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Using Their Noodles

At Enoteca Maria restaurant on Staten Island, Italian American grandmas do the cooking. Here, three of those nonnas engage in a friendly foodie debate

Christopher Testani

Scalici, Vigorito and Turano in the restaurant's kitchen.

En español | Rosaria Vigorito: I grew up in central Italy, and in my house, it wouldn't be Christmas Day without lasagna. I layer my pasta with a meaty tomato sauce and at least five cheeses: the traditional ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella, of course — but then also pecorino Romano, fontina and whatever else strikes me.

Rosa Turano: So much cheese! That's not real Italian.

Vigorito: We like it rich!

Turano: In the north, where I'm from, we don't use ricotta or mozzarella. The star of my lasagna is the sauce: true Bolognese made with beef, veal, pork and red wine, plus a whole cup of milk, to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. I mix it with thick white béchamel and spread it on the noodles, making lots of thin layers. It's very light, not bogged down with gooey cheese.

Teresa Scalici: Well, my lasagna was voted best on Staten Island, and I don't use béchamel or extra cheeses — just the classic ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella. I roll out my pasta dough and cut it by hand, as my grandmother in Sicily taught me. Some southern Italians stick meatballs or hard-boiled eggs in their lasagna, but not me. Where I get creative is with my tomato sauce, made with beef, prosciutto and speck [cured bacon], plus eggplant, mushrooms and any other vegetables that look good that day. It's quicker to make than slow-cooked Bolognese, and it's authentic because, the truth is, lasagna has always been a place to hide leftovers. Italians hate to waste food.

Vigorito: I'll tell you a secret — I love to make fresh pasta, but I prefer to use no-boil noodles for my lasagna.

Turano: Yes, they're fantastic. Tradition is precious, but it can't hurt to improve on it.

Christopher Testani

Baked pasta sheets layered with a ragu of ground beef, eggplant, spicy sausage, mushroom and peas with a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheese.

Lasagna With Meat, 3 Cheeses, Eggplant, Asparagus and Peas

Serves 12

By Teresa Scalici


10 tablespoons olive oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt

½  teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pound lean ground beef

3 medium Italian eggplants (about 2 ¼ pounds), peeled and diced

½  pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

10 thin asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

5 paper-thin prosciutto crudo (cured, ready-to-eat) slices, cut into small pieces

5 thin speck (cured bacon) slices, cut into small pieces

1 cup whole-milk ricotta

1 pound mozzarella, shredded

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

16 dried lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

How to Make

  1. Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in large pot set over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook until it begins to brown, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring often, about 5 minutes.

  2. Pass hot sauce through food mill and into large bowl. Ladle 1 cup of sauce into small bowl; pour remainder into pot. Cover bowl; set aside.

  3. Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in large skillet over medium heat; add ground beef. Cook, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain off fat. Add beef to sauce in pot.

  4. Warm 2 more tablespoons of oil in skillet. Add eggplants; cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Drain off oil. Stir eggplants into sauce.

  5. Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in skillet. Add mushrooms; cook, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Drain off oil; stir mushrooms into sauce.

  6. Warm remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in skillet. Add asparagus; cook, stirring often, until bright green, about 4 minutes. Drain off oil; stir asparagus into sauce.

  7. Stir peas, prosciutto and speck into sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to low; simmer gently, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

  8. Position rack in center of oven; heat oven to 350°F. Mix 3 cheeses in a bowl.

  9. To assemble: Ladle ¾ cup of tomato-beef sauce into small saucepan; cover; keep warm. Spread ½ cup of sauce over bottom of 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Overlap 4 lasagna noodles in dish; spread with third of sauce; top with quarter of cheeses. Repeat to make 2 more layers. Top with remaining noodles, plain tomato sauce in small bowl and remaining cheeses.

  10. Bake 30 minutes. Let cool. Bring reserved tomato-beef mixture to a simmer. To serve, cut lasagna into squares. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of sauce over each helping.

Nutrients per serving: 580 calories, 36g protein, 49g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 27g fat, 73mg cholesterol, 1,268mg sodium

Christopher Testani

New Year’s Eve Meal Italian Style: Cotechini and Lentils

Cotechini and Lentils

Serves 8

By Rosa Turano


2 cotechini (Italian pork sausages, about 14 ounces each)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 medium carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups small brown lentils (preferably Castelluccio), rinsed

½ cup tomato paste

4½ cups beef broth 

How to Make

  1. Place sausages in large pot, add cold water to depth of 2 inches above them, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until tender, about 2 hours.

  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in oil in large saucepan set over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until onion softens, about 7 minutes. Add lentils; stir well. Stir in tomato paste until it coats every lentil. Pour in broth, then cover. Reduce heat; simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Set aside, off heat, covered, to keep lentil mixture warm as sausages cook.

  3. Transfer sausages to large cutting board; let them cool for 10 minutes. Remove casings from sausages and cut them into 1-inch-thick rounds. Spoon and spread lentil mixture onto large platter; top with cotechini.

Nutrients per serving: 460 calories, 24g protein, 38g carbohydrates, 13g fiber, 24g fat, 43mg cholesterol, 938mg sodium

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