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Crystal Bridges is open Wed. through Mon. with free, timed tickets required.

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Jack Whitten in his studio, 2015. Photo by Katherine MacMahon
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Cr[Eat]e Food Blog: Lasagna Hurts

lasagna noodles in a pot of boiling water.

Lasagna Bolognese hurts; it’s not just the slippery, wide noodles that are hard to maneuver out of the boiling water, and sometimes only manageable by using the calloused tips of my fingers to move from pot to colander, “Hot, Hot, Ouch!”; but it’s the sauce, the dangerous, beautiful, romantic Bolognese ragù that sets off a chain of dangerous events:


While stirring the rich, amber gravy with a wooden spoon, my knuckle inadvertently scrapes across the inner pot, fiercely hot, forcing an involuntary drop of the spoon as blistered knuckle jerks toward open mouth, followed closely by a large splash of magma ragù (from the dropped spoon, remember?), exploding from the pot up to my chin and cheek, forcing a blind stumble backward as I swat like a man chased by a swarm of bees, knocking over pasta colander (full of steaming, soft noodles), bottle of chianti, and wine glass filled with said chianti.  “{Expletive} OUCH!”


Nevertheless, after a moment of anger, I take a breath, mop up the wine, sweep the glass, and refill a pot for the redux of boiled lasagna noodles.


Yes, the sauce is that good.


Some things in life, including recipes for iconic Italian sauces, are that important.  In this day and age of quick-fix meals and pre-fab eats, it’s critical that we take time to revisit the virtues of food (and art) that refuses to take short-cuts.  And sometimes, the great ones take it a step further by mashing up tried, true, and tested paradigms with new ideas.


Crystal Bridges’ own Chef Melody Lane, while devising a menu for the January Wednesday Over Water, adapted classic ragù, a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy, that is typically used to dress up wide-noodle pastas or to make lasagna.  She certainly used classic techniques and ingredients for her recipe, such as beginning with sofrito, the Italian version of mira poix, or onion, celery, and carrot; as well as familiar cuts of meats such as veal, pork, and lamb. But she also went a bit rogue by incorporating chicken livers, which gave the sauce a wonderful mineral dimension, as well as a whisper of fish sauce at the conclusion that yielded an interesting, briny undercurrent of the sea.  Exquisite and unexpected.


Chef Mel’s recipe is every bit as time-consuming as the original, so engage in this edible endeavor only if you have an afternoon to respectfully devote to the task at hand.  And take it from me—it’s delicious, a marvel of edible culture, an homage to classic ragù that somehow manages to tip a hat to our past while looking forward excitedly to the future—the way good food and art should.


But it also hurts. I have the blistered knuckles and a kitchen floor full of broken glass as wonderful, delicious, awe inspiring proof.  CIAO!


Chef Melody's Bolognese ragu

Chef Melody’s ragu Bolognese


Ragu Bolognese Sauce

1 quart chicken stock
1 28-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
1/2 lb minced chicken livers
3oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground lamb
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 lb finely diced pancetta
2 large onion, finely minced
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 ribs celery, finely chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh sage parsley and basil leaves
2.5 cups red wine
1 cup heavy cream
4 oz finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce


Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or deep skillet/pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally until tender (8-10 minutes). Add the chicken livers and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the livers lose their red colour (2-3 minutes).


Add the pancetta and ground meat in batches, letting it brown before adding more.  Pour off most of the fat. Add the wine, increase heat to high, and boil until the wine is almost gone (10-15 minutes).


Add the broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer; you should see the occasional bubble but not a boil. Cook, uncovered, until the sauce is dark, rich, and thick. Cook 2-3 hrs. You may also cook in the oven at 300°.


At the end, add in the cream, fish sauce, and parmesan cheese to taste.


Enjoy over pasta  


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