Monday, September 22, 2008

Tommy Noodles and accidental mini-party

This last weekend was pretty phenomenal though I didn’t expect much from it as I had class (which is lovely, but very draining as it’s 16 hours of instruction piled on top of each other) and I wasn’t feeling well.

We hadn’t seen Shane and Sarah in more than a week, so we’d planned to have them over for dinner Saturday night…that turned into "Sam is coming into town," so she and Randy were invited as well…then, to my delight, little Alex and his friend (and my new friend) Carrie…then we got a surprise call from Dylan and Bethany who we never get to see. I was so excited when they called, I was literally screaming for Mark to tell them to come. Luckily they were in Nashville, so there we had it, our own little impromptu dinner party.

I knew I wanted to make the Butternut Squash lasagna recipe in the new issue of Martha Stewart Living. *Sorry, Martha, but according to Joy Ramirez, lasagne is actually the correct spelling because, “the word in Italian means the layers of pasta itself, which would be plural and ending in e rather than singular, which would be lasagna.”

Mark was over in east Nashville that morning and I had asked him to pick up some fresh ricotta from Lazzaroli's. He’ll regale you with the fascinating tale:

The first time I walked into Lazzaroli's, it was a surreal experience. I wasn't a foodie in any way at this point, (still in the baby stages of earning stars on my apron) but it was impossible not to be impressed by all the imported goodies, fresh made cheeses, and especially the strikingly unique raviolis: I picked up some pumpkin ravs, also some goat cheese and pear on my last visit. In contrast to the magnificent food was a touch of the stereo-typical Italian movie-star worship - autographed photos of Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino, and Robert De Niro

Inside Lazzaroli's

I was there on this first visit to pick up some fresh pasta - I put it on the counter to purchase and it was my first face-to-face with Tom "Tommy Noodles" Lazzaroli:

"No Sauce?" he said with some disdain in his voice.

"Oh, we're going to make our own," I replied.

"Well, you better, because if you put that sugary store bought shit on these noodles, you're wasting my time and yours."

It had been almost a year since that hilarious first encounter, and in that time, I have grown into a dough-making enthusiast. So when Wendy requested I go to Lazzaroli's to pick up some fresh ricotta, I was really excited to bring up my recent experiences, seeking his guidance (and approval), and see what I could learn to improve on my skills.

When I walked in, it was a similar treatment - like the "soup nazi" (without extremism) Tom is the kind of guy who does quality control on his customers, testing with questions to make sure they will respect his work/their ingredients, or get an earful first perhaps. I immediately launched into "talking shop" by revealing my plan to make lasagna - "Oh, making your own noodles, eh...making your own sauce? 'atta know if you get too good at this, I'll put you to work."

He proceeded to hook me up with some awesome flour in an unmarked bag which resulted in my best noodles yet. Here is my noodle process, this time with Tom tips:

Sage Noodles with Cracked Pepper

2 cups flour from "unmarked bag"
3 lrg. eggs (in my case I used 5 medium organics from Hohenwald, TN)

some sage - yeah, it's not very precise, I would just say about 4-6 oz.
1 T olive oil
lots of cracked pepper

Put the cups of flour in your mixing bowl, if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer then you're so set, but otherwise you will have to incorporate the wet ingredients manually with a wooden spoon or something like it. Fill the palm of your hand with peppercorns to measure, then place these in a coffee grinder. After obliterating them into dusty chunks, add them to the flour and turn on your mixer to kind of aerate the flour and evenly distribute the pepper.

Chop up some sage finely. I got some at Krogers in the produce section by the salad dressings and organic veggies. Throw them in the blender by themselves and use the blender to chop them a little further. Add the eggs and olive oil and blend like crazy.

Now it's adding time - slowly pour a little bit at a time and watch the flour bead into mini dough balls. Continue this process for 20 minutes, slowly letting the pasta come together until it suddenly crosses that breaking point and clumps into one ball. You want to err on the side of too dry because it's easy to add more mixture, or water if it happens to be too dry after all your mixture is gone. If you get it sticky, you're screwed - mostly. It's just so hard to incorporate flour.

Now you go through my pasta rolling process laid out in previous posts. Have fun.

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living October 2008.

Serves 10 very generously with some leftovers.

* 3 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1 Vidalia onion, sliced into thin half-moons
* 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
* 1 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1 large egg yolk
* fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
* Freshly grated nutmeg
* Hazelnuts, chopped
* garlic
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1 package fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped (minus whatever Mark used in the pasta noodles)
* 1 1/4 cups organic veggie stock
* Fresh Lasagna Noodles cut into 4-by-13-inch strips and cooked
* grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss squash, onion, oil, and 1 teaspoon salt on a baking sheet. Season with pepper. Bake until light gold and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool.
2. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Combine ricotta, cream, egg yolk, hazelnuts, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Season with salt. Have Dylan taste it for seasoning and texture.
3. Melt butter in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add sage, and cook until light gold and slightly crisp at edges, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Place squash and onion in food processor bowl and puree. Gently stir in sage-butter mixture and stock. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Spread ricotta mixture in the bottom of the baking dish, top with a layer of noodles, then butternut squash mixture, then sprinkle of cheeses. Repeat layering until you’ve filled the dish. Top with rounds of fresh mozzarella.

6. Bake until cheese is golden and bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

The hazelnuts made the texture quite lovely. If I were to make a vegan version, I would puree some tofu, add hazelnuts and some sort of acid (lemon zest and juice or some kind of vinegar).

After our bellies were filled, we played a game of Taboo which has come to be a favorite activity of ours when we have guests over (exactly how old are we?).


cook eat FRET said...

very cool blog
loved reading this

always nice to see more nashville foodcentric folks around. warms my heart and gives me hope...

BetteDavisLies said...

Can I dive into that lasagna/lasagne? Yum..

I love that you mentioned Sarah and Shane. I saw their wedding announcement in the Jax Sun a few months ago. I hope they are doing well. Send my love their way.