Indulging in Italy

For me, it’s nearly impossible to think about traveling in Italy without getting hungry—and the unbelievable variety of regional Italian cuisine goes far beyond what you’ll find served on red-checkered tablecloths at your local “red sauce” restaurant. To give us a true taste of Italy, I asked Grand Circle Program Director Giulio Passariello to share some of his favorite recipes: A unique take on lasagna and a hearty (and healthy) whole-grain soup.


Lasagne with Artichokes & Mushrooms

There are nearly as many recipes for lasagna as there are home cooks in Italy—and nearly as many home cooks in Italy as there are Italians! You might be wondering where the red sauce is in this recipe, but trust us: You won’t miss it. Lasagna with béchamel sauce is a rich, creamy concoction that’ll melt in your mouth … and this version is vegetarian, too.

Ingredients:

1 9oz. package lasagna noodles
Two handfuls (about 2 cups) dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water until soft
2 Tbs., plus 4 1/2 Tbs. butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 8oz. packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and coarsely chopped
4 1/2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup, plus 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper
Ground nutmeg

Preparation
  1. In a large skillet, melt 2 tbs. butter over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until softened and golden, about 5 minutes. Add artichokes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook another two minutes and add the mushrooms.
  2. Par-cook lasagna noodles to package instructions (unless using fresh or no-boil noodles). Set aside to dry on a kitchen towel.
  3. Make a béchamel sauce by melting the remaining butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and a tiny pinch of grated nutmeg.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°.
  5. Spread béchamel to cover the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Cover béchamel with a layer of noodles. Spread 1/4 of artichoke/mushroom mixture over noodles. Cover with 2/3-cup of béchamel. Sprinkle with parmesan.
  6. Repeat layering 3 more times, topping with a layer of noodles and the remaining béchamel. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan.
  7. Cover lasagna in foil and bake for about 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until golden on top (about 10 minutes more).

Serves: 8


Garfagnana-Style Farro Soup

Situated in a beautiful, mountainous region of Tuscany, Garfagnana is known for its production of farro—a versatile hulled wheat grain that is especially delicious in soups. It has a nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture (though if you prefer it less chewy, simply simmer it longer). You can find farro in health-food and specialty grocery stores—but if you can’t track it down, this soup is also delicious with pearl barley, which takes about the same amount of time to cook.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup farro, rinsed
3/4 cup dried red borlotti or white cannellini beans, soaked overnight
5 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 Tbs. tomato paste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation
  1. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion, carrot, and celery until softened (about 10 minutes). Stir in the tomato paste. When combined, stir in farro and add water to cover. Bring water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered, until farro is softened (about 40 minutes), adding more water if the liquid absorbs too quickly.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring beans and 6 cups of water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until beans are softened (about 30 minutes). Remove cooked beans from pot and reserve cooking water.
  3. Puree about half of the cooked beans in a food processor. Add the pureed beans, along with the beans left whole, back into the reserved cooking water.
  4. When farro is fully cooked, add entire contents of pot to the beans. Simmer completed soup for around 20 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves: 6