Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mom’s Lasagnas

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Mom’s Lasagnas

This dish (really dishes: the recipe is for both meat and veggie lasagna) is not for the faint of heart; they cost more than $125 dollars in ingredients alone (for 2 hefty size lasagnas) and take about 3 days to make. It goes without saying that when in doubt, buy the better product because the end result is simply better. In my family, there is a long tradition of lasagna for Christmas dinner and this recipe was bequeathed to me by my mother about 15 years ago. For the sake of space, as well as maintaining my mother’s secret recipe, I will only discuss in general terms the recipes. The key to lasagnas is layers; lots and lots of layers.

We have no fewer than 5 noodle layers in each lasagna. I have discovered through the years that no boil lasagna noodles are key; they keep the lasagnas from getting gloppy. Don’t get me wrong, De Cecco pasta still rocks, but if you can find a good no boil noodle, do it. It saves a cooking step and the final product is better. De Cecco does make a no boil, but it is virtually impossible to find.

A really good marinara is vitally important; one can cheat by getting a #10 can of Contadina marinara. The key is to add red pepper flakes, chopped sun dried tomatoes, and to thin it with water; the lasagnas take forever to cook and will need the moisture for the process. I’ve had lots of homemade marinara (frozen) on hand the past few years, so have used this, along with imported canned whole plum tomatoes to make my marinara. Set aside three cups of marinara for topping; topping is a béchamel sauce with set aside marinara sauce added.

We mix creamed spinach, ricotta, parm/romano, and lots of fresh grated nutmeg together for the ricotta mixture; it should be highly seasoned with the cheese.

Meat lasagna layers consist of the following: homemade Italian meatballs (cut up into eighths), Italian sausage, thinly sliced soprasetta, mushroom mixture, provolone and fontina cheeses (thinly sliced), parm/romano, marinara, and ricotta mixture. Top with topping (obviously). Meat eater swears topping is what makes the lasagnas. Ingredients listed are not in recipe order.

For veggie lasagna the layers are: wild mushroom mixture (sautéed wild mushrooms, portabellas, head of roasted garlic), spinach mixture (just wilted fresh spinach with lots of shallots), fontina, provolone, parm/romano, ricotta, topping. Once again, ingredients are not listed in recipe specific order.

They take forever to cook; we allowed two hours for Christmas and still ran 45 minutes late. You need deep dish foil roasting pans; the kind you use for a 15 lb turkey; we nearly had a crisis as we had only one pan on Christmas eve (strangely enough, the Dollar Store in Joelton had the highly prized pans on hand). Each pan is about 10 pounds; we love to freeze portioned out bits in Ziplocs and have it once the winter blahs set it. It is a great holiday meal in the sense that all of the hard work can be done days in advance; just be prepared for it to take longer to cook than anticipated. Kick back with a kick ass bottle of Super Tuscan wine and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Castrillo’s Pizza

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Castrillo’s Pizza
1404 McGavock Pike

Every neighborhood should have a good pizza joint. That means a place that is not a chain. It means pizza with a unique style and a couple of other specialties to boot. A friend who lives in Inglewood tipped us off to Castrillo’s a while back and this has been the first time we’ve had a chance to check it out. Castrillo’s is located at McGavock near Riverside. They have a fairly large dining room, but on a recent Friday it was the take-out business which kept the phone ringing off the hook. This neighborhood really appreciates their pizza joint.

And for good reason: Castrillo’s serves decent pizza. The crust can come in thick or thin. We ordered thick and it is really more like the normal crust at most places, a bit doughy but with a crisp brown bottom. Castrillo’s kicks it up in the flavor department with lots of garlic and butter on the crust. We ordered the Magnificent Greek, which comes with feta, spinach, olives, more garlic and no sauce. It’s a good za. Next time the meat eater needs to branch out to sample the Bird (chicken and turkey) Flamethrower (peppers, pepperoni and Italian sausage) or the Hawaiian (bacon, ham, pineapple).

We also got a stromboli, which is a cousin of the calzone, but without the ricotta cheese. The vegetarian was good, loaded up with mushrooms, onion, olives, banana peppers and green peppers. There was nothing amazing about the crust. Still, it’s really nice to see a Nashville pizza place serving strombolis. They also have standard sub varieties, wings, pasta dishes, bread sticks and cheese bread.

Veggie Eater: I’m more of a New York style pizza girl and found both the pizza and the Stromboli to be too doughy. Our marriage has withstood an ongoing conflict for years; he likes Chicago style pizzas and I want mine on a paper thin crust. Crust can be crisp or floppy, but it must be thin. I don’t want all of that bread to get in the way of the other ingredients. The spinach on the Greek pizza was great; thick with garlic. I’ll try again, order a small just for myself, and sample the thin crust to see if I like it better.

Meat Eater: Ah, what I wouldn’t give for a Boston pizza joint with real Boston steak and cheese. Lannae did tip us off to a place that comes close on the pizza end. That will be our next pizza stop down the road. We spent $25 with tax and two drinks at Castrillo’s. Publish a comment if you have a favorite neighborhood pizza joint you think we should try.

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