Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The dream which woke the woman

The Wall
Expulsion from the Garden by Thomas Cole

by Donald Justice

The wall surrounding them they never saw;
The angels, often. Angels were as common
As birds or butterflies, but looked more human.
As long as the wings were furled, they felt no awe.
Beasts, too, were friendly. They could find no flaw
In all of Eden: this was the first omen.
The second was the dream which woke the woman.
She dreamed she saw the lion sharpen his claw.
As for the fruit, it had no taste at all.
They had been warned of what was bound to happen.
They had been told of something called the world.
They had been told and told about the wall.
They saw it now; the gate was standing open.
As they advanced, the giant wings unfurled.

If you count the lines, you know this is a sonnet; and if you studied poetry it's clear this is an Italian one. I had to be told, myself, but ignorance about sonnets don't keep me from enjoying one!

It's gorgeous, isn't it? . . . and printed in a book of Donald Justice poems sent by my kind brother. I learned the fourteen lines while swimming laps at the Y, during a dark year when I felt the particular need for an angel. I typed the poem, tucked it in a plastic sheet, and laid it on the concrete rim of the pool. The music of each line carried me through the water, and I had the perfect excuse to stop often, slip off my goggles, and fill my mind with beautiful language and imagery (and the shouts of the nearby swim team) instead of Sharp and Threatening Thoughts. Voila! Angel.

If you ever have Sharp and Threatening Thoughts, here is one sure way to get rid of them: find an Italian sonnet. And if none are available (or even if one is), you should cook the most authentic Italian lasagna. 

Even better--go swimming first. Swimming on a chilly March day makes you very hungry and happy to be in the world.


Lasagna Bolognese

3 cups flour (I use 1 cup semolina flour and 2 cups all-purpose, unbleached)
5 eggs, room temperature

Sift flours together into a mound on a clean, cold surface. Make a well in the center, then break the eggs into the well. Stir the eggs with a fork to combine the whites and yolks, and gradually bring flour from the edge of the well into the eggs. Continue combining the mix. When dough becomes stiff, knead flour and eggs with your hands until the dough no longer feels sticky. Form it into a loaf shape and wrap it in plastic. Clean the surface and your hands.

Fix the pasta machine to the counter and unwrap the dough. Cut it into 5 or 6 equal pieces and re-wrap all but the piece you are ready to use. Knead the piece until the dough feels pliant, 1 to 2 minutes. Flatten it a bit so it will fit through the wide-set roller of the machine. Feed pasta through the roller 3 or 4 times, folding and turning it each time until it begins to get smooth, flat, and long.

Begin decreasing the settings and rolling the pasta through each one, until you get a satiny, flattened, long lasagna "noodle" that fits easily through the tightest roller setting; the noodle might be 2 feet long. Set it on a rack or between damp towels; it will get sticky as it rests. Continue rolling the rest of the dough in the same way.

You can run into trouble if you decrease the settings too quickly; but if that happens, re-wrap the dough and try again with another piece. This gets a lot easier with practice.

I don't boil the noodles before baking them--this is complicated enough!--but some people do.  

Bolognese meat sauce:
sauce underway; the vegetables make a "soffrito"
1 white onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground beef; sirloin is really good
1 lb. ground pork; I've learned the hard way, sausage is too oily
4 oz. pancetta, chopped
2 chicken livers, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup whole milk
1 15-oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth, or Better Than Broth dissolved in 3 cups hot water

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot and add meats and vegetables. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the ground meat with a wooden spoon until it is well browned, about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Add wine and bring to a very soft boil, scraping the bottom of the pot often, about 2 minutes. Add milk and bring just to a scald, then reduce heat and simmer until it seems to need more liquid. Add tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer. Add water it if looks dry. You can leave it to cook for half the day if you want to, but a half hour is also good.

White sauce:
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/8 to 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 cups whole milk, room temp
nutmeg to taste

White sauce is a delicate operation for me. Melt the butter over low heat and stir in the flour little by little, with a small wire whisk, to make a roux. When it is smooth and before it begins to brown, add milk gently, one slow cup at a time. Keep stirring as it begins to thicken. If it seems to resist thickening, whisk in a very little more flour, very gently, stirring until smooth. Add the nutmeg and salt to taste. Don't let it stay on the heat . . . it burns easily!

To layer:
parmesan cheese, grated fine

Prepare a baking dish (9x13 works well, or I use a slightly smaller casserole) with a good spray of Pam or with a light coating of olive oil. Line the bottom of the dish with a layer of noodles, trimming pasta sheets with a knife. It's okay to patch. You want a single layer.

Spread this layer of pasta with a cup of Bolognese sauce, then sprinkle lightly with parmesan. Add another layer of pasta, and spread this with a cup of Bolognese and then a cup of white sauce. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan. Repeat layers, ending with Bolognese sauce and a final sprinkling of parmesan. I get five to seven layers when I made this. If you have Bolognese left over, save it for another wonderful meal.

Bake at 350 degrees on a rimmed baking sheet until lasagna begins to brown on top, about 1 hour. If you have time, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. And you know what? it's even better on the second day.
Magnifico! when are you coming over??

if you swim another lap . . . what the heck, you can have another piece

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