An Afternoon at Eataly!

I was recently in New York City visiting some family and friends, and eating amazing Italian food.  New York is dirty, gritty, hot and humid in the summer, and full of supposedly “rude” people but I almost cried with happiness when I arrived at LaGuardia and all of its grimey glory.  Although I love the produce and bounty that California has to offer, I am a Long Island girl at heart and I love me my Italian delis, chicken parm, bagels and kaiser rolls.

Even though I am far from Italian, I grew up with Italians and Italian food ranks up there with Japanese food when it comes to my ultimate comfort food.  I actually never liked Italian food when I lived in Japan.  That was until I moved to Long Island at the age of 11 and took one bite of spaghetti with marinara sauce at La Parmigiana in Southampton, New York.  I still remember the amazing revelation I had about how simple and yet incredibly delicious pasta can be.  I’m tearing up just thinking about it.  So when my friend Georgia, with whom I’ve been eating delicious things since we were teenagers, came all the way from Montauk to see me in the city and suggested we go to Eataly, I was game!  Also, she’s part Sicilian.

I had heard of this new venture by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich but I did not expect the scale and size of what I experienced as Eataly.  I was completely overwhelmed!  Eataly is a large marketplace full of everything anyone would need to cook, eat, and experience Italian food.  It has produce, meat, fish, pasta, prepared foods, bread, focaccia, restaurants, desserts, cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and cookware.  Eataly’s website has a manifesto that declares at the very top “We’re in love with food!”  Me too!

First, we had some delicious, rich espresso at the Caffe Vergnano made for us from a big shiny machine that the barista told us cost more than a new car.  Then we had lunch at La Pasta & Pizza, one of Eataly’s restaurants, where we had some crusty bread dipped in some rich, flavorful olive oil, Bjorn had linguine vongole, Georgia had an amazing eggplant lasagna and I had the pasta special, orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe.  Yum!

After lunch, we wandered around the marketplace in awe – checking out their salumi and cheese counter, fresh mozzarella makers, seafood counter, butcher, bread counter, olive oils, fresh and dried pasta, and beautiful produce including a giant selection of dried and fresh mushrooms.  I thought of how Yuan and Little Miss would be hyperventilating with happiness at the sight of the cheese and salumi counter.

Fresh Pasta counter

Butcher counter that had all sorts of meat, pork, veal, sausages, rabbit, various poultry.
Not your average meat counter.

Refrigerated cheese section

Mushrooms!  There were just as many dried varieties.

mm…Dolci

We spent a whole afternoon there, bought some fresh pasta, olive oil, cheese, fresh mozzarella, and bread for dinner and hit the Gelateria on the way out.  Eataly is located at 23rd Street and 5th Avenue right where Broadway intersects 5th near the famous Flatiron building.  It is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.  If you are ever in New York City and you love Italian food, you must go.

Not Your Mom’s Lasagna

Okay, so my mom actually never made lasagna, I’m guessing Yuan’s mom didn’t either,  and granted, I’ve never had Little Miss Mother’s lasagna, but last week, Little Miss, hubby and I made the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten.  Little Miss spent a weekend with me for some r&r and as we sat around, she suggested that we make lasagna.

Back in April 2006, I found the most delicious looking lasagna on the cover of my Gourmet magazine.  This Italian Regional Cooking issue had an article entitled, “Mario’s Excellent Adventure: Five Days in Bologna, 62 courses” where on Day 4, Mario Batali and his crew ate a lasagna described as “ethereal” and so “dramatically redolent and melting in texture that the dish is just miraculous.”  (Oh, Gourmet, how I miss you for the very reasons you are now defunct.)

Lasagna Bolognese
(adapted from Enoteca LaCapannina and Mario Batali, Gourmet, April 2006)

All three squabbling asians have made this lasagna several times, but with its two hour ragu cooking time, besciamella and handmade spinach pasta making, it is definitely a project.  I also had never motivated to make my own pasta, cheating instead by using no-bake pasta sheets.  But Little Miss and I had a whole afternoon free and I have a Bjorn who is on a pasta-making kick with a great pasta maker from Aunt Betty.  I was curious to see if fresh pasta would make a difference compared to the no-bake sheets and it turns out that it does.  The recipe calls for a spinach pasta dough, but we made a plain pasta dough using 00 flour.

Little Miss and I started the ragu with the base for many delicious things – olive oil, butter, and finely diced carrot, onion and celery.

