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Bucatini all’Amatriciana (Amatriciana Pasta)

16 May

This is a tasty, simple and fast recipe that you can make anytime you crave for a spicy pasta dish.
The amatriciana (ahm-mah-tree-CHA-na) is mouthwatering sauce for pasta, made with bacon, tomato and Pecorino cheese. Everything is seasoned with chili pepper.

The name of this delicious recipe comes from Amatrice, a town at the center of the Apennines ( in the province of Rieti), where on the last weekend of August, a large quantity of this tasty dish is prepared for the local festival. The recipe has a tradition that dates back to when the shepherds were the primary inhabitants and Amatrice was still part of Abruzzo and spaghetti was used instead of bucatini. This recipe was then acquired by the Romans who replaced spaghetti with bucatini, common to their culinary tradition, added onion.

The bucatini is a type of long pasta, very similar to large hollow spaghetti. This delectable dish goes extremely well with a glass of your favorite red wine.

BUCATINI ALL’AMATRICIANA (AMATRICIANA PASTA)
Preparation time: 20 min.                       Servings: 4

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) bucatini
1 tablespoon olive oil (extra-virgin)
100 g (¾ cup) diced bacon or pancetta
1 medium onion, finely chopped
60 ml (¼ cup) dry white wine
340 g (12 oz) San Marzano tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried chilli pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese

DIRECTIONS
1. In a sauce pan heat oil over medium heat, add bacon and fry until fat has melted and bacon is crisp. Stir frequently
2. Add onion and saute for about 7-8 minutes. Add chilli pepper, cook for a minute and then add the wine. Increase heat to evaporate half of the wine. Add tomato and cook for additional 10 min.
3. Meanwhile bring to a boil 3 liters of salted water, add bucatini and cook until al dente for approx. 10 min. (according to the instructions on the pasta package). Drain and pour into a warm serving dish, drizzle with the sauce, season with Pecorino cheese! Paola

Besciamella Light (Light Bechamel Sauce)

16 Dec

Bechamel sauce, the queen of white sauces, is typical of the Italian and French cuisine. It was, in fact, the French Marquis Louis de Bechamel who began to use it in his recipes in the seventeenth century. According to other sources the sauce was created in Tuscany and was later introduced by Catherine de Medici in France. Whatever its origin, it is one of the most versatile and tasty sauces of our cuisine. It is used for the preparation of lasagne, cannelloni, crepes, pies and baked vegetables. The traditional recipe calls for the preparation of the known white roux with butter and flour, to which milk will be added  and then cooked to the desired consistency. My recipe uses small amounts of butter, thus making the sauce lighter and easier on the stomach. The flour is added directly to the milk with a whisk, and at the end of cooking the butter has melted into the mixture. This procedure allows the preparation of a delicate bechamel and reduces the formation of lumps which instead, with the traditional method is easier to obtain.

BESCIAMELLA LIGHT (LIGHT BECHAMEL SAUCE)
Preparation time: 15 minutes                                  Servings: 4
Besciamella

INGREDIENTS
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt
2. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
3. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy). Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn
4. Add butter and stir until melted. Let it cool and then you for your favorite recipe. -Paola

Ragù (Bolognese Sauce)

9 Nov

The term ragù refers to a rich sauce composed of different ingredients usually including ground beef. The origin of this meat sauce is French -ragout-, and is derived from the verb ragoûter, to awaken the appetite. The Bolognese ragù sauce is the typical beef sauce from Bologna with bacon and vegetables (onion, carrot, celery and garlic).  This mixture’s flavor is enhanced by good red wine and cooked slowly for over an hour. There is a classic recipe filed in 1982 at Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Handicraft and Agriculture, but everyone has his own recipe. Different beef cuts can be used and some ground pork meat may be added, too.  Bacon can be replaced with sausage, making the sauce lighter, because sausage contains less fat (and of course fewer calories) than bacon. Some recipes also add a few tablespoons of milk or heavy cream at the end to make the meat more tender. Here is my recipe!

