Tag Archive for 'pasta'

Old World Lasagna (the real deal)

I am staring down the barrel of loosing Ginny. I am trying to be brave, trying not to be emotional and grossly failing. Most days, I avoid mentally ‘going there’, to the irreversible moment where our conversations only remain in my memories. The rational non-emotional version of me knows that I need to let her go. At 104 years old she is tired. And while her decline often feels as if it is accelerating I remind myself that until she was 103, she was remarkably sharp and able to keep tabs on most all of our comings and goings.

When I reflect back, I realize that in many ways she has been gradually leaving us. For years after my grandfather passed we had our nightly 6pm calls but those faded away as she forgot how to engage with electronics, in response my father and I migrated to increased visits and she remained happy for the interaction. As her physical stability became more limited at 102, she tried to remain engaged by having us tell her stories. Up until she was 103, we had been girlfriends kibitzing about every day life, but these last few months we’ve seen a rather quick slide backwards in her cognitive abilities as her short and long term memories have been stolen away. Stories and conversations are difficult to sustain, so often times we just sit and smile and hold hands.

As I walk into her apartment I am filled with anticipation, as I wonder if she will remember my name. There are visits of complete and total clarity, and then there is the opposite of that. Her dementia has progressed from occasional memory lapses to occasionally remembering key things and people. I look for glimmers of her in her somewhat vacant eyes. And I live for those visits when she calls out my name upon seeing my face, and quickly grabs my hand and holds it to her face and kisses it.

I’ve stopped planning the every other week visit with my children as I know they would be crushed to see how much she has changed. They have such wonderful vivid interactive memories of her that I want to hold those sacred for them. I try to get all my tears out before and after each visit. Attempting to mentally prepare for what is the unavoidable and anticipated outcome – yet it NEVER gets any easier to imagine a life without her. I understand that it must be so but in my heart I can’t find the calm acceptance I need to have.

Letting go of Ginny, is one of the most difficult things I could ever imagine because against all odds she has been an active participant in all of our lives. I remember when her first great grandchild was born and she wept – happy to have been able to meet this new person and sad that she would never see her grow-up; and yet, she has seen her the first 16 years of her life and the first 14 years of her great grandson’s life – I won’t bore you with the tawdry details of how old she’s seen me grow as that would require numerous Campari’s on my part!

For me Ginny will always illicit food memories. She was a fantastic gourmet cook. She would tell me stories about when she first married and how awful of a cook she was, yet she was determined to become better. Growing up her mother had always done all of the cooking and she and her sister were not allowed to participate for fear of getting dirty. So when she married as a 29 year old, quite late for someone at that time, she was up for a bit of a challenge. My Grandfather’s sister Ida was her guide to better cooking; or at least she was so brutally honest that she encouraged my Grandmother to subscribe to ‘Bon Appetite’ Magazine to up her game. And the headstrong determined Ginny, did just that. It was commonly known by the time that I can recall my birthday party’s at their home on Telegraph Hill that she was an amazing cook, having surpassed both of her sister-in-laws and then expanded into elaborate cakes and cake decoration. Everything she made from pastas to birthday cakes was a work of art.

Born in San Francisco, in 1913 Virginia ‘Ginny’ Dora’s parents originated in Northern Italy up near the Alps in Valtellina. They were proud mountain folk that took pride in their polenta and lasagna. Lasagna was one of the dishes that she prepared that my maternal side of the family never made as it was not as prevalent of a dish where they originated from in Sicily. Ginny had numerous recipes for lasagna, but her favorite was the one she learned from our dear Maria Rosa from Montecatini. It has been years since I’ve made my Grandmother’s recipe, having migrated to a more American version, but recently we had our good friend from Parma, Tobia, staying with us and he offered to make lasagna. I can tell you, at first bite I was taken back to Ginny’s adaptation of Maria Rosa’s delicious recipe. Without knowing it, Tobia had given me the sensory boost I needed to reconnect and chin-up emotionally. And while I know the road ahead for Ginny will remain filled with a few peaks and numerous nadirs I also know that through the recipes she has shared with me, as well as her passion for cake decoration, she will always be a part of our lives.

