sommelier recommended a fantastic Super Tuscan (Il Solissimo Lucignano) based on our description of wines that we liked. We decided to start in the traditional Italian way with some fresh burrata cheese with baby tomatoes and basil. Fresh, creamy, with a juicy tang from the tomatoes - this is the perfect way to start an evening (or morning, or afternoon...). For my primi piatti I had the butternut squash soup with crispy prosciutto. It was very good, just right for a squash soup - but nothing extra special. Jasper had the scallop risotto, which he found tasted too fishy. For our secondi piatti we both had the special - a veal ravioli with mushrooms and sage. This was excellent (Jasper is still talking about it weeks later). The veal was moist and flavorful and rich, and the sage flavor was very present without being overpowering. The pasta, of course, was the perfect texture. If this was a regular menu item, we would go back all the time. For dessert we had the signature zeppoli - Italian doughnuts served with a sabayon sauce. One word: heaven.
While there were some missteps, the overall experience was very nice and we will likely return. Based on other reviews I have read, I definitely want to try the beet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese. It is purported to be a winner. But oh, those zeppoli... I will be thinking of them the entire dinner.