RAGÙ (BOLOGNESE SAUCE)
Preparation time: 1 hr+40min.      Cooking time: 1 ½ hrs       Servings: 4

Ragù

INGREDIENTS
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
80 g (¼ lb) mild sausage
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped or diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
225 g (½ pound) ground beef chuck
225 g (½ pound) ground pork
120 ml (½ cup) red wine
240 ml (1 cup) beef stock
1 can (about 250 ml) peeled whole tomatoes
5 tablespoons cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the butter and the sausage for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, and when it begins to soften add the other vegetables. Sauté over low heat for 8 minutes until golden, stirring constantly
2. Add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes
3. Add the wine and increase the heat to high to evaporate the alcohol
4. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally until thick
5. Remove from heat and add the cream
6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. The most traditional way to eat ragù is with tagliatelle or lasagne, but you can also enjoy it with any concave shaped pasta that goes well with chunky sauces.  -Paola

Pasta allo Zafferano (Pasta with Saffron)

17 Jan

We probably all recognize that pasta is a highly versatile ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and can be served at both simple and elegant dinners.  The addition of saffron, the king of spices (the most expensive spice in the world by weight!!!), makes your pasta dish something you will remember and want to make again and again.  It is an easy and fast first course that brings a smile to my children’s faces.  Saffron adds an inviting intense golden-yellow color (don’t forget that we first eat with our eyes!!!) and a special honey-like taste to your recipe.  In fact, the word saffron originates from the Latin safranum, which in Arabic signifies yellow.  Saffron comes from the stigmas of the flower Crocus sativus (commonly known as Saffron Crocus), cultivated in Asia Minor even before the birth of Christ, then later brought into many Mediterranean countries.  Egyptian physicians already cultivated this plant as early as 1600 BC.  Today the largest crops in Italy are located in Abruzzo, Sardinia, Tuscany and Umbria.  The Aquila saffron or zafferano d’Aquila (Abruzzo), cultivated exclusively in the Navelli Valley, is one of the best saffron in the world for its distinctive thread shape, unusual pungent aroma and intense color.  Saffron can be used in many recipes such as rice, pasta, meat, soups and sweets as well.  Last, but not least, it is a MUST for a superb Risotto alla Milanese!!!! In addition to its culinary uses, saffron has also many therapeutic properties such as anti aging, anti depressant, anti cancer and cardiovascular effects (contributing, of course, to an increase of sexual vitality).  Add saffron to your recipe and put some extra sunshine on your table and into your life!

PASTA ALLO ZAFFERANO (PASTA WITH SAFFRON)
Preparation Time: 20 min.                           Servings: 4

Pasta con zafferano small

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) penne or bow-tie pasta (artisanal pasta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
200 ml (¾ cup)  heavy cream
¼ teaspoon saffron threads or 1 package of saffron powder
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1.In a non-stick skillet melt the butter on low heat and then add the cream.  Mix well and add the saffron powder or threads (see note for preparation)
2.Bring to boil a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta for about 10-11 minutes al dente (read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, toss gently.  Before serving sprinkle with ground pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Note: The quality of ingredients used is very important for the outcome of any recipe.  With regards to pasta in particular, I would suggest artisanal pasta such as Faella or Martelli versus a more industrial brand.  In fact, artisanal pasta has rough and porous texture which sauces can cling to better, and it usually “mantiene bene la cottura” (keeps its “al dente” texture longer).  If you can’t find artisanal pasta, then I would recommend buying commercially available durum wheat semolina pasta – rigorously made in Italy, though!  Saffron threads versus saffron powder:  Saffron exists in two forms: threads and powder. The threads are the whole stigma while the powder consists of ground stigma.  The threads are tastier and more genuine while the saffron powder loses its flavor rapidly and is very easy to contaminate with other, less-expensive powders of similar color such as turmeric.  If you prefer to use the powder, you have to trust the brand you are buying.  In case you are using threads, soak the saffron threads for 15 minutes in 5 teaspoons of liquid (hot –not boiling–  water, broth or your cooking liquid) for every teaspoon of saffron.  Then add the solution to the your dish.  Generally speaking ½ teaspoon of saffron threads = ¼ teaspoon of saffron powder, so as a rule use one half the amount of powder as you would threads…-Paola

Gnocchi di Patate al Pomodoro (Potato Dumplings with Tomato Sauce)

