It was about this time of the year. Last December we started scribbling down the project of a studio on a piece of yellow paper during a dinner in a local trattoria. We didn’t pay much attention to the food nor to the surrounding noisy tables. We were focused on a dream, or better, a project. It had measures, estimated costs, a rough time schedule and a crammed Pinterest board for inspiration. We had a starting point, the modern heart of the studio, a red, 90cm large, six burner Bertazzoni stove with an electric oven.
Bertazzoni, the first sponsor of the Studio, gave us to option to choose what would suit us better and we opted for a grand oven where I could easily roast a Thanksgiving turkey for a bunch of American friends, for 6 burners, so that during my cooking classes I could juggle in between pots of boiling water, saucepans of simmering sauces and pans where I would sauté seasonal vegetables.
If we debated about the electric oven and the number of burners for quite some time, Tommaso and I agreed at once on the colour, a warm, deep, rich burgundy red, a fully durable, double layer coating using the latest processes developed for the automobile industry. This is what Tommaso mentions every time during cooking classes, proud to host in his studio a stove which has been painted with the same method used for a sports car.
It is the magnetic pole of the Studio, it captures everyone’s eyes, especially as we decided to frame it with white wooden kitchen cabinets and rustic open shelves.
At the beginning we thought we would keep it clean, minimal, chic: just a few jars and some bowls. Then my style crept in. If you see me minimal and chic are definitely not the first adjectives that come to your mind: warm, maybe practical. Now the kitchen is neatly organized but full of props, jars, tea and coffee cups, wooden boards, baskets of nuts and fresh fruit, cookery books.
Facing the Bertazzoni stove, the modern heart, my grandma’s old cast iron stove, the ancient heart of the studio. It is a constant in my childhood memories: tiny, heavy, black, scorching hot, it used to burn basketful of wood, permeating the house with an ancient heat. Now it faces my Bertazzoni stove, it heats the Studio, a pot of water for tea, my back when I sit down to write.
On a side, washed by daylight, there is a simple bookcase where I collected my favourite cookery books. During every meal, either with friends or with guests, we suddenly start talking about cookbooks and we find ourselves browsing through the collection, picking our favourite titles and sharing suggestions and recipes.
Next to it a turquoise cart to hold spices, bottles of olive oil and vinegar, home-made liqueurs and jars of grains and cereals.
Huge French windows open the Studio to the farmyard. This is something I was adamant about: I wanted a continuous exchange with the outside, with the garden, the trees, the Nature.
It is my main source of inspiration, I need to see the colours change, the light kissing the trees in the distance. Pots of plants and herbs help to reinforce this continuous exchange: green inside and outside.
The Studio is also a place to gather with friends and family. When I am overwhelmed by recipes to cook and test, I call my mum or my grandma for help, and in no time we’re there again, around a table, chatting and cooking, a timeless scene so comforting and reassuring.
This is where I asked nonna to teach me a special cooking class. After Grandma taught me how to make fresh pasta, choux pastries and ragout, it was time to learn all the secrets behind her killer lasagne. All the family love it to bits, it is a sacred unmissable appointment for holiday meals and birthday celebrations.
Grandma’s Tuscan lasagne
It is quite unique, as it is not the Bolognaise recipe, but her own version, made with béchamel sauce, her Tuscan ragout, mozzarella and paper thin sheets of fresh pasta.
I followed her layer after layer, learning the importance of balancing the ingredients, spreading the béchamel and the ragout with a wooden spoon as to cover the entire surface, without exceeding with quantities.
With the holidays approaching, this is the first recipe you can bookmark for a special Tuscan Christmas meal.
Follow this recipe to make the ragù. You can either use or omit the dried mushrooms for the lasagne. Halve the quantity for the lasagne we’re making today, or cook the whole batch and freeze leftovers for future Sundays when you’ll want a grand meal with no effort at all.
- 150 g of all purpose flour
- 150 g of durum wheat semolina flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 medium eggs
- 50 g of butter
- 60 g of flour
- 800 ml of milk
- 1 pinch of salt
- Grated nutmeg
- Meat sauce
- 400 g of fresh mozzarella
- 80 g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Sift the flour with the semolina flour, pour them on a wooden board and make a well in the middle.
- Break in the eggs and add a good pinch of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Mix the flour and the eggs with a fork until crumbly, then knead the dough, adding cold water if needed.
- After a while the dough should have the right consistency: smooth, velvety and no longer sticky.
- Wrap it in plastic film and let it stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan. When melted, spoon in the flour and whisk for a few minutes until golden and toasted.
- Pour in the cold milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.
- Let cook the béchamel sauce for a few minutes until thickened and season with a good pinch of salt and grated nutmeg.
- Heat oven to 200°C.
- Roll out the dough into paper thin sheets of pasta. Leave the pasta sheets on a tablecloth dusted with semolina flour and prepare all the ingredients for the lasagne.
- Spoon some of the meat sauce on the bottom of a large tray, then line it with enough sheet of pasta to cover it. Spoon the béchamel and spread it evenly over the pasta, then spoon the meat sauce and spread it. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Tear the mozzarella into bite sized morsels and scatter it onto the lasagne. Cover the mozzarella with sheets of pasta, and repeat for seven layers.
- Finish with béchamel sauce, meat sauce, mozzarella, a good dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano and breadcrumbs, for a nice and golden crust. Add a few slivers of butter and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.
- Serve immediately, or, better, let it rest and reheat before serving.