Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

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There an adorable young Italian woman whose blog I follow. Her name is Alida, she was born in Friuli in North Eastern Italy, and her blog is My Little Italian Kitchen.

I follow her on Facebook as well, because her daily food photos make me happy. Like these. So colorful and enticing!

Although now living in London, Alida travels often throughout Italy, visiting artisanal bakers and cheese makers, and has also won cooking competitions. Let’s just say she knows what she’s doing, and is passionate about Italian food.

To quote Alida, “Cooking is an expression of who you are and your personality. You have to put your whole self into it: your passion, feeling and experiences all go into the food and you become part of the recipe.”

In the spring of 2017, Alida posted a recipe for Asparagus Ham Lasagna that I couldn’t ignore. “Traditional” lasagna is so wonderful, but I love other varieties as well, even meatless varieties. It’s my idea of comfort food.

Fresh pasta sheets, bechamel, a purée of asparagus, ham, asparagus pieces, and Parmesan, all layered and baked to perfect deliciousness! I can’t believe I’ve waited a year to make it. Plus, it was an excuse to finally use my Kitchen Aid pasta rolling attachment.

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

Ingredients
fresh lasagne sheets – 400 g – about 15 sheets
fresh asparagus – 700 g – 6 cups
grated parmesan cheese – to sprinkle
ham – 240 g – 1 + 2/3 cup
olive oil
salt
butter – knob

For the bechamel sauce:
milk – 1,5 Liters – 1.58 qt
butter – 100 g – 1/2 cup
plain flour – 80 g – 3/4 cup
grated nutmeg – pinch
salt and pepper

The pasta dough I started with included 3 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together and gradually add flour until a dough forms. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Roll out the lasagna sheets to the desired thickness. They can be a little thicker than sheets you would use for making ravioli. I used #6 on my attachment.

Cut to 13″ lengths and set aside.

Clean and peel the asparagus if they are large. Remove the thicker ends and cut the tips off. Cut the asparagus in small pieces and cook them in salty water. I cooked the tips first just to keep it simple.

Whiz the stems into a purée and set aside.

Make the bechamel and set aside; I’ve included a link to my own in case you’ve never made it before.

Have the grated Parmesan and ham handy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

When you’re ready to prepare the lasagna, add some bechamel to the bottom of the baking dish and cover with a few lasagna sheets.

Add some asparagus purée, ham, cheese, and more sauce. Cover again with lasagna sheets.

Continue layering. On the top, make sure there is bechamel, ham, cheese, and the remaining asparagus.

Bake, covered, for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes.


Let the lasagna sit for about 30 minutes before cutting up the servings.

The lasagna actually sliced very well while it was still warm.

You can see the lovely layers on white sauce, ham, asparagus puree, and asparagus tips.

I sliced the asparagus tips lengthwise after they had cooked and cooled, because I felt they were quite thick.

I love traditional lasagna, but this is definitely second best! And in spite of the bechamel, this lasagna doesn’t seem as heavy as traditional, probably because the only meat is thinly shaved ham. I’ll definitely be making this again!

Eataly, NYC

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One of the goals during my recent New York City trip was to visit Eataly. I’ve been intrigued by the whole Eataly concept since it was built. It claims to be the largest Italian market place in the world, and at 50,000 square feet, I believe it must be.
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The famous names behind Eataly include Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, and her son Joe Bastianich.
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Eataly sells everything Italian. There is a bakery, a cheese shop, a fish department, an area for charcuterie, a pasta department, and so forth. Intermingled among the shops are various restaurants – some set up for full dining, others cafés, take-out stops, and areas for tastings.
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Oh, and a fresh pasta shop of course.
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The toughest apart about Eataly for us was figuring out how to get in to Eataly. We had the right address, but never found an obvious entrance. So we walked through a shop that sells everything Nutella – the Nutella Bar.


So yes, I had to have a Nutella crepe and an espresso. It was still morning, after all!


Eventually we discovered a customer information booth of sorts, and were handed a map, which helped immensely. We walked around, for the sole purpose of picking up some items I can’t get where I live, but my husband suggested I get them online. That’s how much he dislikes shopping of any kind.

I was especially intrigued by this pasta, which I can only describe as embossed pendants. I will be buying these online!

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Eventually we managed to get hungry and chose Manzo for lunch.

We began with toasted bread, prosciutto and stracciatella. Stracciatella, if you’re not aware, (I wasn’t), is the inside of burrata. So it was like sweet, lumpy cream drizzled with a little olive oil. And their prosciutto was the meatiest, smokiest prosciutto we’ve ever experienced. At that point we should have asked for the bill.


