“Can’t Carmela make her lasagne with the layer of basil leaves in?”
-Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano
I came to The Sopranosfar too late. Early 2008 More4 ran every episode back-to-back and I devoured them all. I was utterly gripped by the boyish yet chilling Tony, the larger-than-life Paulie, sly yet affable Uncle June, the big mouth braggadocio Christopher, and the delicate balance of family life with ‘mafia’ life. It’s easily one of the finest series every created, a masterpiece of character study and beautiful dialogue. If you haven’t tried it, I heartily recommend it.
I also got given the Sopranos cookbooksfor a birthday. It’s a little cheesy, part-written in character, but the heart and soul of Italian-American cookery is there, with it’s hearty and rib-sticking fare. As an existing fan of lasagne, I was keen to try the lasagne-with-layer-of-basil as mentioned in the show (it can be found in this volume).
Like many Italian-American dishes, it requires a ‘gravy’ which is not the meat juice we might expect. Here it’s a meaty, tomatoey sauce that forms the base of lasagne. This takes a good couple of hours so it’s not a dish you can just bash out on a whim, because after that you’ve got lots of layers and another 45 minutes in the oven to finish it off. The gravy is superb though, rich and flavoursome. I’ve kept some back for something else another day.
It was very nice, though for me the ricotta was overpowering, allowing a bitterness into it that wasn’t completely welcome. The basil was nice though, a cleansing aroma that carries through the mouth. But I can’t help missing a bechamel while I was eating it… next time.
Carmela Soprano’s Basil Lasagne:
For the gravy:
6 sausages (if you can get them, Waitrose have incredible ‘Italian’ style sausages)
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 litre passata
For the lasagne:
A large bunch of basil
500g mozzarella, sliced
50g parmesan, grated
- To make the gravy, fry the onion and garlic until soft in a large pan with a little oil.
- Skin the sausages and squish into hazelnut size pieces. Add these to the pan and brown all over.
- Add the mince and continue to cook until browned all over.
- Add the puree and passata and bring to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 1½ – 2 hours until rich and thickened. At this point check for seasoning – plenty of pepper is welcome here.
- Beat the ricotta with salt and pepper to taste (you may want to add a splash of milk or cream to help loosen it, as you’re going to spread it in a minute). Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- In a 6cm deep oven dish put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom. Cover with lasagne sheets, then another layer of meat sauce.
- Top this with ricotta and some parmesan, then a layer of basil leaves. Top this with mozzrella, then lasagne. Start the layering all over again until you reach the top of the dish.
- Make the top layer meat sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan. Bung in the oven until you can push a knife through with little resistance.
- Leave the lasagna out for five minutes to allow it all to meld together – this makes it easier to cut up.