7 Jan

Gnocchi di patate (potato dumplings) is an Italian classic. These dumplings are small pieces of potato dough, usually round or oblong in shape, which are boiled in water and then served with various toppings such as tomato sauce and fresh basil, oil olive and grated Parmesan cheese, Bolognese sauce or even Brasato al Barolo sauce. I personally like gnocchi (pronounced gnawk-KEY) with tomato sauce because the fresh taste of the tomato and basil blends well with the starchiness of the potatoes. The texture is soft, and the simple ingredients are just potatoes, flour and egg. The taste, though, is delicate and inviting. Gnocchi is an easy, fast and light recipe to prepare, although you do need to take care in minimizing the amount of flour used. You can enjoy this dish as first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish, if you prefer. It is an excellent vegetarian dish (it does contain eggs and dairy products, though). I grew up making gnocchi al cucchiaio (a typical Lombard recipe) with my mom, especially on Friday. It was part of our Friday meal, as it is in Verona, especially during the Carnival. In fact, gnocchi is considered a weekday dish; in Rome it is frequently served on Thursday. In Naples, though, it is known as a festive dish on Sunday. At the time the Americas – and potatoes – were discovered by the Europeans, some varieties of dumplings were already present in the Old World, especially in Lombardy. They were prepared by mixing bread crumbs, milk and almonds and were called Zanzarelli. In the seventeenth century, however, the original recipe underwent some changes in both the composition of ingredients and in its name: it took the name of malfatti and flour, water and eggs were used instead of almonds and bread. With the introduction of potatoes from the Americas, the popularity of potato gnocchi spread and slowly some of the previous varieties disappeared.


GNOCCH DI PATATE AL POMODORO (POTATO DUMPLINGS WITH TOMATO SAUCE)

Preparation time: 1 h tomato sauce + 20 min. gnocchi           Serving: 4

Gnocchi small

INGREDIENTS
Tomato sauce
900 g (2 pounds) ripe S.Marzano or Roma tomatoes peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stock, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
5-6 basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Gnocchi
900 g (2 pounds) unpeeled potatoes (Patate a pasta gialla di Avezzano, Yukon Gold potatoes)
240 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste
Greated Parmesan cheese to serve

DIRECTIONS
Tomato sauce
1. In a large, heavy sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the all vegetables except the tomatoes for about 2-3 minutes
2. Add the tomatoes and the basil
3. Cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes; remove the lid and cook for additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally
4. Puree the sauce with a blender. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Gnocchi al cucchiaio (Gnocchi using the spoon method)
1. Cook the potatoes until just tender either by boiling or baking. The potato flesh for gnocchi should be dry, therefore it is better to boil the potato in the skin to prevent water absorption. Drain well and set aside until just cool enough to remove the skin. The potatoes should be warm, otherwise the flour and the potato puree will not bind with the egg
2. Put the warm potatoes through a potato ricer (never a mixer) into a bowl, season to taste with salt. Add the egg and olive oil, incorporate the flour and mix just enough until the dough is formed. Be careful not to overwork it; the dough will be lighter and the texture softer if you are able to minimize the flour used)
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a slow boil. Drop teaspoon-sized balls of dough in the boil water
4. The gnocchi are done as soon as they float to the top, after only about 10-15 seconds (no longer or they will fall apart in the water!!). Remove with a slotted or spider spoon and place on a preheated serving dish. Repeat with the remaining dough and toss gently with the tomato sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Before cooking the whole batch, I recommend making a couple of test gnocchi to see if the dough holds together. The cooked gnocchi should be firm but not tough and should not fall apart in the water. If they fall apart, you should add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. If they are tough, then you’ve used too much flour! I find that the spoon method is easier and requires less flour in comparison to the rolling method, thereby allowing you to make very tender gnocchi.

Note: The type of potatoes is crucial (I strongly recommend to use patate farinose, rich in starch), as well as the use of a potato ricer, which lets the steamy moisture out of the hot potatoes. In case fresh tomatoes are not available, try using S. Marzano canned tomatoes. One final note of caution … make sure you don’t mispell or mix up the term gnocco (singular of gnocchi) with gnocca, which means a “hot woman”!!!! 😉  -Paola

Lasagne alla Bolognese (Lasagna with Bolognese Sauce)

17 Dec

Lasagna has a long history (see the Lasagne al pesto post) but the Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe, typical from Emilia Romagna, traces its origins no further than the start 19th century when some restaurants in Bologna (Emilia Romagna) began serving this dish to their clients. It was an instant hit! Since then this recipe has been one of the symbols of Italian cuisine and is very popular all over the world, and in my family it is always on the table at Christmas. To prepare good lasagna alla Bolognese the most important thing is the choice of the ingredients: first of all the Bolognese sauce (ragù) should be made using half beef and half pork meat, the tomatoes should be very juicy and tasty, and homemade pasta certainly gives this dish a special flavor and texture that you will not experience using pre-packed pasta. Making fresh, homemade pasta is not too difficult; it’s fast and lots of fun!!! I remember that I loved to make fresh pasta as a kid with my mom, my aunts and my grandmother. It was so much fun kneading the dough; it’s something creative, productive and educational to do with your kids on rainy days and to keep them away from video games and tv reruns. You can enjoy this recipe either as a first course or a main course, and it is also a perfect party dish to serve at family gatherings.

