The weather dipped the other day in South Florida.
It did, real quick, but, it did.
In fact, if you are a late riser, if you’re not privy to dark, pre-dawn alarms piercing into peaceful slumber so you may assemble prosciutto and tapenade sandwiches for school lunches while simultaneously flipping gruyere and wild porcini omelets for breakfast (because culinary requests are very high in this household) you may have just missed it.
The chipper weather forecaster on the morning news was as ecstatic as when she was crowned Miss Florida years ago. She eagerly urged her viewers to “dress in layers,” which, even I, who am perpetually cold, thought was a bit much. She continued to inform us that the temperature was a chilly 66 degrees and would only climb up to a mild 85. That would explain the goose bumps on her tight-fighting atomic tangerine dress.
Chilly 66. Mild 85.
I’m not big on tattoos, but that is one I’d consider getting.
You know, as a reminder.
We may have a lot of crazy things going for us in South Florida, a lot of nut jobs seem to hatch from the glorious Sunshine State, but Chilly 66, Mild 85 is something I can deal with.
With breakfast for the children already plated, I opened the front door to grab the morning paper, and instead of being greeted by the familiar frizz-your-hair humidity, I got a crisp, cool caress that left me pleasantly chilly. To experience cold is so unusual in South Florida that it made me wonder if I was dreaming.
Or somehow transported to Ithaca.
I realize folks in Ithaca don’t get caressed by the weather. I’ve seen their winters on television. It’s the no-nonsense type of winter. The type that makes national news. The type that most definitely doesn’t breed chipper weather forecasters in candy-colored dresses. You’re more likely to get a weather person akin to a stern officer in the army: Gimme one hundred pushups and grab a shovel to dig yourself out of your house! Now, do it again!
We’re softies here in South Florida when it comes to cold weather. It’s still cute. Celebrated. Fun!
Watch and see.
We have about seven days when things get cold. People will pull out their Ugg boots and designer fleece. Die-hards may sport that winter coat as well. The friendly weather gal will tell us all about it: warn us about frost and frostbite, about wrapping our children thoroughly in scarves and mittens and hats. Keeping body heat starts with a warm head, she’ll say. She’s trained hard for this moment, for this week.
Oh and it is such fun! Who cares if by 11:00am, once that South Florida sunshine is beaming down on us, the thermostat is climbing to 70, then 80, then…you stop looking because you are so damn hot in all your brand new winter gear. You wonder why the svelte weather chick didn’t educate you on how feet regulate your body heat- yours are shvitzing up a storm in those sheepskin boots, the ones you refuse to take off no matter how many beads of sweat are falling down your back or how dizzy and dehydrated you may feel. You now remember (and understand) her sexy, strappy sandals.
It’s South Florida in winter! Glorious! Fun!
It also gives me an excuse to make heartier food: saucy, rich, meat-laden, pasta-slapped, oozing cheese type stuff one needs to survive a cold winter night. I’m thinking specifically of pasticcio, which is like lasagna, only, if you can believe it, better. It’s like some kooky person took a look at lasagna and thought, “yeah, I can improve upon this,” and then did! Crazy right? Impossible? No. They got it down on the pasticcio.
There are several versions of pasticcio, from Greek, to Italian, to Egyptian, but they all rely on four main ingredients: meat, pasta, cheese, and some sort of a béchamel sauce. I favor the Italian version, which my mother used to purchase from our local Italian market on those nights we were rushing around and she’d have no time to cook dinner herself. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, which witnessed a heavy influx of Italian immigrants in the 1940’s, resulting in, amongst other things, a bountiful access to homemade pastas, salume, and Nona-style pasticcio. The principle of layering meat, cheese and noodles is the same, only tucked away for added flavor are slices of ham, and then, just because, the entire thing is coated in a creamy béchamel. Oh, and sprinkled with more cheese. Why not? It’s cold outside, remember? On some survivalist level you need this.
And if you have any leftovers, you can always send them to some shivering, shoveling soul in Ithaca.
I'm not going to lie: it's a bit time-consuming, but definitely worth the trouble!
- START WITH THE BOLOGNESE SAUCE:
- 1 lbs. ground beef
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup onion, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ cup carrots, chopped in 1” cubes
- ½ cup celery, sliced
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
- 1 cup beef stock
- salt, to taste
- Make the Bechamel Sauce:
- 2 cups hot milk
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablesoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste.
- Bolognese sauce
- 1 box of oven-baked lasagna noodles
- ½ pound tavern ham, regular slices
- 2-4 cups shredded mozzarella
- béchamel sauce
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Make the bolognese:
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté meat until pink is gone. Remove from skillet.
- Add olive oil to skillet and sauté onions, garlic, carrots and celery until onions are translucent, 5 minutes.
- Reincorporate meat, add milk and sauté 5 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients, raise heat until at a high simmer, then lower heat to medium-low and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.
- Adjust salt.
- Make the béchamel:
- In a sauce pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until flour starts to turn golden (5-7 minutes.)
- Slowly whisk in heated milk until fully incorporated.
- Keep whisking until thickens (this should start happening almost immediately.)
- Add nutmeg and salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat.
- Assemble the pasticcio:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a square casserole dish, begin assembling your pasticcio.
- Create a layer of Bolognese sauce, follow by strips of noodles (make sure the noodles do not overlap) and followed by slices of ham and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.
- Repeat until reach the top (you should have either 2 or maximum 3 layers)
- Pour béchamel sauce over top and add Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Bake until bubbly, 30 minutes.
- Serves 6