But no, we both do love to eat, and so far we were definitely excited and impressed.

My husband ordered pappardelle with wild boar sauce, and because I’ve never eaten them, I ordered pasta with ramps.

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My pasta was incredible, but because the ramps were blended in a “sauce” that included asparagus, I couldn’t really tell what they were like on their own. Nonetheless, a fabulous dish. And our lunch was made more perfect with wines chosen by our attentive and knowledgeable waitress.

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Overall, Eataly was a wonderful experience, even though I left with no groceries. But you can indeed go to Eataly online and shop. There is also a calendar of events like tastings and classes if you happen to live in NYC or are visiting.

One note – While at Eataly, I had actually planned on eating lunch at Birreria, a glassed-in restaurant on the rooftop of Eataly, but it happened to be closed for renovation. It’s now re-opened and named Sabbia, serving “coastal fare.” I would still like to go there, if nothing else for the views. But I bet the food is top-notch, after our Manzo experience!

Beet Ravioli

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I’ll probably never dine in London again. Not that I wouldn’t want to, but because our younger daughter lived there for the last four years, we have been lucky enough to visit multiples times, taking advantage of London’s fabulous gastropubs and restaurants.

We visited her this past July, to get our last opportunity to see her in situ before she moved back to the states. So then there was the matter of picking the final restaurant destination for our last meal in London.

The restaurant-choosing burden is always on me, which is probably because I’m controlling when it comes to planning the restaurant itinerary when we travel. Also, no one else in my family understands the concept of making reservations. But in any case, this was a difficult decision.

My daughters had given me a little book called “Where Chefs Eat” for Christmas a while back, and I turned to this book for inspiration.
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And that’s how I came about to choose Bistrot Bruno Loubet for our final London meal.

I had never heard of Bruno Loubet, but his bio is impressive. He opened the restaurant, in the Clerkenwell district, in 2010. After only four years, the restaurant needs some spiffing up and somewhat of an upgrade, but the space itself is really nice, with a beautiful bar and various seating areas, including one outside.

This is a shot from the website of the bar area in its heyday. Now the chairs are pretty scuffed up and fabric is worn.
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Knowing me, it’s probably the shot of those purple bar stools that made me want to go to this restaurant, other than it was recommended by other chefs and the menu looked fabulous.

So Bistrot Bruno Loubet is where I enjoyed Mr. Loubet’s beet ravioli, which turns out is one of his most popular dishes. I discovered this tidbit because after getting home to the states, I ordered his cookbook “Mange Tout,” which translates to eat everything! And there was the beet ravioli recipe in the cookbook. Yay!
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This is the photo of my ravioli at the restaurant that evening. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I started with grilled octopus, and ended with these. Seriously a fabulous menu.

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Now, I know that food bloggers aren’t sitting around wondering why I haven’t had a fresh pasta post on my blog, but I haven’t. And it’s not because I don’t know how to make fresh pasta. Honestly, It’s because I got tired of making it.

When I was a personal cook for a family for 8 years, I made tons of pasta. And I think I burned myself out. Plus, I also lent my pasta maker to a neighbor and never got it back. That didn’t help. Or perhaps I said, “Keep it. I never want to see it again!”

But to prove to you that I actually used to make pasta, I want to show you this photo that my daughter will hopefully not see because she will be mad at me. But she’s 8 years old and making her own pasta. She looks like a cross-eyed nut, but she was a great pasta maker. She loved to choose flavors, like thyme and cayenne.

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I’m so happy that Mr. Loubet’s beet ravioli inspired me to buy another pasta maker, because these ravioli are exquisite. This could be my last meal, if I had a choice in the matter, and hopefully not because I’m on death row.
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The recipe is quite involved. Not difficult, just involved. But because I remember how good these ravioli were, I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible, and this is what I did.

Beet-Filled Ravioli
based strongly on Bruno Loubet’s recipe in Mange Tout
makes about 40 ravioli

3 beets, washed, dried, trimmed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 ounces cream cheese (the original recipe called for ricotta)
4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan (the original recipe called for 2)
Salt
Pepper

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets in foil and bake them in the foil package for 2 hours. Let them cool.


Peel the beets, then chop them up.

Place the chopped beets in a food processor and pulse 4-5 times. You want finely diced beet, not mush.
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Place the beets in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl. Tie up the beets, then weigh down and place in the refrigerator overnight.


The next day you will have about 1/4 cup of beet juice.