LASAGNE ALLA BOLOGNESE (LASAGNE WITH BOLOGNESE SAUCE)
Preparation time: 1 hr+30 min. baking time                          Servings: 4

Lasagne ragù 1 small

INGREDIENTS
Bolognese Sauce (“Ragù“)
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
80 g (½ cup) cured pancetta bacon (not smoked)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped or diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
225 g (½ pound) ground beef chuck
225 g (½ pound) ground pork
120 ml (½ cup) red wine
240 ml (1 cup) beef stock
1 can (about 250 ml) peeled whole tomatoes
5 tablespoons cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Homemade Pasta
330 g (2 cups) Italian Grade 00 flour
3 large eggs

Besciamella Sauce
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup
) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
Bolognese Sauce
1. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the butter and the pancetta for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the onion, and when it begins to soften add the other vegetables. Sauté over low heat for 8 minutes until golden, stirring constantly
2. Add the ground meat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes
3. Add the wine and increase the heat to high to evaporate the alcohol
4. Add the tomatoes and the stock. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour stirring occasionally until thick
5. Remove from heat and add the cream
6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Homemade Pasta
Place the flour in a volcano-shaped pile on a work surface (wood is the traditional material) making sure that the “crater” provides a large enough well in the center to receive the eggs. Wash the eggs under running water and crack them into the well. Beat the eggs with a fork for 1-2 minutes, then gradually blend the flour into the eggs, starting from the inner wall of the well and continuing until all the flour and the eggs are completely combined. You have to add flour until the dough is no longer sticky (you may have to use extra flour depending on the absorption characteristics of the flour and on the temperature of the room). Knead the dough for about 15 minutes to form a smooth and elastic ball. This procedure helps develop the gluten in the flour, so your pasta will be springy and al dente when it is cooked. Place the dough in a clean cotton dish towel to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Divide your pasta in 4 equal parts and roll out one part at a time (keeping the rest in the dish towel until ready to work).

ROLLING OUT BY HAND. To roll out your pasta you need a wooden pin – mattarello – (about 80 cm long and 4 cm diameter, 37 x 2 in). Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness; you should be able to see your hand through it. Work fast because the pasta dries much quicker than you might think. Cut the pasta into rectangular sheets (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in) and let them rest for about 10 minutes on a cotton dish towel.

ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE. A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use. Kids especially love this part. Start out using the widest setting. Run the pasta through for about 6-7 times until the dough is smooth. If the sheet tears dust it with flour. Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness and you can see your hand through it. At this point follow the same procedure as for rolling out by hand.

Besciamella Sauce
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth. This will prevent any lumps from forming. Add the salt
2. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
3. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy). Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn.
4. Add butter and stir until melted

In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella. Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets). Cut the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to side. Spread some of the ragù (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by a layer of besciamella (about ⅓), some parmesan and another layer of pasta. Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining ragù and besciamella. Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly. Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle some freshly-grated parmesan on top and serve warm.

Note: I recommend starting this whole process by preparing the ragù first. While it is cooking you can make the pasta and then the besciamella sauce. If, instead, you use dry pre-packed lasagna, just refer to the baking time suggested on the package.

Spaghetti al Pesce Spada e Capperi (Spaghetti with Swordfish and Capers)

1 Nov

Pasta is a great ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and is a real treat to make for someone special.  Spaghetti with sword fish, capers and cherry tomatoes is a tasty first course to enjoy before your non-pasta secondo (like we Italians eat it), or as a solitary main dish, fast and easy to prepare.  It is made of fresh and flavorful ingredients from Sicily, land of sea, sun and an extraordinary food tradition.  Since Italy is a country with thousands of miles of coast, it is understandable that fish is a big part of our diet.  This particular pasta sauce blends the delicate taste of sword fish with the intense flavor of the capers, either the edible flower buds or the fruit (cucunci in Italian, pronounced cu-CUN-chi) of a Mediterranean plant found in rocky terrain.  The best capers, the ones I love with my Martini (!) and like to use in my recipes, are the cucunci from the Pantelleria and Salina islands, which are preserved either in salt or vinegar.  They are used to season or garnish salads, pizza, pasta sauces, meat dishes and fish dishes. 

