Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

A Thanksgiving Side Trip to Italy

Doug is the devil. Today he casually mentioned to me that “brining turkeys is out. Dry brining with salt is what they’re doing now. Didn’t you see it in the New York Times?” Doug, who wouldn’t know a dry brine from a dry brisket, telling me this three days before Thanksgiving? Diabolo.

2 AM. What am I doing up now, listening to Cree Summers? I’m waiting for my lasagni to finish cooking. The lasagna is my idea for a simple meal to serve to guests the days before Thanksgiving. It just got… a little out of hand.

Started the evening making brownies. Katherine Hepburn’s, to be exact. Pulled the recipe from a book from one of my best college friends, Frank DeCaro. “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook” is his compilation of the best recipes of the deceased, and it’s burning up the Amazon charts. Dead talk show hosts, dead guest stars from the series “Batman,” dead Golden Girls, all of them apparently liked to cook. Very funny and kitschy, and occasionally, as is the case with Ms. Hepburn’s brownies, quite helpful as a cookbook. I once performed a monologue from “Suddenly, Last Summer” in Katharine Hepburn drag in front of a crowd of drunk, post-Gay Pride Day revelers in Chicago and got stranded without my real clothes— but that’s a story for another day. Let’s move on. 

I had the look, but not the Italian…
On Sunday I thought ahead and made up an Italian ragu, a dish from the many Sunday ziti dinners I had growing up. It’s incredibly easy to make, but tastes like Mamma loves you. Basically, you sear big chunks of meat (pork, beef, lamb, sausage, or a combo of these things; I used chuck meat), throw in some onions, red wine and two cans of Italian plum tomatoes, and then cook for many hours—four, to be exact— until the meat capitulates at the touch of a fork. I was left with this:
Which was to be the base of my lasagna. 
I Shredded the meat, made a bechamel sauce, and got out my Kitchenaid pasta attachment. Making pasta is a little miracle. To start out with a dough that is so course, ill-mannered and intractable—
—and have it transform into a pliable, silken ribbon of pasta, is like alchemy. 
There’s also something meditative about feeding the lump of dough into the machine, over and over again, and watching it smooth and lengthen. Unfortunately (and this I forget, time after time) it’s also time-consuming. Then I did the layering (sauce, pasta, ricotta, bechamel, meat, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, more sauce; rinse and repeat) and created a behemoth. 
Had just enough ingredients to make another small one, to bake and freeze for another day. Once the layering was done, it was the point of no return. I didn’t think I could assemble the lasagna without baking it. Wouldn’t it break down the noodles, if I didn’t cook it? Perhaps I’m wrong, but I was too tired to trawl the internet and figure out who to believe. so I popped them in the oven.
Ah! The brownies have cooled! The taste is heavenly. One batch without nuts, for those so inclined:

And, finally, in the wee hours, the lasagna is done, ready to be cooled:

Rustic, but packed with flavor. Hopefully it will hold it’s form. My mother used to live or die on whether her lasagna was firm enough for her father on Sundays, but for me, as long as it tastes good, I don’t mind if it devolves into some kind of pasta stew.

A lot of you have been inspiring me with your comments on cranberry sauce ingredients— Grand Manier! Tangerine! Horseradish! (really? I need to taste this one) and on your own preparations. Ace, I admire you for making a stuffing no one but you will eat. I’d do that too (roasted brussel sprouts with hazelnuts and corn!) but Doug not so gently reminds me that I’m already overextended, and I know he’s right. It is, 2:30 now, yah? For those of you who can’t believe so much could be written about one meal, well, my hubby has this to say on the subject. 

Tomorrow, Thanksgiving prep starts in earnest… Need my comfortable shoes. And yes, Doug, you will hear about it.

James Sie

November 22nd, 2011 - Still Life Las Vegas


One response to “A Thanksgiving Side Trip to Italy”

  1. I have had the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid for 10 years. I have never used it. You have inspired me…maybe I will make pasta this weekend to serve with the turkey leftovers. Time to dig out my James Beard "Beard on Pasta" cookbook, a little gem I found at a thrift shop. As it says on the cover "from macaroni and tortellini to chinese cellophane noodles". Sounds perfect for someone I know….

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