On lords, layers, and lunches. With a recipe for lasagne with radicchio and taleggio.
Once upon a time, in my unenlightened days, some doughnut told me that, in Italian, ‘lasagne’ means ‘layers’. You can sort of see why I might have believed this: the nice strata of pasta are, to state the blindingly obvious, the most characteristic thing about the dish.
However, hoping to impress Giulia with this fact, I was disappointed to have her laugh in my face. I was a little embarrassed when she told Rosa and Giuliano this, who again laughed in my face. Embarrassment turned to a resigned acceptance of my ignorance — a bit like my incident with the cacio e pepe — when Lina, having also been informed, did exactly the same thing.
If you, like me, have been dwelling in the cave of culinary cretinousness, let me lead you out into the sun with four easy words: lasagne doesn’t mean layers. (Maybe it was, in fact, only me that actually thought that.) However, my compatriots, nor is it something that should simply be stuffed with ‘vegetables’.
Anyway, there I am again in Lina’s house in Piacenza. My blood pressure, this time, is through the roof after a heavy night. We’d driven — or Giulia had driven, and I’d slept — from Milan to have thrust in our faces an exceptional, yet not hugely welcome, glass of prosecco.
Lovelily enough, a large meal immediately followed — the sort of Italian lunch I’d never previously had the chance to enjoy. And which I never really feel I quite deserve. A starter of pumpkin and gorgonzola, a lasagne of radicchio and taleggio, and a wonderfully creamy fruity thing to finish that the endless wine now clouds.
Better than a can of beans on toasted Hovis anyway.
I would have slept well already, but Lina poured me — unrequested, but not this time unwelcomed — a glass of homemade amaro. And having been distinctly unsober — through no fault of my own — for nearly twenty-four hours, the logical thing to do was to sit down and to discuss the House of Lords.
Since, it’s become my favourite lasagne — but it took me a couple of goes to get it right.
It’s not the easiest dish to put together in Scotland — where both taleggio and radicchio are fairly hard to come by. But it’s absolute worth hunting them down.
Watch out for the type of radicchio you find. At Lina’s we ate radicchio di Treviso (or just trevisano). In the UK, this is quite a pricey delicacy. What you’ll more commonly find is the radicchio di Chioggia — which is round, a deep maroon colour, and fiercely bitter.
You want it to be creamy and flavourful, but with the bitterness and sweetness of the radicchio coming through. The key to this is a generous quantity of bechamel. Rosa gave me a workshop on this dish recently — and this is where I’d been going wrong.
- 2 heads of radicchio
- 50 grams of butter
- 50 grams of flour
- 250 ml of milk
- 300 grams of taleggio
- Fresh lasagne sheets (or dry ones, if fresh ones aren’t easily found)
- Salt, pepper, olive oil
- OPTIONAL: 100 grams of smoked cheese — preferably scamorza affumicata
- Chop the radicchio first and wilt it in a pan. It will reduce dramatically.
- Then, prepare a bechamel with the butter, flour, and milk. Keep whisking all the way to keep it from lumping up.
- When it’s nice and creamy, add the taleggio in pieces, waiting for each few lumps to melt before adding the next.
- Now, the construction — my favourite part. Drizzle some of the bechamel on the bottom of a large oven dish (you know what lasagne looks like — so find an appropriate one) — along with some oil. Cover the bottom of the tray.
- On top of this, place the lasagne sheets, and then the radicchio. Cover this with the bechamel, some oil, some salt and pepper, and the scamorza if you are using it.
- Repeat the process.