SPAGHETTI AL PESCE SPADA E CAPPERI (SPAGHETTI WITH SWORDFISH AND CAPERS)

Preparation Time: about 20 min.        Cooking time: 7-8 min.           Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (Faella Pasta)
450 g (1 pound) swordfish filet
450 g (1 pound) cherry tomatoes
90 g (½ cup) capers (sotto sale, preserved in salt)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
80 ml (⅓ cup) dry white wine
2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside
  2. Remove the stem from the cucunci capers (the flower bud capers are stem free)
  3. Wash the capers under running water to remove the salt and set aside
  4. Wash and dry the filet with paper towel.  Remove skin and dice
  5. Drop the pasta in boiling water at this time (see below)
  6. In non-stick skillet on high heat sautè the garlic with olive oil.  Add the fish filet and cook for 3 min on high heat, add the wine
  7. Add the tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 min
  8. Add the capers, some salt and  fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a large pot of salted water, at the same time you are cooking the sauce, cook the spaghetti al dente (for about 7-8 min, read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, mix gently.  Before serving garnish with the parsley.

Note: If you cannot find capers from Pantelleria, make sure to choose the biggest ones you can find, as they taste better and make a better visual impact in the sauce.  You can also substitute the spaghetti with linguine, a flat, spaghetti-like pasta from Liguria, which is often served with pesto or with seafood. -Paola

Lasagne al Pesto (Pesto Lasagna)

11 Oct

Lasagne, one of the most popular Italian dishes, has a long and interesting history.  A popular tradition traces its origin to the ancient Greeks. In fact, the name “lasagna” is actually not Italian at all!  It comes from the ancient Greek language and means dish or bowl, but over time, the term lasagne has come to refer to layers of thin pasta that are cooked with and separated by different ingredients such as meat, fish, vegetables or cheese, as well as besciamella, or béchamel, sauce, of course.  You have may tried the traditional Lasagne with Bolognese sauce, but maybe not the Lasagne al pesto that I am going to present today.  The pesto sauce makes lasagna even more special and delicate, a tasty delight for your palate, and is an excellent vegetarian dish (remember, however, that it does contain eggs and dairy products).  You can enjoy this dish as a first course (like we Italians do) or as a main dish.

LASAGNE AL PESTO

Preparation time:  1 ½  hrs.          Baking Time:  30 min.
Servings:  4

 

INGREDIENTS
1 l (approx. 4 cups) besciamella sauce
180 g (¾ cup) pesto
6 sheets of Lasagne pasta (20 x 10 cm; 8 x 4 in)

Pesto
3 medium sized garlic cloves
60 g (2 cups) fresh Sweet basil
40 g (⅓ cup) pine nuts
70 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt to taste (optional)

Besciamella Sauce
1 l milk (approx. 4 cups)
100 g (⅔ cup ) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of salt
30 g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F)

Pesto (makes about 1 cup)
1.Toast the pine nuts for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove.  Set aside
2.Wash the basil and dry it.  Drop the garlic in a running food processor.  Add the basil and pine nuts until it becomes a grainy mixture
3. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on to reach the desired consistency
4. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse until blended.  Add a pinch of salt to taste and set aside.

Besciamella Sauce (makes about 4 cups)
1. In a medium saucepan mix the milk and the flour well with a whisk until smooth.  This will prevent any lumps from forming
2. Add the salt
3. Cook 3-4 minutes (medium-high heat) stirring constantly
4. Lower the heat as soon as the mixture reaches a slow boil and then continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly to the right thickness (smooth and creamy).  Add the butter.  Stir constantly to ensure that it doesn’t stick or burn
5. Remove from the heat.  Mix well the besciamella sauce with pesto.

In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of besciamella mix.  Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the besciamella in the bottom of the baking pan (about 2 lasagna sheets).  Break the pasta, if necessary, to make a complete layer from side to  side.  Spread some of the besciamella (about ⅓) evenly on top of the pasta, followed by another layer of pasta.  Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of pasta and finish with the remaining besciamella.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly (follow the suggested baking time on the lasagne package).  Let it rest at room temperature for about 8-10 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle some toasted pine nuts on top and serve.

Note: Pesto is not too difficult to make, but tasty and fresh basil is not easy to find all year round.  Pesto is a pasta sauce which originates from Genova, in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and is made with fresh Sweet basil (Mediterranean basil) and pine nuts.  If you don’t want to make fresh pesto, then look for a  good Italian brand in the grocery cooler or with the canned sauces.  One final word of caution!  Make certain that the ingredient list on the package specifies “olive oil”!  –Paola

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