Lasagna Bolognese?

Lasagna was a big seller at Lista’s. On the menu it was called “Lasagna Bolognese.”  Maybe because it contained meat sauce, or maybe because it sounded better than just plain lasagna. Either way it wasn’t for the small appetite… each serving was a full pound of noodles, meat, cheese, and sauce.

And making lasagna at Lista’s was an exacting procedure.  First, you had to cook the noodles, then make the meat sauce, make the cheese sauce, and slice the mozzarella which came in 5 pound blocks and had to be sliced on one of those deli slicers with the rotating blade. (We only used low moisture, whole milk mozzarella, and it was deliciously smooth, stretchy, and just salty enough to make its presence known.)

Next, in a huge 18 x 24 inch roasting pan, with a certain precision, you assembled the lasagna… sauce on the bottom, two layers of noodles (one layer the long way and one layer the short way) to give it structural integrity, then sliced mozzarella, then meat sauce, noodles, noodles, mozzarella, cheese sauce, noodles, noodles, mozzarella, meat sauce, noodles, noodles, and finally more sauce and a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano on top.  Everything done in a very strategic way to make sure the finish product was solid enough to stand up on the plate when served. Finally, the lasagna was baked in the oven for up to two hours until it was fully cooked and piping hot through and through.

Apparently because we were a family business I could legally work when I was 13 years old. So I started getting paid for washing pots and pans and doing some prep work in the back kitchen. (I wasn’t allowed to cook in the front “service” kitchen until I was 16.) It was around age 13 that I made lasagna on my own for the first time. After preparing all the ingredients and following the assembly procedure to a T — I looked at my finished work and thought, “perfect” and carried the nearly 40 lb. monster to the old Garland oven to bake for two hours. Finally, I extracted the beautiful lasagna from the oven and had to let it cool down before cutting it into portions. I was carrying it to the walk-in cooler when it happened… Wham! I dropped it!! There was no salvaging the piping hot mess of ingredients that lay across the threshold of the cooler.  Dad came running.  “What happened? Are you hurt? Did you get burned?” Nope. Just heart broken and a little afraid of what Dad was going to do. He just looked at my handiwork, told me to clean up the mess, and sent me home early.  Dad never said anything about it again but I know that lasagna lesson cost him dearly.

Since that day I have made many pans of lasagna with much more success.  These days lasagna only gets made once in a while in my family, and usually for a special occasion like my kids’ birthdays or a holiday.  It’s definitely a bit of extra work but well worth it!

Lista’s Lasagna “Bolognese”

Prep time:  45-60 minutes
Cook time:  60-90 minutes
Serves:  8-12 servings

Tip: To make this lasagna in the Lista’s fashion with three layers it works best to make it in one of those aluminum foil catering pans (at least 12″ x 10″ x 2.5″ deep) with a rimmed baking pan underneath for added support.

1 (16 oz) package Dry Lasagna Noodles – cooked per label directions
1 lb Sliced Mozzarella Cheese (choose a low moisture whole milk cheese)
1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef
1 medium Onion – finely diced
1 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
3 cups Lista’s Sauce or 1 (26 oz) jar store bought
1 lb Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (plus more for topping)
3 Eggs – beaten
1 TBSP Chopped Parsley
6 cups Lista’s Sauce or 2 (26 oz) jars store bought
Cooking Spray & aluminum foil

Directions & Assembly:
1.  Cook full box of noodles per package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
2.  Make the Meat sauce: Crumble the ground beef in a medium sauce pan, add diced onion and cook over med-high heat until cooked through – breaking up with a spoon as it cooks. Drain excess grease. Add the bread crumbs and 3 cups (1 jar) sauce.  Stir to combine and set aside.
3.  Make the Cheese sauce: In a large bowl thoroughly combine the ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, beaten eggs, and chopped parsley.  Set aside.
4.  Prepare the baking pan with cooking spray then follow these assembly steps:
– Cover bottom of pan with 1 1/2 cups plain sauce (about half a jar)
– Place a layer of 4-6 noodles over sauce using partial noodles as needed to completely cover the bottom of pan. Cover the noodles with sliced mozzarella.
– Spread half the meat sauce over the mozzarella and top with a layer of 4 noodles.
– Spread all the ricotta cheese sauce over the noodles and top with a layer of 4 noodles and mozzarella.
– Spread remaining meat sauce over the mozzarella and top with remaining 4-6 noodles.
– Use your fingers to tuck the noodles into the sides of the pan and cover with another 1 cup of sauce and sprinkle with Romano cheese.
5.  Place the lasagna pan on a rimmed baking sheet covered with foil (to catch drips) and place in the center of preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour or more until an instant read thermometer inserted in the middle reads 180º F.  Remove from oven (Don’t drop it!) and allow to rest for about 20 minutes before serving.
6.  While lasagna is baking, heat remaining sauce on the stove top over medium heat.
7.  To serve, cut lasagna into 8-12 portions, set on plates, and cover with additional sauce and top with additional Pecorino Romano.

As I said, this recipe is a bit of extra work but the resulting lasagna is a hearty, meaty, cheesy meal that is worthy of any special occasion and sure to please your family or friends. Serve it with a fresh, crisp green salad and maybe some warm garlic bread. 

Note: I have also made this lasagna using “no cook” noodles and using Gluten Free noodles and the results are just okay.  No Cook pasta, in my opinion, can come out a little ‘gummy’ and I don’t prefer that — but it does make preparation easier.  Gluten Free cooks know that the texture of GF pasta will be very different from regular pasta, and the next day it gets a bit ‘mushy’ but tastes good none the less. You can store extra lasagna portions in those reusable plastic containers in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Lasagna portions freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and foil for up to a month (thaw and reheat in microwave).

