Saturday, March 20, 2010
I made lasagna last week to help me tackle the physical and mental challenge of the daily classes and rehearsals involved in the staging I’m doing of Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace for the phenomenal dancers of The Juilliard School for their spring concert. My diet is mostly vegetarian, but it was a long, cold, and snowy winter, and lately, I’ve been craving lots of meaty fortification against the brutality of it all. It is the last I will make of winter’s hearty meals, however, for spring is here, and I am shedding. I even wore sandals today. And shorts. It was a Summerspace kind of day.
Thinking a lot lately of Merce and John Cage (Merce’s long-time partner and collaborator), I’ve been revisiting some of John's books and came across one of my favorite passages from Silence. A student of Zen Buddhism, and an avid wild mushroom hunter, John curiously searched for a Japanese haiku involving the fungus, and came across this one, by Bashō:
shiranu ko no ha no
This haiku is translated literally into English as:
ignorance leaf of tree
John Cage found this haiku in R.H. Blyth's compilation of haiku poems, the autumn section, where Blyth translates the literal Japanese words into the following English haiku:
The leaf of some unknown tree
Sticking on a mushroom
The story goes that John read this translation to a Japanese composer friend (Ichiyanagi or Takahashi, he can’t remember who), and the composer replied that he found Blyth’s translation uninteresting, and, at Cage’s urging, came back two days later with this version:
Mushroom does not know
That leaf is
Sticking on it
After three years of thought on the matter, John created his own version:
That that’s unkown
Brings mushroom and leaf together
And then, later, this one:
So, in honor of Merce and John and Summerspace at Juilliard next week, here’s my version:
The lost leaf of tree
and mushroom stick together
Wayward tree leaf,
Earthy mushroom togetherness
And taking some liberties:
Adhere to me, leaf
On your mushroomy free fall
Next time, Japanese mushroom lasagna it is. With shiso leaves, perhaps.
Lasagna Bolognese from Mario Batali
Serves six to eight.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound veal, ground
1 pound pork, ground
4 ounces pancetta, ground
1 8-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup milk
/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 to 1 pound fresh pasta sheets, about 7 by 4 inches, or dried lasagne noodles blanched for 6 minutes and refreshed
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Oil for brushing
In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sweat over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are translucent. Add veal, pork, and pancetta to the vegetables, and brown over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together. Add the tomato paste, milk, wine, thyme, and 1 cup water, and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (if the ragù becomes too thick, add a little more water). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour, and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until it is just about to boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until the sauce is very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat and season with salt and nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with melted butter or oil, and layer in the following order from the bottom: ragù, pasta, béchamel, and grated cheese (saving about 1 cup béchamel for last topping), making 3 to 4 layers of pasta, finishing with ragù, béchamel, and 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled over the top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the casserole is bubbling. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 20 minutes, slice, and serve.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
The busier I am, the more I take my clothes off, and no, it’s not as much fun as it sounds. I have been a busy little bee lately. A busy, clothes changing, dance video studying, rehearsal directing, Cunningham technique teaching bee. I’m a little too vain to traipse around the city in sweats and sneakers between my classes and rehearsals which are located at all corners of the city, so I choose an outfit in the morning, change into dance clothes to teach, and repeat this action three or more tedius times (snow boots on, snow boots off, all those bulky winter layers), depending on the number of classes I’m teaching and where. Now, I’m on spring break from the work I've been doing on Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace at Juilliard, and I have a much needed four day weekend, and a little time for blogging about delicious muhammara. In one outfit -- pajamas.
Muhammara is a roasted red pepper based Syrian spread which is now made in many surrounding areas, including Turkey. It is a healthy, and vibrant tasting dish, with a touch of sweetness that mitigates the spice of added chiles. I like this for breakfast, on my toast, but most of you will probably serve this as a spread for pita bread as an appetizer before a middle eastern meal.
In addition to being addictively savory, muhammara is also nutrient dense, and contains Vitamin C from the red peppers, Omega-3 fatty acids from the walnuts, some anti-oxidant properties in the pomegranate syrup, and anti-inflammatory activity in the garlic. In a food processor, it takes no time at all to make, but unfortunately, it also takes no time at all to eat; make a double recipe.
Gülümay’s Walnut-Garlic Spread with Hot and Sweet Peppers and Pomegranate Syrup (Muhammara)
from Ayla Algar’s Classical Turkish Cooking
Makes about 1 3/4 cups
2 large sweet red peppers (12 oz)
1 tablespoon water
2/3 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
2/3 cup toasted sourdough bread crumbs
1 or 2 red jalapeños, seeded and minced (I used green ones)
1/4 cup fine olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground cumin seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons pomegranate syrup (available in middle eastern markets)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Although there is no real substitute for the sweet and sour flavor of pomegranate syrup, lemon juice will be adequate.
Roast peppers over a grill or gas flame, turning frequently until charred all over. Seal 10 minutes in a plastic bag, peel, seed, and chop. In a food processor, mix chopped peppers with 1 tablespoon water. Process to a moist paste. Set aside.
Pound walnuts with a garlic in a mortar. Stir in bread crumbs and jalapeños. Continue pounding until all ingredients are blended. Mix in the pureed peppers. Gradually mix in the olive oil and season with cumin, red pepper flakes, pomegranate syrup, and lemon juice (use additional lemon juice if pomegranate syrup is unavailable). Taste and adjust with salt and lemon juice. (Alternatively, you can make the whole dish in a food processor.) Let stand several hours or overnight for the flavors to blend and mature. Serve with croutons or on flatbread wedges or crackers.
Note from Banu: I sprinkled the top of mine with a few leaves of chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.