Trying to Please Everyone Some of the Time

Via Quadronno is just about my favorite restaurant in Manhattan. I came across it one day when The Girl was almost 1 year old and I had gone to Zitomer on Madison because I was convinced she needed more duplo. We turned the corner on 73rd Street and there were a couple of little tables and chairs set out in the sun. I sat down (with The Girl in her stroller) and ordered an Il Toast sandwich (grilled ham and cheese) and a bottle of Moretti. I was in heaven, and have returned, (with The Husband, bringing along a friend or having a great cappuccino all by myself) again and again. The Girl used to know it as The Fancy Schamncy Sandwich Shop, but now knows the place by name. The Husband is a fan of their sandwiches too, but I’ve noticed that when he’s in particular need of comfort and cheer he orders their Lasagna Bolognese.

You should see how happy he is when the bubbling hot au gratin dish is brought to the table. It’s a special treat and it comes with a hefty price. That wonderful, rich lasagna goes for $22.00. I’m not kidding. It’s that expensive, and it doesn’t come with a salad or anything—just a little basket of toasted bread slivers. Is it worth it? Well, there are times that Evan would say “yes,” because it is just that good, but you have to really, really want it.

We’ve been trying to live more within our means and are hunkering down with a new austerity plan. Fancy Schamncy East Side cafés cannot be rationalized easily into this scheme. That’s why I decided that I was going to make Lasagna for dinner.

It took about two days. The first day I made the sauce. I decided to go for a modified Bolognese, substituting turkey instead of the ground beef (which I mostly avoid because of food fears), ground veal (which I avoid because I used to live in Berkeley) and ground pork (which I’d buy if I’d thought of it). I haven’t made lasagna in years and years, the last version being a vegetarian edition (I made it in Berkeley over 14 years ago) that called for 21 ingredients. I wanted a much more basic sauce for this lasagna: onion, garlic, the turkey, some mushrooms, a couple of cans of tomatoes (one whole and one crushed because that’s what I had on hand), some oregano, a little thyme, and some salt and pepper. I let it simmer for hours and hours, filling the house with the promise of something good—later.

The next night I assembled and cooked it. Having cut back on the interesting meats, I decided to go for the cheese: fresh whole-milk ricotta (mixed with grated parmesan, fresh basil and an egg) and fresh mozzarella. I found some lasagna pasta like they use at Via Quadronno too. It’s flat and thin, almost like construction-paper thin, so it doesn’t monopolize the whole thing.

I did the layering thing, and baked and baked and baked it, almost 50 minutes in all. In the meantime I blanched and sautéed some broccoli rabe, adding a clove of garlic to the hot oil to add some zing.

Here it was, my gorgeous lasagna! Days in the making! A synergy of economy and epicurianism. Let the compliments begin! The Husband did exactly what a dear partner should do when someone makes something so layered, so time-consuming, so delicious. He savored it, had seconds, and was openly appreciative. The Girl on the other hand…

Who would have guessed that a kid would refuse to eat lasagna? She picked some of the pasta out of it, separating as many of the ingredients on her plate as she could: tomatoes in one section, cheese in another, mushrooms way over there. She did have a good serving of the veggies, but her dissatisfaction was evident. Two thoughts crossed my mind: I’m glad she didn’t order this at Via Quadronno—and poor kid, we’re going to be eating this for days!


Teen mother of teens said...

My face and heart smile to you. Thanks Deb, a wonderful blog from my dear dear friend and chef extraordinaire.
I do love you so....Teen

SF Mom of One said...

Hey, can you make Chicken Kiev? This was the height-of-glamour meal for me when I lived in NYC in the 80s. Working as a teacher, I certainly never dared enter the Russian Tea Room to try it out. (Would have been the food budget for a week, I bet.) I used to walk by a similar "fancy schmancy" place on the West Side with Kiev on the menu, hoping maybe some date would take me there.

The 22 dollar lasagna reminded me of this longing.

PS Why fears over beef but not pork?

Deb St-Claire said...

Isn't chicken kiev the one that has a chicken breast rolled up with a pat of butter inside, floured, egged, bread crumbed, sautéed, and baked. No degree of work there, huh? I get it mixed up with cordon bleu. I made chicken kiev in the '70's (and haven't since).

What was the West Side restaurant???

The beef thing is about mad cow. Pork, for some reason, doesn't give me the same kind of willies. Go figure. :-)

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I haven't lived in NYC since 1984, so $22 for lasagna is just what I'd exect the price would be by now. Glad to hear it's still considered high.

Marcella Hazan has an excellent recipe for Bolognese sauce -- beef with optional pork -- in The Classic Italian cookbook, as you probably already know. The best Bolognese sauce I've had in the US (I've never been to Italy) is at Enoteca in Austin TX.

SF MOM: I went to the Russian Tea Room once in the 70s. All I remember is a long, narrow room decorated in red, and swanky arty people, and a wonderful dessert made of ice cream and whipped cream mixed together.

SF Mom of One said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SF Mom of One said...

On the Kiev:
Yes, pat of butter inside. I think they said if done right, the butter spurts out when you cut it.
Well isn't that decadent?

Deb St-Claire said...

To SF Mom: LOL. Yeah, that's just what I want on my plate, a pool of butter (or worse—on the lens of my glasses!).

jenifer said...

I guess I need to order the lasagna when we meet there. I've made lasagna recently with a mix of red sauce, white sauce (roux) and sausage with non-boil noodles...my friend Lisa's recipe.