Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy
Mary Ann's newest book contains over 150 recipes, 60 gorgeous food photos, and many scenic pictures of Italy taken by Mary Ann on her travels through the years.
I have spent a good part of the last few years translating a fourteenth-century manuscript on Italian food of the Renaissance called Libro della Cucina del Secolo XIV. One of the recipes in the book is for laganum, or lasagna.
The sauce called for inspired me to create this lasagna bianche, very light-tasting lasagna. The recipe makes enough for a crowd. This also freezes beautifully, so you can bake one pan and freeze the other for another meal.
1 cup pine nuts
6 10-ounce packages fresh or frozen spinach, thawed if frozen
6 cups ricotta cheese
5 large eggs
6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 cups diced mozzarella cheese (about 3/4 pound)
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 pound prosciutto, diced
2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
8 cups milk
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh sage
1 recipe Handmade Pasta
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
To make the filling, preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
If using fresh spinach, remove the stems and wash it. Place it in a large dry pot, cover, and cook over medium-high heat until it is wilted, about 4 minutes. Drain in a colander. Squeeze out the excess moisture and chop fine. If using frozen spinach, squeeze out the excess moisture and chop fine.
In a large bowl, combine the spinach and pine nuts. Beat in the eggs. Then add all the remaining filling ingredients, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the sauce, in a large saucepan, scald the milk (bring to just under a boil.) Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in the milk, salt, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Then cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the sage. Cover to keep warm.
Cut the pasta dough into 4 pieces. Work with 1 piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp towel. Roll out the dough through a pasta machine to the second-finest setting, or roll it out on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut the sheets of dough into 3-X-6-inch strips and lay them flat on clean towels.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the lasagna strips a few at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, or until al dente. Drain them on a towel.
Spread 1/2 cup of the white sauce over the bottom of a 9-X-13-inch pan. Cover with a layer of lasagna strips and spread about 2 cups of the filling over the lasagna. Spoon on a thin layer of sauce. Repeat two more times, and top with a layer of lasagna. Spread 1 cup of sauce over the lasagna, sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the cheese, and cover with foil. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to fill another pan. Bake 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.