TUSCAN RECIPES … today, my LASAGNA “con carne”
Nonna Margherita Dottorelli in her kitchen, 1905
Some excellent Tuscan recipes from her granddaughter Marta, who refuses to be just a character in a novel called “The Whirling Girl” made up by that writer
Lasagna con Carne
If you will be patient, today I will give you my recipe for Lasagna. But first I will tell you a story.
In the old days, before the archaeologists tramped over everything, we Tuscans sometimes found beautiful things in our fields.
My Nonna’s fiancé once uncovered a beautiful jewel, a scarab, with his plough.
I am thinking of this, because with February comes the first signs of spring.
Already the grain sown in November is pushing up in bright green points, as if the fields were full of sharp little emeralds catching the sun. When I was walking down to the house of Signora Chiara, to bring her some of the Lasagna (if I do not do this, she will be so lost in her painting that she will forget to eat!) I came upon another of our rare Italian jewels, on a stalk of dead grass beside the path. I carried this, with carefulness, down to show Signora Chiara.
Signora Chiara put the emerald-green beetle very gently on the window sill.
She told me how — long-ago, in Egypt — scarab beetles (relatives of this one) were very sacred, and jewels in that shape were worn for luck.
I have told you before that the Signora is molto educato.
(So why does she listen to the sweet words of the young Italian from Siena you might ask?)
Signora Chiara said it was very fortunate that I found this lovely little creature on the day when there is the first promise of spring, for in ancient Egypt the scarab beetle had been a symbol of hope and the restoration of life.
We were both looking at the beautiful creature on the window sill, where it caught the sun and glowed truly like a jewel. Then Chiara took a pottery bowl and turned it upside down over the little bug.
She said, “What colour do you think it is now?”
I knew this was a trick. I kept silent.
Finally she said that it only looked that green colour, because of the “microstructure” of the armour on its little body, which made it catch the light in a certain way.
She said the young Italian from Siena had explained all this to her.
I could tell by her dreamy tone that she intended to tell me much about this man (with a wife and children of his own).
I snatched off the bowl, and the little creature flew away.
Now, you will ask — What happened to the scarab that my Nonna’s fiancé found, which had been a jewel of the Etruscans long ago?
He gave it to my Nonna of course.
And just before Nonna died she promised it to me.
But when the priest came he made Nonna give it to him, saying he would give it to the museum, because it was important for the archaeologists to study. He told poor Nonna this was for the safety of her soul.
So, “Here” I said to the Signora Chiara, setting the dish with the lasagna on the table, “eat this for the safety of your soul and stop dreaming of Italian castles in the air!”
Now, to make the lasagna:
First make the egg-noodle pasta that I have taught you on another page:
(You will find the link at the end of this recipe.)
— only roll a little more thickly, then cut into rectangles the length of your lasagna dish, and about 2 inches wide.
— Then you will take four cups of the good ragu from my recipe I gave you earlier
(See that link also at the end of this page.)
— Now you will make about four cups of Salsa Bianca, like this:
Melt half a cup of butter, then blend in half a cup of flour. When it froths remove from heat and stir in four cups of milk, return to stove and let thicken, then add salt, pepper, maybe nutmeg as you like. Keep this gently warm.
— You will also need a little butter to rub the pan.
— and two cups of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated very fine.
Now you put it all together:
Rub the dish with butter. Put a thin layer of salsa bianca. Put a layer of noodles side by side. Put a layer of ragu over the noodles. Put a layer of salsa bianca over the ragu. Spread a good layer of grated Parmigiano.
Then repeat all these layers as many times as will fit the pan, ending with a layer of the Parmigiano so that when you bake this it is bubbling and golden brown.
Put this in your oven at hot-medium of about 350 degrees Fahrenheit as they call it, for about half an hour, then let it wait for a few minutes before you serve.