Why travel beyond your villa, when you can have an adventure in your own kitchen? At our Writeaway in Italy in the beautiful Villa Cini (between Arezzo and Siena), we explored the language of la cucina as Gabriella and Margareta showed us how to cook the perfect Italian meal:
Primo piatto: Lasagne alle zucchine e fiori
Secondo piatto: Agnello arrosto
And of course, il dolce: Cantuccini, un biscotto Toscana
We began by baking the cantuccini, then prepared the lamb and finished up with the lasagna, as Gabriella, queen of our kitchen, directed.
Cook along with us, below. And remember, the measurements are approximate. Like our nonnas, Gabriella cooks by sight, smell, touch and taste.
Lasagne alle zucchine e fiori
Serves 6, with leftovers
1/2 c. olio (olive oil)
2+ aglio (garlic)
handful of basilica (basil)
10-15 fiore di zucchine (zucchini flowers)
14 small zucchine (zucchini)
sale (salt) to taste
pepe (pepper) to taste
120 g. farina (flour)
120 g. burro (butter)
about ¼ - ½ tsp noce moscata (nutmeg)
4-6 sheets uncooked fresh pasta
¾ - 1 cup freshly grated parmigiana reggiano
1. Remove bottoms of zucchini flowers.
2. Slice zucchini into thin half-coins.
3. In large pan, place olive oil, garlic, basil, zucchini flowers, zucchini, and salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally. (Note: You can also add mushrooms, artichokes and/or asparagus to the vegetables)
4. Melt butter in pot.
5. Stir in flour until mixture bubbles without browning. This should take a couple of minutes. Add milk slowly and bring to boil.
6. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.
7. Lower heat and stir for 2-3 minutes as sauce thickens.
8. Combine vegetables with béchamel sauce.
9. Spread some of the béchamel-vegetable mixture on bottom of pan. Place one sheet of pasta on top of the mixture. Repeat. On third layer add some of the grated parmigiano reggiano. (Note: You can also add buffalo mozzarella at this point if desired.) Continue to layer béchamel-vegetable mixture, pasta sheets and most of the cheese until done.
10. Tuck in any visible noodle edges. Top with remaining parmesan.
11. With a knife or fork, slice through all layers in 5-6 places to allow ingredients to meld.
12. Cover with foil and bake at 180° C (about 350° F) for 35-40 minutes.
13. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
Agnello Arrosto di Gabriella
Gabriella’s Roast Lamb with Rosemary
½ - ¾ c. sale (salt)
¾ tsp. pepe (black pepper)
5 large cloves aglio (garlic), peeled
3-4 pounds agnello (lamb)
4-6 stems rosmarino (rosemary)
1-2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 200° C (about 400° F).
2. Mix salt and pepper together in bowl.
3. Rub garlic onto and into lamb. Sprinkle about ¾ of the salt and pepper mixture over the lamb and rub it in.
4. Remove rosemary leaves from stems and tuck them into the lamb.
5. Place lamb in pan and cover liberally with olive oil until lamb is entirely coated. Sprinkle with remaining sale and pepper mixture. Pour olive oil around the edges of the lamb to coat the bottom of the pan.
6. Cover pan with aluminum foil and place lamb in oven.
7. Cook for about 1 hour 45 minutes until tender.
Cantuccini di Gabriella, un Biscotto Toscana
300 g. farina (flour)
200 g. zucchero (sugar)
3 uova (eggs)
8 g. bicarbonate di sodio (baking soda)
50 g. burro (butter), melted and slightly cooled
150 g raw whole mandorle (almonds)
Large wooden board
Cookie sheet covered with parchment paper
1. Pour flour on board. Spread flour in circle and make a well in the center.
2. Crack two of the eggs in the well. Pour sugar over the eggs. With a fork, beat the eggs and sugar together.
3. Sprinkle baking soda around the edges of the flour ring. Using fork, mix flour and soda into the sugar and egg mixture in the center of the well.
4. Mix in melted butter a little at a time.
5. Use scraper to fold in the rest of the flour. Knead lightly. Add more flour as needed, keeping dough light and loose.
6. In a small bowl, beat a third egg with a fork.
7. Add almonds to dough. Continue kneading until all flour and almonds are incorporated. Add a little more flour if necessary.
8. Divide dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into log, about 1” x 12”. Lay quarters on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
9. Brush dough with beaten egg, covering tops and sides of each log completely.
10. Bake at 180° C (about 350° F) 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
11. Place each cantuccini log on board and cut diagonally into ¾” slices.
12. Placed sliced cantuccini on pan and return to oven for 25-30 minutes.
13. Enjoy with Vin Santo, cappuccino or hot chocolate!
Join us next year when we learn to make pasta from scratch and prepare our own tiramisu!