Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Dinner with friends

I had the privilege of creating a menu and cooking for a Valentine's Dinner with some good friends here in Santa Barbara.  I immediately went reaching for Lydia Bastianich's cookbook and decided to make her lasagna with spinach pasta noodles, bolognese, and bechamel sauce.  Even for you non-bechamel people out there (ahem, Kelley!), I do believe that Lydia might win you over.  With delicate layers of fresh pasta, long-cooked bolognese sauce and creamy bechamel, the combination of flavors just melted in the mouth.  And, all the flavors were in perfect balance/harmony with one another.  

Let's break it down just a touch.  First off, the pasta...who knew it would be so easy in a food processor?  Just simply blend the spinach and flour to make a gorgeous green flour, and then add the eggs, oil and water.

The finished dough looks like this:

After rolling the dough through the pasta maker, the strips are quickly boiled, cooled off in an ice bath and are then ready to assemble.  Here the lasagna is ready for another layer of bechamel, bolognese and cheese: 

While we did not get a picture of the bubbling goodness coming out of the oven, here is one of a small lasagna ready to head off to the oven!

We served the lasagna with some garlic cheese rolls - the recipe came from my mom's baking and pastry school...yum yum!  And, to start, I served a caesar salad with polenta croutons, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and shaved parmesan.  The dressing was garlicky and didn't require the use of raw egg - bonus!  Check out the recipe here, from Giada De Laurentiis.

Last, but not least, if there is still room in the belly, we served up the classic Valentine's aphrodisiac of a chocolate dessert.  Continuing in the Italian theme, I made a chocolate panna cotta cake, a recipe I had been saving from a Bon Appetit magazine.  This simple, but elegant cake had layers of chocolate cake and chocolate panna cotta, an almost pudding-like Italian dessert.  In effort to tie it all together, the cake is wrapped with a chocolate band that is fluted at the top.  If you are interested in trying this one, check out this website for the recipe.

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