Happy Valentine’s Day. A while ago.
Isaiah and I just got back from a dream-once-in-a-lifetime-honeymoon-adventure to Europe where we traveled by train for one month! During this time, we stayed with my high school best friend in her (now) home town – Carpi, Italy. She showed us the sights, told us what we “must see”, and chaperoned us to the picturesque town of Verona.
Verona was gorgeous. I can’t really explain it in a way that would do it any sort of justice, so here, look at these photos.
We stopped at one of the many adorable piazzas to have a snack and ended up ordering something called Lasagne Veronese. Isaiah and I really wanted to eat things that were specific to the region, and with a name like that, how could we go wrong?! Gina hadn’t heard of it herself but still gave the seal of approval to go ahead and order. And ohhhhhhhmyyyyyyyyygaaaaawwwwwwwdddd. It was amazing.
See that thick, white layer? That’s cheese! And the purple is sauteed radicchio. holy balls.
Fast forward to Valentine’s Day. I wanted to do something special for Isaiah so I decided to find a Lasagne Veronese recipe and try to recreate this special meal. Easy, right? I’ve cooked lasagna. Ahem – WRONG.
Before we go any further, here’s my version for a visual comparison. (oh and P.S. the ingredients list is at the end of this post.)
I was super sad to not get a single good shot of a square piece of lasagne sitting solitary on a plate. So, this is the best I got. Notice how the cheeeeeese layer is vastly different!
I began my search as all people do, googled it. And this is what I found. Yep, that’s Italian. So I copied the page and put it into Google Translate to try to understand what the heck it was talking about. Now, this recipe kept using the word ‘tastasal’ (what the heck is that?) and also ‘besciamella’ which = bechamel sauce. I googled ‘tastasal’ and came across this recipe for risotto with tastasal and it told me that tastasal is the stuffing that is used to make salami. (Further…”indeed the housewives of the Bassa Veronese would make this risotto to judge the seasoning of their salami before putting the filling into the casing.”)
Um, that doesn’t help me very much. What is IN the tastasal?! Fortunately, the risotto recipe went on to tell me “a couple of words about the meat” and sent me here for a “Tuscan salami recipe that will work, but your best bet will be to visit a butcher who makes northern Italian cold cuts and purchase some fresh raw salami stuffing. Or, in a pinch, you could use mild Italian sausage instead, crumbling it up.” Unfortunately, I ran out of my excess of “butchers who make northern Italian cold cuts” so I had to get creative. Notice how in this Salame Tastasal recipe, the ingredient list calls for “spices” and “herbs”? This is precisely the information that I need to carry out this crazy lasagne dish and no one will give it to me. No one.
Until I kept reading, and found this…”for every 25 pounds season it with 2/3 pound of salt, an ounce of cracked pepper, and a half-ounce of spices, by which we mean cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg. Then take a head of garlic, grind it in a mortar with an ounce of wine, and squeeze it through a strainer and into the meat.” TA-DAH! I also couldn’t find any plain, ground pork, so I chose the mild Italian sausage from my meat counter and collected the herbs/spices.
Another snag – the original Lasagne Veronese recipe called for a type of cheese that I couldn’t find, Monte Veronese. This is a cow’s milk cheese and even though the recipe said that I could substitute with gorgonzola, it just didn’t seem like I would get the same consistency. So I chose a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that for the LIFE of me as I sit here looking at that package in the photo, I can’t remember what type of cheese it was! I do know that it was a semi-hard cheese, mild in flavor, with smallish holes in it. damn. —–OH I JUST REMEMBERED! It’s Fontina!
Chop radicchio and onion thinly, and saute in butter (or whatever). I like butter.
I had to saute the radicchio in batches because there was a lot of it. Then I mixed the sauteed radicchio and onions together. Cook until wilted.
Now what I love about the Tastasal Debacle is what it taught me about food and traditional cooking. The salame tastasal recipe was from a “manuscript dated to 1772” and the person reproducing this recipe (online) goes on to explain that the recipe itself is very cursory, i.e. lacking A LOT of detail. And the reason for this is because “the 18th century author assumed the cook would then know how to season the salami, a process that’s crucial to the success of the endeavor (these kinds of assumptions were common in recipes of the time, and also correct, because the authors were professionals, as was their audience).” What I take to mean “professional” is not that the cook was a chef, but that EVERYONE knew how to spice sausage just as their families had been doing for centuries. Very. Cool.
So you can see here what I used to spice my tastasal which I mixed together with my hands.
Back to it. Ingredients for the bechemel sauce. I always think that this sauce is intimidating, giving way to anxiety, until I start to actually make it, and I’m like, DUH, it’s really simple and I should add this to crap more often!
This photo isn’t super helpful regarding desired consistency. Just go see Martha. And stir, stir, stir.
Construct. I did NOT make my own pasta. Are you crazy?! I got lasagna at the store. Then layer on the radicchio/onion mixture, layer on slabs of the cheese (I always grate my cheese for lasagna but I wanted to see how it would turn out if I followed the Italian instructions and I was super excited for that melted slab action.) Then pour on bechemel sauce. Repeat.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the top, and bake at 300 Celsius for 30 minutes. Celsius! Jeez!!! 400 F.
It turned out fan-motherlovin’-tastic. The original Lasagne Veronese that we had in Verona did not have sausage in it, so my version with kickin’ with flavor. The consistency was not that similar, especially since the dish in Verona wasn’t very hot, so the dish had set up a bit more. But I was super proud to pull it off and go on a food adventure.
I’d REALLY love to see your version!
Lasagne Veronese (attempted by a Californian white girl)
tastasal (lean, ground pork, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ground fresh garlic, and wine. Whew!)
Monte Veronese cheese
I’m not going to give quantities because it really doesn’t matter that much 🙂