A couple of weeks ago, I briefly described my one-day cooking class near Assisi at Letizia's agriturismo, alla Madonna del Piatto. We learned to make a remarkable, light lasagne, several simple appetizers and a luscious dessert. ("Light" lasagne is my description, by the way, not Letizia's, and while I don't have a calorie count, the fact that each layer is kept thin made it taste very light!)
To emphasize the idea of keeping the lasagne layers very light, Letizia warned us (frequently!) against putting too much sauce or cheese in each layer -- none should be "swimming" in any ingredient.
We had a wonderful time and a fantastic meal at the end of all of our hard work (and the best part, we didn't have to do dishes!) By we, I mean four Americans staying at the agriturismo and me, which comprised the class. Letizia and her assistant were stuck with the cleanup while we feasted. Which is a shame -- why must everything end in dirty dishes?
But back to happier topics -- food! Rain on this day forced us to eat indoors, but last year when I took a cooking class with Letizia, we were able to dine outside on her lovely terrace, looking across a deep valley to the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. My photo, top, was taken just before the rain began and doesn't do justice to the beauty of the setting.
Inside, the five of us spread out as seen in the second photo above: on the left, Terry and his wife Linda from San Raphael; at the centre, or top of the table, Terry's cousin Gene and beside him his wife Audrey, who are from Nevada, and at the far right, grinning foolishly, me.
Anyway, on to the lasagne! I'm passing on Letizia's recipe, but I think the secret lies in laying down many light layers and in using good tomatos (sez Letizia -- if using tinned tomatos, buy nothing with salt or sugar or, horrors, vinegar which may be added to mask poor-qualilty tomatos.)
While the meat sauce simmered, Letizia got Gene started on whipping cream for the dessert.
In making the lasagne, Letizia emphasized the importance of keeping each layer light (remember: No Swimming!) To remind myself of this, I took several photos of how each layer looked -- a few sheets of pre-cooked lasagne sheets, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan or the previous layer; a few tablespoons of ragout sauce; a few tablespoons of bechamel; a sprinkling of finely chopped mozzarella; a sprinkling of thinly sliced ham; then the next layer. Amounts were small enough to keep any one ingredient from covering any other.
Here's the actual recipe:
500 gr./ 1 pound fresh pasta sheets
200 ml/ ¾ cup bechamel sauce (white sauce)
200 gr./ 7 ounces ham shredded
400 gr./14 ounces fresh mozzarella finely cubed
3 cans diced tomato
300 gr./ 10 ounces good pork meat
1 bay leaf
Soften the onion in a covered heavy pan in olive oil over slow fire. Increase the fire and add the minced meat stirring quickly until light brown. Deglaze with wine; add the tomatoes, the bay and cook covered over very slow fire for at least three hours. Season with salt and black pepper.
Precook the lasagne sheets in hot salted water for 1 minute if fresh, 3 min if dry.
Build up the lasagne layer starting with a good ladleful of sauce on the bottom of the pan and alternating pasta, mozzarella, ham, bechamel, ragout sauce (everything in small amounts). Spread the top layer evenly with sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan and another tiny bit of bechamel.
Cook in moderate oven (200° C) for 1/2 hour.
We also made several simple appetizers: a wonderful frittata, slow-cooked in a heavy iron skillet on the stovetop while we built the lasagne; olive pate, spread on toasted bread; roasted peppers; and a wonderful zucchini dish, with thin strips of the vegetable marinated in a bit of good olive oil and lemon with almonds. Wonderful!
And for dessert, a honeyed ricotta mousse served with marinated figs from Letizia's trees.
The dessert was so simple:
500 grams (or 1 pound) of ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons of icing sugar
1/2 cup (100 ml) of whipping cream
a teaspoon of good honey
Whip the cream, then whisk the sugar into the ricotta and add carefully to the cream. Cover and keep refrigerated for at least one hour. To serve, spoon the ricotta mousse on a plate, drizzle with honey and add a few tablespoons of fruit topping at the side of the ricotta.