The Perfect Meal…
Now, I know my Nonno’s lasagna and we really didn’t need much else to go with the meal. I figured a light salad and a vegetable would be plenty. I decided on a salad I saw in one of Giada De Laurentiis’s cookbooks, her Italian Caesar Salad. I am in love with this salad. I love everything about it…the dressing, the sundried tomatoes, the pine nuts…heaven. I have never made the polenta croutons but I can only imagine what that would add to an already delicious salad.
My family’s lasagna is a classic. I’m really not sure who started making it this way, but it’s the same lasagna we’ve been eating for as far back as I can remember. Now, normally, we eat lasagna on Christmas, well at least for the last several years…but this past year, my family had an unusual holiday, lots of illness – nothing serious – but enough to make it a very quiet holiday with no visiting. I know my grandfather could not wait to make this for Easter since we missed out on it in December.
(you may not be able to tell by the picture, but this lasagna had to be at least 30lbs, maybe more. I’m not kidding…my cute grandpa likes to make sure we are fed well so he used a very large roasting pan to make his lasagna…it took at least 2 hours to cook!! And I have lots of leftovers in the freezer!)
The lasagna is made like most traditional lasagnas…layers of noodles, ricotta, parmesan, ground beef and sauce. But added to the layers in our family lasagna are peas and chopped hard boiled eggs. It may sound unusual, but it is absolutely delicious.
As far as I am concerned, you can’t have pasta and salad without good bread. I finally got the courage to try making my own bread using the famous Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day Master Recipe. Wow, I am not only proud of myself for slowly getting over my fear of working with yeast, but am so shocked at how wonderfully easy this was to make!! If I can do it…anyone can do it.
Here is the complete recipe for the salad, but I’ll tell ya, I made mine simply by tossing chopped romaine, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, and dressing, then topping with the shaved Parmesan cheese.
Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian
3 garlic cloves
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups Basic Polenta, recipe follows
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
3 small heads (or2 large heads) romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 1/2 ounces shaved Parmesan
To make the dressing: Finely chop the garlic and anchovies in a food processor. Blend in the lemon juice and mustard. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Season the dressing, to taste, with salt and pepper.
To make the croutons: Spread the olive oil over a small baking sheet. Transfer the hot polenta to the baking sheet, spreading evenly to form an 8 by 5 by 3/4-inch-thick rectangle. Cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
Cut the polenta into 3/4-inch cubes. Pat the polenta cubes dry with paper towels. Add enough vegetable oil to a heavy large frying pan to come 1-inch up the sides of the pan. Heat the oil over high heat. Working in batches of 10, carefully add the polenta cubes to the oil 1 at a time and fry until golden brown, stirring to keep the cubes separate, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the polenta croutons to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
(The dressing and polenta croutons can be prepared 1 day ahead up to this point. Cover the dressing and polenta croutons separately and refrigerate. Rewarm the polenta croutons on a baking sheet in a 350 degrees F oven before serving.)
To make the salad: Prepare the barbecue for high heat. Grill the lettuce until lightly charred, about 2 minutes per side. Cut the lettuce into bite-size pieces.
On a serving platter, mound the grilled chopped lettuce. Decoratively scatter the sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Drizzle with enough dressing to evenly coat. Sprinkle Parmesan and scatter the warm polenta croutons over and serve immediately.
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.
Lightly oil a half sheet pan. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly to 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
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