Pour the beet juice into a small pot, and add the balsamic vinegar. I also squeezed out the cheesecloth to get a bit more juice into the pot.
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Over very low heat, reduce the beet-balsamic mixture until it’s almost like a syrup; set aside. It will eventually look like this:
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Empty the cheesecloth and place the beets in a medium bowl.

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Meanwhile, add the cream cheese and grated cheese to the beets and stir well. When the beet-balsamic syrup has cooled, add about 1/3 of the amount, or about 1 tablespoon, to the filling and stir well; set aside.
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The next thing to do is make the pasta dough. I don’t want to have a pasta-making tutorial because it would make this post too long, plus there are plenty out there. Go to Stefan’s blog Stefan Gourmet for his tutorials. He’s got a really light hand when it comes to making pasta – especially filled pasta. Plus it’s really challenging to take photos with dough and flour on your hands.

The pasta dough recipe I made was about 2 cups flour, 2 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Use a little water, if necessary, to make the dough the proper consistency. You can always add flour to dough, but you can’t add water to it.


Stir the egg and olive oil mixture gradually into the flour until the liquid is completely incorporated. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Hook up your pasta maker and make sure it’s stabilized. You don’t want it moving around while you’re rolling out sheets of pasta.

If you’re new to using a pasta maker, it’s important to start with the widest opening, which is typically the #1 position. As you knead the dough and work on it to make it thinner, move the position narrower and narrower by adjusting the number. You don’t have to make the pasta sheets the thinnest possible, but I did because I’m making ravioli.

Have a small bowl of water handy, and a cookie sheet or platter sprinkled with a little bit of flour for your ravioli. Then cut your pasta dough into 4 even pieces; you’ll be using one at a time.

Begin putting your dough through the pasta maker, folding it over, which essentially kneads it and smooths it out. Work the sheet thinner until you’re happy with it. Use a sprinkling of flour if you feel it’s necessary.


Once you’ve made a couple of sheets, and they’re not sticking to your workspace, place evenly-sized blobs of beet filling, evenly spaced, on one length of the pasta sheet.

Dip your 5 fingers into the water bowl, and then tap the water around each beet filling. You can also give the lengths of the pasta edges a little water. This just helps make the pasta stick together. Fold over the sheets lengthwise, and press the dough together, trying to avoid air pockets. You can make square ravioli, but I chose to make round.

I placed the just-cut ravioli on the platter, then continued with the remaining pasta sheet. Half of the dough made about 20 ravioli.

Have a large pot of water on the stove already warming, and now is the time to turn the heat to high. Have a cloth-lined platter nearby for the cooked ravioli, and a spider sieve for catching them.

When the water is at full boil, slip about half of the ravioli into the boiling water. Within 3 minutes they will rise to the surface, at which point you can remove them with the sieve and place them to drain on the platter. Repeat with the remaining ravioli.

I only prepared 20 ravioli, because I’m the only one who eats beets. In fact I shared them with my neighbor. With the other half of the dough I made fettucine for my husband. Isn’t it pretty? I think I have a renewed outlook on making pasta!
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To finish the recipe, here’s what I did (double the amount for all 40 ravioli):

2 ounces butter
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
Finely grated Parmesan
Coarsely grated black pepper
Finely grated Parmesan
Leafy greens
Red wine vinegar
Truffle oil, or olive oil

Melt the butter and brown it in a large skillet. Add the bread crumbs and stir well.

Quickly but gently add some ravioli to the butter mixture and toss them. Place them on a serving plate, and continue with the remaining ravioli.
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Sprinkle them with coarsely grated pepper and some Parmesan.

Because Mr. Loubet’s presentation was so beautiful, I did something similar. I used spinach leaves and chiffonaded them, to produce little ribbons, and put them in a small bowl. I added a few drops of red wine vinegar, and a few drops of truffle oil. Using my fingers, I tossed the ribbons in the vinaigrette, then placed some of them in the middle of the circle of ravioli. And I added salt.

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There was something about the beet flavors, the browned butter, and the truffle oil that just went fabulously together.
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The filling is very beety and creamy. And it’s pretty.
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Oh – and something else. After you’ve made up your plates with the ravioli, salad, and toppings, drizzle on the remaining beet-balsamic syrup over the ravioli. That’s the piece de resistance!

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note: The recipe calls for wild rocket instead of spinach, but I would have no idea how to get my hands on some. Plus, He also sautés sage leaves to top these ravioli. Since I use sage in a lot of pasta recipes, I decided to see what all this would taste like without the sage. And to me, it’s not necessary.