Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If you wish to make an Italian feast from scratch, you must first invent the universe:

I was six hours into cooking, and I still had 3 recipes left to go. Frowning at the recipes taped on the cabinets in the kitchen, I crossed another off the list and set the dish aside. I sighed and looked at the cat. In that second, the pot of milk and heavy cream I was heating became possessed and started to boil over. I ran it over to the sink and tried not to burn myself. I looked back at the cat, who was looking suspiciously amused as he sniffed the spilled dairy on the floor. With only 3 recipes to go, I was too far in to turn back now.

The plan

When David takes his monthly trip up to Michigan for his job, I usually take the time I have to myself to relax for a few days, and make a nice dinner for his return. I'd already tackled an Indian meal, an elaborate dinner from Findlay Market, and a from scratch pizza.

I wanted to up the ante a little and make something more involved. After a few hours on tastespotting, I decided I wanted to revisit the Italian theme. But this time, I was not stopping at pizza. David likes Italian, but his main complaint is that at some restaurants the giant brick of lasagna that's served is simply too heavy. So the solution there? Italian, tapas style.
In addition to making lots of small dishes, for some naive reason I began to regret later, I enthusiastically decided I was going to do things the hard way. As I compiled recipes and made a Gantt chart, I realized that I simply didn't have enough time to make them all once I got home from work.

So I did the logical thing. I scheduled a personal day.

Fortified with a large dose of caffeine, I began the first recipe candying the orange peels for dessert--a layered bourbon vanilla nutella panna cotta made with kefir accented by candied orange.

I started the panna cotta next, to give it plenty of time to set. I adapted this recipe for kefir panna cotta to make it, making the vanilla bourbon layer first, then the nutella layer and using the freezer to set one layer before adding the next.

presenting: vanilla bourbon nutella panna cotta with kefir
Next, I cut tomatoes and prepped them for roasting for the roasted tomato marinara sauce for the lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan.

Yes, I used David's Global chef knife. Don't tell him, OK?

After roasting, I combined the ingredients and left them to simmer for most of the afternoon, while babysitting my orange peels.

I made ricotta cheese. It was actually very easy, but I was still absurdly proud of my accomplishment. While the cheese was draining, I made Parmesan meatballs and stuck them in the oven.

I then started on the pasta. We don't have a pasta roller, but I figured a rolling pin would do the job. Wrong. Making pasta without a pasta roller is a real pain. Roll until you think it's thin enough, then keep rolling. And then roll some more. It was still rather thick pasta, but it had a nice texture.

Next, the oven went up to 450 to roast chickpeas.

I discovered the cat loves chickpeas. Just plain out of the can. He goes absolutely bonkers for them.

The lasagna itself is made in the jumbo muffin tin, adapted from this recipe. It makes nicely sized portions that can be frozen and are perfect for leftovers.

As the lasagna cooled, I started the chicken Parmesan nuggets, and prepped the mozzarella zucchini bites, which David declared to be the best zucchini appetizer ever.

Even with the small sizes of the dishes, we had a ton of delicious leftovers all week. At the end of the evening, I was left with a new found appreciation of how difficult it can be to cook from scratch. No wonder lasagna prep used to be an all day event. It really takes all day to make.

My day of cooking really highlighted to me how lucky some of us are to have the luxury of going out to the store and buying those things (if we so choose), and how easily we can take something simple, like pasta, for granted. I never will again.
My arms were sore from rolling out dough for days.

the simplest dish like the concept of lasagna, has an elaborate recipe underpinning


  1. this is the first post of yours where I have been truly frightened for your well-being. Good job!

  2. My crazy graph goes from 0 on the low end up all the way up to Laura at the other.
    Guess which end of the crazy chart you're on?

    Love it though, the world needs more food crazy people. The pictures are awesome! See you can cook and take pictures at the same time.

  3. You guys know me...I'm all about the themes. Sometimes I get a little..carried away. But it all works out in the end.

    You can be frightened when we make poutine. I do not cook alone with pots of hot oil. It's a long story.

  4. Wow -- I'm so impressed! Everything sounds and looks delicious... especially that panna cotta! Desserts just plain ol' scare me!

  5. OUTSTANDING photographs. How you stop to capture such grand looking food is amazing...and I want to know HOW do you make your own Ricotta cheese? This all sounds fabulous & I wish I had a kitchen stocked with all the goodies.

    I've not made my own pasta before but have done noodles for cooking w chicken.

    I also LOVE the idea of putting this in muffin/cupcake tins. I shall try this as well.

    I LOVE your blog.

    p.s. Liked the photos of the notes all over your cabinet:)

  6. Man, you're nuts! But everything looks delicious!!! :)

  7. Thanks guys!

    Lauren--Panna Cotta sounds intimidating, but it's actually really easy. If you can make jello shots--or even just jigglers--you can make panna cotta. And it sounds so sophisticated!

    Sophia, thanks for your kind words. I linked to the ricotta recipe in my post. I followed it exactly. Watch that hot pot though, or you may find it boiling over, like I did.

    Anon, thanks! Every once in a while I get a cooking bee in my bonnet and this one was particularly bad. But it all turned out great!


I try to be honest, fair and keep a good sense of humor in my posts--I would appreciate if you follow the same policy with your comments.