The main difference between American style lasagna and Italian lasagna is the lack of copious amounts of cheese and in its place a buttery layer of béchamel sauce. If you don’t have all day to make your ragu (meat sauce) then make it ahead and allow the flavors to set up for a day or two. And if you want to really leverage your time investment then I recommend doubling the recipe, assembling two lasagnas, and freezing one of these meals to be enjoyed at another time.


There are three sets of ingredients and directions to this recipe – Ragu, Béchamel Sauce and Lasagna ingredients plus assembly.

Lasagna Ingredients

Lasagna pasta sheets, fresh preferred, Buitoni in the refrigerated section

1/2 lb Ethmental cheese, sliced or torn into small pieces

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Ragu Ingredients

1/2 lb sausage

1 lb ground beef

3(15.5 oz) cans tomato sauce

2 carrots, finely diced

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 1/2 cups of milk

2 TBS olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup dry white wine

Béchamel Sauce Ingredients

10.5 TBS butter (6 oz or 150 g butter)

1 1/8 cup (150 g ) flour

6 cups whole milk

dash of nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

Ragu Directions</p>

In a medium pot, over medium heat, add olive oil and carrots, onions and celery and cook until translucent.

In a bowl, combine the ground beef and sausage and mix until well combined. Then add this into the vegetable mixture. Cook stirring frequently until meat changes color from red to a light gray color. Add in white wine and tomato sauce and bring mixture to a low boil. Once boiling reduce heat and cover with a lid, leaving it slightly offset so that some evaporation will take place. Cook sauce for 2-3 hours, stirring every 20 minutes. The last 20 minutes of cooking, while stirring, add in milk.

Béchamel Sauce Directions

In a small pot over medium low heat, add butter and stir continuously until melted. Add in the flour slowly, stirring constantly until well combined and the mixture turns a slightly yellow color. Gradually begin to add in the milk 2 cups at a time, stirring with a whisk. Once all milk has been added continue to stir until sauce noticeably thickens. It should thickly coat the back of a spoon when ready.

Lasagna assembly Direction

Using a 9×11 baking dish, put ¼ inch generous layer of béchamel sauce, layer the uncooked fresh lasagna sheets next, then béchamel sauce, ragu and then Emmethal cheese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Repeat for two more layers finishing with béchamel and ragu and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.

Extra sauce can be frozen for use with pasta.

Roasted Tomato Bucatini

I have a way of getting swept up in summer. I suppose it is something I never fully realized or appreciated until now. The long summer days that feel like you can squeeze three, possibly even four, chapters into your day are definitely worth smiling about. Relaxed lazy dinners followed by trips to the ice cream store or a dunk in the pool give me that feeling I had as a child growing up in the summer. The feeling that I have time: a release from the regimented deadlines and time frames that can seem all consuming and important. Weekends without sports schedules and endless commitments can be amended to include a slightly fluid plan to BBQ and indulge in a few cocktails.

Continue reading ‘Roasted Tomato Bucatini’

Langostino “Lobster” Tail Bucattini

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There are times when you just need a pasta fix and this is especially true when you’ve got a house guest from Italy. While there are many pasta dishes that please, it’s fun to get out of your comfort zone and mix up your pasta fixins’. While I am typically a Bolognese or pesto kinda gal, I was craving seafood. I had every intention of making linguini with fresh clams, but I when none were available at the store I quickly switched gears. Continue reading ‘Langostino “Lobster” Tail Bucattini’

Linguini with Clams

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‘Tiz the Season to gather with family and friends and indulge in some “Festivus for the Rest Of Us!” Don’t know what Festivus is? Really, you didn’t see the December 18, 1997 ‘Strike’ episode of Seinfield? Well then, you need to know more. Continue reading ‘Linguini with Clams’

