We took a quick trip to Italy last evening with Whitney and David along for the whirlwind tour. I love exploring a country through their food and while Italy was the focus last night, there were a few touches from France as well so just for the record - Vive la France too.
We began our dining extravaganza with an Antipasto platter including a selection of cold meats, melon, roasted peppers in balsamic and olive oil, smoked oysters and even a little herb flavored goat's cheese. Antipasto literally means "before the meal" and it's meant to tease the palate and get those salivary glands working. What better way to accomplish it than to tempt the eye as well?
Moving right along, the next course was Lasagne Bolognese served with a crisp green salad on the side. This particular version pairs a rich bechamel sauce with my favorite meaty, veggie infused bolognese. A light hand with the cheese made for a baked pasta that was rich in flavor, subtly spiced and amazingly light - perfect for a hot summer evening.
Yeah, imagine claiming that a serving of lasagne can be light! Coulda' fooled me, but this particular version is much different in flavor and texture than the one we enjoyed last month during our vacation. Sans mushrooms, mozzarella and the spicier Italian sausage, this one is more about the pasta and less about the sauce, whereas the other one is really ALL about the sauces. Who knew?
So then - just how do you go about topping that? I quite honestly dug deep for "dessert" inspiration but in the interest of doing something different, shunned the usual tiramisu or flan. In exchange I settled on a pate a choux in the form of profiteroles filled with ice cream and kissed with a touch of chocolate and caramel.
Profiteroles are just a fancy name for tiny cream puffs, and it amazes me every time that one can make something so incredible out of so few ingredients. Butter, water, flour and eggs combine to make these little magic mountains of airy goodness. The thing is you can stuff them with just about anything too. I used some coveted Tillamook ice cream that we brought back with us from Oregon for yesterday's batch, but a pastry cream in any flavor, or even whipped cream full of fresh berries is just wonderful too.
Drizzled with some homemade sauces, in this case chocolate and caramel, dessert was decadent enough to get Whitney's little bundle doing the happy dance inside her. Something tells me this little one's going to have a bit of a sweet tooth.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 medium onion finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2 teaspoons dried basil
4 ounces pancetta
1 pound ground beef
8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock or beef stock
1/4 cup whipping cream (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
Heat olive oil until sizzling – add red pepper flakes, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaf, sage and basil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium low and cook additional 10 minutes. Increase heat to high, add bacon (prosciutto) and beef and cook stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add wine and cook until almost evaporated – about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, paste & stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Remove cover and simmer until sauce is thick – additional 15 minutes. Add cream and taste for seasoning.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add flour and whisk together until smooth. Cook over medium heat, whisking regularly until mixture turns golden brown. Meanwhile, heat milk in microwave until almost boiling. Add milk slowly to flour/butter mixture, whisking constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and cook for 30 seconds longer or until of desired consistency. Add salt and nutmeg. Remove from heat and cool.
1 pound lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces grated cheese (I used a combination of parmesan, provolone & mozzarella)
Coat raw noodles with vegetable oil and layer in a large pan. Pour boiling water over top, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove noodles from pan, drain and blot dry. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan well with cooking spray and place a thin layer of Bolognese sauce on the bottom. Add noodles, a layer of béchamel followed by cheese, then noodles and more béchamel. Repeat process finishing with a layer of Bolognese then béchamel. Cover with foil, and cook in a preheated 375 oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8
Profiteroles (Cream Puffs) with Chocolate & Caramel
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup water
1 cup bread flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a medium
saucepan bring butter and water to a boil. Add flour and salt all at once and
stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture leaves side of pan. Continue
to cook for 10 seconds.Transfer mixture
to Kitchenaid with paddle attachment. At medium low speed, add eggs one at a
time, beating well after each addition until well combined. Increase speed to
medium and beat for additional 2 minutes. Cover mixture and refrigerate till
Preheat oven to 375. Grease 2 baking sheets or line with parchment. Scoop cooled mixture onto parchment by 1/4 cupfuls (or use a pastry bag). Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and with a sharp knife, cut a slit into the side of each puff. Return to oven. TURN OVEN OFF and let puffs dry in oven for a minimum 1 hour.
Fill cooled puffs with ice cream and store in freezer until ready to serve. Serve with Sauces.
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a small saucepan, whisk half and half, sugar, butter, cocoa and espresso powder together over medium heat stirring constantly until butter melts and mixture is well combined. Continue to heat until mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Before serving, heat sauce in microwave briefly to a pourable consistency.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1-1/4 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large saucepan with a heavy bottom, heat sugar and water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Do not stir! Increase heat to medium high and boil until mixture is a medium amber color, washing down sides of pot from time to time with a pastry brush dipped in water. Watch mixture carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. When of desired color, remove from heat and slowly add cream. Mixture will bubble vigorously so be careful. Return to heat and cook stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Cool and refrigerate until serving. Reheat briefly to a pourable consistency.