Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Grandma and Your Grandma are Sitting by the Fire...

One of my fondest memories growing up was coming home after school and having my grandma cook me a "snack".   Now, I use the word "snack" loosely here because she would lovingly make me anything from last nights dinner leftovers to crepes with honey and lemon.  not to mention the muffins, cookies, and scone's she made about 3 times a week.  Because of her knack for making sweet, delicious, doughy treats she shaped much of my cooking acumen at a very tender age.  It was her who first told me that starch, not protein are the star of any Sunday dinner.  Her Yorkshire pudding was always in short supply, no matter how much she made.  Her roast potato's were made simply with just some oil and finished with salt.  Again, they were non-existent by the time desert hit the table.

I would like to think that grandma's have a sixth sense when it comes to cooking; I am sure mine has one.  My theory was recently put to test when my friend, Carlotta Longo, came over to share with me some of her nonna's pesto which she had shipped over from the Old Country, and an amazing recipe for pesto lasagna.  I have to say, the pesto was easily the best I have EVER tasted and the lasagna was equally as authentic and lick-your-plate delicious.

Food is the conduit of tradition; the passing down of years and years of trial, error, and tasting through a few short instructions and a list of ingredients.  These are the same tastes and smells that have been enjoyed by countless relatives and ancestors.  Food is what helps us get through tough times, it is what propels us into the good times, and it is almost always best when it is made by a grandma.

This post goes out to my grams, Carlotta's nonna, and all the wonderful grandmothers around the world making after school snacks for hungry kids.

Pesto Lasagna


6 medium zucchini, cut in half
1 bunch medium carrots, washed and scrubbed
8 - 10 small yellow-flesh potato's
8 cups pesto - recipe below
6 cups bechamel - recipe below
15 sheets of egg pasta, dry or fresh
6 cups grated parmigiano reggiano


1.  Salt a large pot of water and add potato's.  bring to a boil and add zucchini and carrots. boil for 7 minutes and remove zucchini.  boil for another 3 minutes and remove carrots.  boil for another 5 - 7 minutes and remove potato's.  cut all veg into a 1/2 inch dice mix in a large bowl and set aside to cool.

2.  Heat a pan with salted water and individually cook the dry pasta sheets until they just lose their brittleness, about 3 minutes.  Set each sheet aside on a clean kitchen towel.  As you finish with each sheet of pasta, set the resting sheet on a cooling rack.  stacking them is fine, too.  if you use fresh pasta, make sure it is wafer thin and skip this step.

3. Coat your vegetables and potato's with 1.5 to 2 cups of the pesto.  mix throughout, but don't over dress the veg.

4.  Turn your stove up to 400 degrees and let it warm. set up an assembly station with a 12"x7"x4" baking dish, pesto, bechamel, parmigiano, pasta, and veggies.  Layer in the following order: pasta, bechamel, pesto, cheese, pasta, bechamel ("just a little this time", i was told), pesto, vegetables, pesto (again, "just a little"), cheese, pasta, bechamel, pesto, cheese, pasta, bechamel, vegetables, pesto, cheese, pasta, cheese.

5. Use a paring knife to make holes in 3 or 4 rows across the lasagna to allow for the liquids to move around. cook for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and let stand for another 30 minutes.  serve.

Nonna Normanda's Pesto 
(Directly translated from her mouth to my blog...)

Ingredients for 6-8 people:
80-100 basil leaves
50 gr. Pecorino from Roma or Sardegna
50 gr. Fresh (not dry or already grated) Parmigiano Reggiano
100 gr Pine nuts
2-3 walnuts
1-2 Garlic cloves
Large grained sea salt


1. Wash the basil leaves and put them in the blender with a pinch of salt, the garlic, the pine nuts amd the walnuts. Add a bit of olive oil and blend.
2. Add the Parmigiano and the Pecorino.
3. Keep blending and adding oil until it is completely mixed and reaches a thick, creamy consistency.
Buon appetito

*as a note, please be aware that this is a raw, not cooked, sauce that should be made as close to this recipe as possible.  for the best results, use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find.  



1/2 a brick of butter
6 tablespoons of white flour
6 cups milk
3 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg


Over medium heat melt the butter.  once melted add the white flour and mix until smooth and cook for 3 minutes. In a separate pot heat the milk until it is not quite boiled.  Whisk the milk in one cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth and has NO LUMPS.  Bring the whole mixture to a boil, turn the heat to low, and stir continuously for 10 - 15 minutes, or until you cant taste any grit from the flour.  if it gets too thick, add a little more warm milk. Add salt and nutmeg, stir, and set aside until needed.