Wis Dells Fried MAC & Cheese Bites


One of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity for food discovery. Even common dishes can take on a new local spin or inspire food creativity. This summer we headed to the mid-west to spend some time with good friends. Had it not been for them we may have never made it to Milwaukee and I can honestly say that we would have really missed out. Continue reading ‘Wis Dells Fried MAC & Cheese Bites’

Ricotta Kale and Spinach Gnudi (pronounced “nu-dee”)

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Summer in Florence, Italy conjures up memories of light meals involving quick summer preparations. And this past week with the heat temperatures hitting over 100 degrees Fahrenheit I was on the prowl to capture a taste of Italian summer.

Whenever I think of Italy, I flashback to my year spent in Florence Continue reading ‘Ricotta Kale and Spinach Gnudi (pronounced “nu-dee”)’

Summer Pesto Pasta Salad

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Eight weeks ago I had my first hand surgery and six weeks post surgery I practically made this pesto pasta salad myself. It was a simple and yet significant task, as it was like getting back up on the horse that threw me. I’ve often times told family and friends over the past few weeks that while I know I was lucky not to have injured my dominant hand (AKA my right hand), I am in no way a one-handed individual. I have learned to adapt to my situation at an exhausting pace – and my milestones have included saying things like, “I can put my hair in a pony tail!”

No gift of accomplishment goes unnoticed. Continue reading ‘Summer Pesto Pasta Salad’

Mock Alfredo- Cauliflower Sauce


I really swing from two ends of the pendulum, I love my sweets and yet I *try* to eat healthy when not eating sweets, or comfort foods, or sweets. 😉 While I don’t always post my crazy healthy concoctions it is usually because I am cooking from available goods in the fridge without a glimmer of confidence that the crazy concoction du jour will be successful. This one held up well, and since it was requested a number of times after I posted images of it, I am finally sharing it now that I’ve written it down in actual measurements. Continue reading ‘Mock Alfredo- Cauliflower Sauce’

Broken Lasagna with Portobello Mushrooms and Chèvre Creamed Baby Spinach


If I was in the Star Wars movies I could imagine Daddy Darth Vader saying – The pasta is strong with this one – no surprises here. I love my pasta. Sadly my frame size does not support my habit. Too much pasta = a chubbier version of me. Continue reading ‘Broken Lasagna with Portobello Mushrooms and Chèvre Creamed Baby Spinach’

Fat Hawaiian-Style Macaroni Salad

There is nothing more yummy than Hawaiian diner food, in particular, over cooked (or ‘fat’) macaroni salad. The perfect ‘plate lunch’ is two scoops of sticky rice, one heaping spoon of macaroni salad and some type of protein such as Huli Huli chicken, BBQ English Short Ribs, or a thick cut pork chop. As tempting as it might be to make this pasta recipe ‘low fat’ to shave off a few calories, substituting low-fat milk or low-fat mayonnaise will make the dressing too thin. Enjoy every bite and forget about the carb-fest.

Fat Hawaiian-Style Macaroni Salad


2 cups whole milk

2 cups mayonnaise

1 TBS light brown sugar

salt and pepper

1 lb elbow macaroni

1/2 cup cider vinegar

4 scallions, sliced thin

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

1 rib celery, chopped fine


In a large pot, bring 4-quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 TBS of salt and pasta and over cook, until very soft, approximately 15 minutes. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add vinegar and toss until well absorbed. Transfer to a bowl to cool for 10-15 minutes.

While pasta cools prepare dressing. In a medium-size bowl whisk 1- 1/2 cups milk, 1 cup mayonnaise, sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsps pepper. Pour dressing over pasta and coat well. Allow to cool completely.

Add scallions, carrot, celery, remaining mil and mayonnaise to pot. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour and no longer than 2 days.

Serves 8-10.