We promised you recipes, right? Our first one is associated with a trip we often take on Saturday mornings. A short one. Just across town to the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market.
For our first recipe, our criteria were that it be:
- A house favourite (we’ve been making this since 1985)
- Seasonal (tomatoes!)
- Adapted from a great chef’s recipe (Giuliano Bugialli’s)
- A little unusual (green lasagna with a delicate lightness: no meat or eggs in the stuffing)
Along with the three Ms of Italian cooking—Caterina de’ Medici, Marcella Hazan and Mario Batali—there’s another name I’d add to the list, Giuliano Bugialli. Born and raised in Florence, he won Italy’s prestigious Caterina de’ Medici award in 1980 for his contribution to Italian cooking. I’d never heard his name until under the Christmas tree in 1985 there it was on the cover of the first cookbook Magellan gave me, Giuliano Bugialli’s Foods of ITALY. Remember how extravagantly beautiful cookbooks were in those days? This one has a large format, grand full-page photos on clay-rich paper (it was printed in Japan) and at least half-a-dozen recipes that are household favourites.
My favourite fruit, the “love apple.” And with the intense heat this year, they’re ready early and our favourite vendor “Milan the Tomato Man” has had Saturdays with no ration on his Sungolds at the Trout Lake Market!
For years, Milan Djordevich, owner of Stoney Paradise farm southeast of Kelowna, has been taking his tomatoes (and other produce like skinny French green beans, garlic and flavourful grapes) on a 4½-hour trip to Vancouver’s farmers’ markets and best restaurants. I remember the day Milan brought pictures of his newly born daughter to the market; now she’s a teenager. “I got top marks in math, dad,” she reminded Milan when he questioned her addition as Magellan handed over a wad of bills. Stoney Paradise, high on a bench overlooking Lake Djordjevich, was developed by his parents and has been certified organic since 1997. Before he took it over, Milan trained as an architect and several years back, he tried film school for a break. Thank goodness, he returned to his roots.
His wit is as bright as his Cascade tomatoes that we use for this recipe. A few weeks ago, the customer lineup at Milan’s stall was so long at the opening bell that I left tomato buying until the last. My cash reduced, I had to calculate what combination of tomatoes I could buy. “Because of you I’m down to my last loonie,” I said to Milan. “It’s a service I like to provide,” he said, flashing his mischievous grin.
Firm orbs of crimson, Milan’s Cascades tomatoes are the size of big Red Heart plums. Their sugar- to-acid ratio balances perfectly. He says the ones in September are “firmer and I think, better. They’re really hard when I get to use them in November,” a reminder of the long, hard hours a farmer toils.
Giuliano calls for a stove-top tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes. But my preference is to slow roast Milan’s Cascades, deepening and caramelizing their natural sweetness. It’s as easy as making a sauce and you won’t have seeds and skins if you put your roasted tomatoes through a food mill—one of my favourite kitchen appliances. The only drawback is slow roasting tomatoes is, you guessed it—a slow, three-hour process you need to plan for. However, as a drawback it’s minor as it can be done days in advance.
We increase the original recipe’s amount of tomato sauce by 50%, add more basil leaves, grate the mozzarella and Magellan has his own method for layering the pasta.
- 2 kg (4 pounds) ripe, red tomatoes, cut in half
- 4 big cloves of garlic, slivered
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
- 3¼ cups unbleached all-purpose organic flour
- 2 extra-large free-range eggs
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon of boiled spinach, finely chopped and squeezed dry (you’ll need about 3 ounces or about 100g of fresh spinach to get this amount)
- Pinch of salt
- A 500 gram tub (or 16 ounces) of ricotta cheese
- 4 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 250 grams (8 ounces) grated whole-milk mozzarella mixed with a little salt and freshly ground pepper
- 24 large basil leaves
- Put the tomatoes cut side up on a cookie tray.
- Spread the garlic, thyme, olive oil and sherry vinegar on top of the tomatoes. Roast for about 3 hours at 275°until they caramelize and darken but are still juicy. (You can do this a few days in advance. Put the tomatoes through a food mill using the disc with the smallest holes to remove the seeds and skins. (If you don't have a food mill, use a food processor or blender.) The sauce freezes well, so I make double batches.
- Put the flour and spinach in a food processor. Whisk together the eggs, olive oil, salt, and about ¼ cup water in a bowl. Slowly add the egg mixture through the funnel of the food processor onto the flour and process until it is dense and close to forming a ball, adding a little water if it seems dry. Remove the mixture and knead for 4-5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
- Mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
- Generously oil a baking pan, about 13½" - x 8¾ "- inch pan in size. (A Le Creuset baking pan works nicely.)
- Using a pasta machine, roll out your dough as thin as you can (#7) and following a chef’s trick, stretch it a bit, too.
- Cut the pasta into rectangles a little shorter than the width of your baking dish as the pasta stretches as it cooks. You should have 14 pieces.
- Have a bowl of ice water to which you've added little olive oil ready. Lay out a few kitchen towels.
- Precook the pasta rectangles in salted boiling water for about 15 seconds, then plunge them into the ice water.
- Lay out 2 rectangles of pasta to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with one-third of the tomato sauce. Arrange eight basil leaves on top of the tomato sauce so each serving will have a leaf. Add another layer of pasta and cover with one-half of the ricotta mixture. Add a third layer of pasta and top with one-half of the mozzarella. Repeat this pattern: pasta, tomato sauce and basil, pasta, ricotta mixture, pasta, mozzarella and pasta ending with the tomato sauce and the last eight pieces of basil on top.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 375° for 25 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
When serving this lasagna at Casa Magellan and Spice, we like to start with an appie of fennel sausage sliced thin and oven baked (to crisp it) alongside plump green olives and a crusty bread lightly toasted on the grill. We follow the lasagna with a green salad and end with a fruit-forward dessert, like the poached peach and almond tart in Cooking for Mr Latte by Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food 52.
Having grown up on a farm in Saskatchewan with a mother who canned, pickled, froze and baked and at 86 still works three garden plots, and a farm-and-garden-to-table grandmother whose home cooking was so renowned she had drop-ins every day, I’m grateful to farmers like Milan who are unearthing produce with real taste and delivering it with panache.
Bugialli, Giuliano. Giuliano Bugialli’s Foods of ITALY. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1984, p 102-103. A really good cookbook to own, the source of our favourite recipes for ossobuco, poached pears with chocolate sauce, orange sformato and marinated pomegranates.
UPDATE: Giuliano died on April 26, 2019. Here’s an obit from the New York Times about his life.
Check out Giuliano’s other books and the cooking classes he offers in a fifteenth-century farmhouse in Tuscany.
Milan Djordevich What can I say? In Japan, he might be considered a National Treasure.
Hesser, Amanda. “Poached Peach and Almond Tart,”Cooking for Mr. Latte. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003, p 310-313.