Ragu

  • 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped or pulverized in a food processor
  • 1 lb ground veal (I use fatty ground beef)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (2 1/2 oz)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Heat oil and butter over moderate heat until the butter melts, then cook carrot, onion, celery, and garlic, until tender but not browned, 10 to 15 min.  Increase the heat to high and stir in pancetta, beef, and pork until meat is starting to brown about 15 min.  Stir in tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has evaporated, but ragu is still moist, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Note, we actually cooked it about 1 1/2 hour then put the lid on the dutch oven and cooked it for another 30 min.  Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.  This ragu generally takes about 3 hours start to finish.  It does give you time to make besciamella, have it cool down to room temperature, and roll out pasta.

Besciamella

  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Melt butter over moderate heat and whisk in flour until smooth, then cook, whisking frequently, until pale golden brown, 4-6 min.  I always wonder, “is it pale golden? is it pale golden?”  You can actually tell when it starts to brown up, I find that it takes closer to 6 min.  Heat milk in a separate saucepan (or microwave) until just about to boil.  Add milk 1 cup at a time to butter mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth.  Bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then cook, whisking, for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and whisk in salt and nutmeg.  Cover with a butter round of wax or parchment paper (buttered side down) and cool to room temperature.

Put oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Boil water for pasta and have ready an ice bath with 2 tbsp of olive oil in it.  Cook pasta sheets in boiling water until just tender, about 1 min, and transfer to ice bath to chill.  Transfer pasta onto clean kitchen towels laying flat and pat dry.  (Yes, this is why I had never made the pasta before…)

With all the components finally ready, I layered 1 cup of ragu, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to lightly cover the ragu (about 1-2 tbsp), cooked pasta (can overlap slightly), and 1/2 cup besciamella evenly over pasta (layer will be thin) to assemble my lasagna.  Repeat 4 more times with the final layer of besciamella being 1 cup.

Sprinkle the top with grated cheese and bake uncovered until top is pale golden in spots and sauces are bubbling, about 45 min.  Let stand 10 min before serving.  The recipe says that ragu and besciamella can be made two days ahead, cooled completely, chilled and covered.  Warm ragu over low heat until just stirrable before using.  Lasagna can also be assembled 4 hours ahead and kept chilled, covered.

Literally, 4 hours later, we were ready to eat.  It is probably a good thing you need an entire afternoon to make because I could not stop eating and this is not a low-calorie lasagna.  It is SOOO worth it though!!  Everything just complements each other so well and the homemade pasta really gives it a texture that cannot be achieved with those ready-made pasta sheets.

And yes, I did take a glamor shot of my leftover the next day (above).

whole hog 2009

Oliveto, a pillar of the Bay Area Italian dining scene, does various theme dinners throughout the year, one of which being Whole Hog. True to the name, the menu celebrates the beauty of all things pig, tip to tail. It should have long ago become clear to our eight loyal readers that we are unusually obsessed with pork, and this dinner is simply the annual climax of said obsession for us and those like us.

Princess was sadly unable to make it to town for the glorious event, and Yuan experienced an extremely ill-timed bout of poor judgment and turned down the chance to join. So I headed off with a small band of die-hard food lovers to worship at the temple of the hog…

We started off with the “whole cuts” plate of dry-cured salumi, which included prosciutto, coppa, lonza, lardo, pancetta, and another one the name of which escapes me. Standouts included the lardo, which was cured with rosemary and simply sublime, and the meltingly rich and delicately salty coppa.

Next I moved on to the terrine of pickled pig ears with horseradish, celery hearts and frisee. This is the only thing I had the wherewithall to photograph, before becoming lost in a porky fog of bliss. (Also the lighting was a little low for my trusty point-and-shoot.)

The terrine was soft and silky, in oh so pleasing contrast to the crisp frisee. The whole dish was perky and memorably whimsical, and I was convinced I’d ordered the best appetizer until one of my dining companions turned to me on the brink of joyful tears over his fritto of pork tripe, sweet onions and cardoons with meyer lemon and caper mayonnaise. Sweet heavenly lord was that delicious! Tender, crisply fried, unexpectedly a little bit clovey-cinnamony-warm, dunked in a little perky mayo…. The stuff, literally, that dreams are made of.

My entree was a hearty peasant-style braise of borlotti beans, gloriously fatty pork shoulder, little cotechino sausages, and assorted other little pork bits. Others had blood sausage, ravioli in brodo, and choucroute garni featuring perhaps one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard – pork “pastrami.”

Even the desserts were pork-tacular. Mine was a caramel and Valhrona chocolate tart with candied pancetta. The salty pancetta balanced nicely against the sweet caramel, both melding perfectly with the rich dark chocolate ganache. Also devoured: blood orange and bacon ice creams, and an apple strudel topped with candied bacon bits that was easily the best dessert of the three.

I tell you, this whole hog business is sheer genius. Thank god it only happens once a year, or I’d be dead broke and weigh two hundred pounds. Aside from those, though, I’d probably be quite happy.