My grandparents, like most of the Italians in our neighborhood, came from the Provence of Avellino, Italy and grandma’s cooking was steeped in the tradition of Avellino, especially for holidays like Easter Sunday. The aforementioned ravioli or lasagna were the center of the meal on these occasions. In my opinion these two pastas did not have then, nor now any peer. They were and still are tops amongst my favorite pastas. Typical of Neapolitan cooking these pastas had no meat filling. They were about the ricotta filling and the gravy (Sunday Sauce as it is known today). The gravy meat was served after the lasagna. Easter Sunday usually meant Lasagna, meatballs, sausage, braciole and salad.
I still remember with great fondness and anticipation watching grandma prepare the ricotta filling after she made the pasta. I was always rewarded with being able to scrape the bowl and finish every bit of the ricotta mixture when the lasagna was complete. The flavor and texture will always be amongst my fondest memories. My mother gave me grandma's recipe and I have been making the lasagna for years, especially for Easter Sunday. And keeping with tradition the entire family comes to our house for the sumptuous repast. In addition to the great food and wine, we are now blessed with 3 beautiful grandchildren to share the celebration with.
Grandma DeRosa's Lasagna Recipe
3 lb. ricotta, drained over night
shredded fresh mozzarella
a lot of Italian parsley, minced
grated pecorino romano cheese
6 large eggs
salt & pepper to taste
homemade lasagna noodles (preferred)
It is essential to drain the ricotta in a colander overnight to remove the excess water. If you do not the lasagna will be messy and runny.
Place ricotta in a colander and allow it to drain it’s water over 3 to 6 hours, or preferably over night. Mix ricotta, eggs, parsley, pecorino, salt and pepper until well incorporated. Adjust flavoring to your taste by adding more pecorino, salt and pepper as needed. Blanch lasagna noodles in boiling water for 1 minute and then remove to an ice bath. Using a 9 by 13 pan, put a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of lasagna on top of the sauce. Cover the lasagna with a layer of ricotta mixture and a sprinkle of the shredded mozzarella. ladle more sauce on top of this layer. Repeat with 5 or 6 more layers. Ladle tomato sauce on top of the top lasagna noodle, sprinkle with romano cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. When done, allow lasagna to sit for 30 minutes so that it may set. It is essential to let the lasagna rest for 30 minutes so that it is nice and firm when you serve it. Serve with meat and additional tomato sauce.
I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the antipasto, another holiday tradition. In addition to the usual suspects such as roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, provolone, grilled artichokes, etc. Pizzagaina, the traditional Easter Pie, makes an appearance. I purchased the Pizzagaina this year at Buono’s Prime Meats and Deli in Little Falls NJ. Owner Jimmy told me it is made in Brooklyn and he has been purchasing it for more than 15 years. It was truly outstanding…one of the best I have ever had. It had a great moist texture and the meat and cheeses complimented each other beautifully. A bit rich, but OOH so good. This year I also included Rock Shrimp Arrabiatta, easy to make and always a crowd pleaser. Thanks to Mario Carlino, chef/owner of Divina Ristorante, North Caldwell, NJ for the recipe.
Rock Shrimp Arrabiata (Divina Ristorante)
1 lb rock shrimp
sliced fresh garlic
vegetable oil for frying
red pepper flakes
chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Make sauce in a large skillet. Sauté garlic in olive oil for a couple of minutes, add white wine and reduce by 1/2. Depending on how many shrimp you have, add enough clam juice to make a sauce when fried shrimp are added. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth, oregano, salt and pepper.
Coat shrimp with flour, shaking off excess. Pre-heat a deep fryer set at 375º (if you have no fryer, heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan). Fry shrimp for 60 seconds in fryer, remove, shake off excess oil and add to skillet with sauce. Incorporate over medium heat for 30 seconds, add parsley and serve.
With the appetizers we had Non Vintage Parigot & Richard Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé. Since it is from Burgundy and not Champagne, the wine can not be called Champagne even though it is made in the traditional methode champagne manner. No matter what it's called, the wine is terrific. Lively and balanced on the palate it entices your taste buds. The finish is clean and pure, and at $17 a bottle an absolute steal. 56º Wine, Bearnardsville, NJ.
The main course consisted of the aforementioned lasagna with homemade gravy (called Sunday Sauce these days) meatballs, sausage and braciole. The white I choose here was a 2003 Roagna Langhe Bianco Solea. Roagna’s wines are steeped in traditional style wine making. While they are known for their incredible Barbarescos and Barolos, this white is an example of how delicious white wine can be. A blend of about 70% Chardonnay and white Nebbiolo that sees no skin contact during fermentation, it exhibits incredible purity on the palate with an elegant feminine finish. $26. Wine Legend, Livingston, NJ. Oh, one more thing, this is another Louis Dressner selection who I mentioned in my last blog.
For the red wines I opted for a comparison of old and new world. The new was represented by Domenico Clerico Barolo Per Cristina 2001, while the old was represented by 1996 Valentino Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna Cappella Santo Stefano di Perno. Both wines were decanted for 3-4 hours.
Clerico pleasantly surprised me. I expected it to have a lot of oak due to Barrique aging, however the oak was well integrated and the wine was pleasant to drink. It was nicely balanced, showed layers of complexity and had a lengthy finish. What it did not have is the sense of place that a traditional Barolo has. It had no soul and at a hefty $150 - $200, dramatically over priced in my opinion.
The Valentino Rocche Dei Manzonni on the other hand was a beautiful crafted old world Barolo that exhibits an enticing bouquet on the nose with a lengthy finish. The wine is balanced, complex an wonderfully pure & elegant on the palate. The wine has soul and is delicious. It is drinking really well right now. $95. de-vino boutique, NYC.
For dessert I opened a 2003 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes. While d’Yquem is not my favorite dessert wine, the 2003 is magnificent. I have had this wine on 3 occasions now and it has been spectacular each time. In fact, it may be the best d’Yquem I’ve tasted. It is full of tropical fruit such as bananas & pineapple and vanilla, and most importantly for me it lacks the medicinal finish as I usually experience with these wines, A simply delicious wine. Wines like this unfortunately do not come cheap. Expect to pay around $300.
Until next time,