We continue with our 2012 Olympic food challenge in Italy. I like (love) Italian food. Whenever I can’t think of anything to eat, Italian is the second thing that comes to mind – Mexican food being the first. On my bucket list is a trip to Tuscany. The scenery and the food and the art sound like my sort of place. In the meantime I learn a little about Italy, listen to opera, and eat Italian when I can. A new Italian Bistro is opening in my neighborhood. I plan to sample a few dishes. Red Mountain – can’t wait, Chef Jason.
A little bit of Olympic information concerning the Italians including their flag. The flag is of course important to every nation. Italy’s flag design was inspired by that of the French flag which was brought to Italy by Napoleon in 1797. The colors are those of Milan – red and white – combined with the green uniform color of the Milanese civic guard.
They have earned 522 medals with 190 Gold, 158 Silver and 174 Bronze. Italians are champion fencers but also pick up medals in cycling and athletics.
The cuisine in Italy as well as the wines are different from the North to the South and the east and west coasts. Northern Italy has polenta in place of a lot of the pasta, fish is important in that region as well as beef, veal, and pork. Southern cuisine focus is on pasta, tomatoes, rich dark green vegetables, cheese, lamb, seafood and herbs.
Where did lasagna originate? Italy, of course. Not so! Lasagna originated in Etheopia. The Italians attempted to take over Etheopia, but they failed. The one thing they did take away from Etheopia and began to call their own is Lasagna. True story!! I’m glad to know that little bit of history because every Italian restaurant I eat in has lasagna on the menu and it is my favorite. I love the Bechamel sauce, cheeses and marinara sauce combo. It is rich, spicy and so comforting. These roll ups have all the flavor combinations I like, but are a quick meal to prepare and serve your family or a group watching the games. Serve this with a huge bowl of salad and some Espresso ice cream with Amoretti cookies crumbled on the top is a great meal.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch ground nutmeg
Lasagna Roll Filling:
- 1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup mushrooms diced
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting water
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 12 uncooked lasagna noodles
- 2 cups or more marinara sauce – jar or homemade*
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 4 ounces)
To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Increase the heat to medium-high. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a simmer and is thick and smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk the salt, pepper, and nutmeg into the Bechamel sauce. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450°.
Whisk the ricotta, mushrooms, 1 cup Parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Add 1/3 cup of the marinara sauce to this. (I like a little of the taste of the sauce in the cheese.)
I used an egg slicer to slice the mushrooms. I remove the stems and slice in one direction. Then carefully holding the mushroom together I turn it 90 degrees and slice it the other direction. A quick run of the knife through them is the perfect size for this roll.
Add a tablespoon or 2 of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water. Boil the noodles until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Arrange the noodles in a single layer on a baking sheet to prevent them from sticking.
Butter a glass baking dish large enough to place the rolls. (9X13”) Pour the Bechamel sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish.
Lay out the lasagna noodles on a work surface, then spread a large spoonful (about 3 tablespoons worth) of ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle. (had to use my fingers to get this spread evenly) Starting at 1 end, roll each noodle like a jelly roll. Lay the lasagna rolls seam side down, without touching, atop the Bechamel sauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and ricotta mixture.
Spoon some marinara sauce over the lasagna rolls. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the lasagna rolls. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until heated through and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining marinara sauce in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until hot, and serve alongside.
*I make my own sauce and it has been featured previously as Spicy Spaghetti Sauce on this blog. I use this for almost every red Italian sauce I cook. I always have some in the freezer ready to use at an insane “craving Italian” moment.
Now make your own Italian dinner and celebrate the Olympics.