Until next time remember… “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Eggplant Novena

One of my earliest memories of actually working at Lista’s was when I was 12 years old and I was allowed to walk over to the restaurant after Sunday Mass and help Grandma cook eggplant in the back kitchen at 74 Main Street. 

We would set up a work station on one of the two 8-foot butcher block worktables.  On one end of the table was a small deep fryer and next to that we set up a rectangular plastic bin (we called them “fish tubs” because that’s what fish were delivered in) full of Italian seasoned bread crumbs mixed with some flour, and next to that was a big round stainless tub with a blend of beaten eggs and milk.

We would clean and trim a case of 24 eggplant (the big purple ones) and then Grandma would slice them on a deli slicer into 1/2″ rounds — I wasn’t allowed to use the slicer until I was older. I would take the slices by double handfuls and submerge them in the egg-wash. Then Grandma would have me lift each slice out of the egg-wash, press it into the bread crumbs on both sides, and gently lay it in the empty bin in single layers with sheets of waxed paper in between. Once all the eggplant was breaded we would let it sit for about 10 minutes to allow the breading to set up. Then we would fry the breaded eggplant slices in the deep fryer set to 325º F.

Now this is the part of the story that makes it a fun memory for me… Grandma had her own special way to know when the eggplant slices were done cooking.  She would tell me to carefully place the breaded slices into the hot oil (they would float on the surface) and we would recite the “Our Father” prayer — then with a long pair of tongs she would flip the slices over and we would say the “Hail Mary” and then the slices were done! (Who can argue with that method.) Golden brown on both sides, not fully cooked, but tender and ready for final cooking when ordered.

And there were several ways you could order eggplant on the Lista’s menu: Eggplant Parmigiana with a side of Spaghetti, the Eggplant & Ravioli Combination, Baked Stuffed Eggplant (with ricotta cheese filling), a Side order of Eggplant, an Eggplant Parmigiana Sandwich, or the Original Lista Burger (a char-broiled hamburger topped with eggplant, mozzarella, and sauce on a grilled hard roll).  Any way you ordered it Lista’s eggplant was delicious!

Lista’s Eggplant Parmigiana

Prep time:  30 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Serves:  4-6 servings

2 medium Eggplant – sliced 1/2″ thick rounds
1 tsp Salt (optional)
2 Eggs
1/4 cup Milk
2 cups Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
Vegetable or Light Olive Oil as needed for frying
1/2 lb Sliced Mozzarella Cheese
4 cups prepared Lista’s Sauce (or 2 jars store bought sauce)

1.  Preheat oven to 350º F – Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil (for easier clean up) and spray with cooking spray (if desired).
2.  If desired sprinkle the sliced eggplant with salt and set in a colander for 30 minutes. (This step is not necessary but some believe it makes the eggplant less “bitter.” Actually using a fresh, young, medium sized eggplant should prevent any bitterness.  Also we prefer not to peel the eggplant but you can — it’s personal choice.)
3.  In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and milk together.  In a second larger bowl combine the bread crumbs, flour and Romano cheese.
4.  Dip slices of eggplant in the egg-wash and then press into the bread crumb mixture until both sides are coated — place breaded eggplant on a plate or baking tray in a single layer with wax paper or parchment between layer.  Continue until all eggplant slices are breaded — allow to “rest” about 5-10 minutes before frying.
5.  Heat 1/2″ oil in a large heavy skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Gently add breaded eggplant in a single layer and cook, turning over once, until golden brown on both sides — about 3 minutes per side (praying is optional).  Add more oil as needed and continue to cook until all slices are fried.
6.  On foil covered baking sheet, line up slices of eggplant in groups of 4-5 overlapping slices — top with 1/2 cup sauce and a slice of mozzarella. Place pan in preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes until heated through and cheese is slightly brown and bubbly.

There you have it, Lista’s Eggplant Parmigiana.  You can serve the eggplant as is with a nice green salad, or with a side of your favorite pasta and sauce, or on a toasted sub roll for an authentic eggplant parmigiana sandwich.

And another note… as I said earlier, I was about 12 when I learned to cook eggplant with my Grandma. That would have made it 1974 and it so happens that was the year actress Noel Neill (Lois Lane in movies and “The Adventures of Superman” TV series) came to speak at SUNY Brockport and ate at Lista’s.  And what did she eat? Eggplant Parmigiana! You can see below a photo of Dad and Ms. Neill and a note she wrote on the back of a menu, “Mr. Lista, Enjoyed your fabulous eggplant & so nice meeting you — Noel “Lois Lane” Neill”   What a Super endorsement!


Until next time remember… “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”


Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Peppers

The middle of July always reminds me of two things about growing up at Lista’s in Brockport NY.  First, was the Fireman’s Parade and Carnival that was the highlight of every local kid’s summer. The parade was one of the best around and marched right down Main Street in front of Lista’s.  Since my brothers, sisters and I would be hanging around we sometimes got asked by one of the parade vendors to sell balloons or popcorn to the crowd (I think we got paid like 2¢ for every box of popcorn).  As a 12 year old kid, it was pretty cool walking up and down the crowded street “hawking” these goods to the onlookers.

The second thing I remember about mid-July is the Downtown Merchant Association Annual Sidewalk Sale.  This was truly the big event of the summer in Brockport.  The street was blocked off and all the stores up and down Main Street would bring their wares out onto the sidewalk and sell at a discounted price.  It was really something to see — crowds of people milling around the tables and racks of clothing, books, toys, knick knacks, household goods… you name it and someone was selling it.  And there were the local organizations, churches and the like, with baked goods, crafts, and more.  Then there were the food vendors selling hot dogs & burgers, ice cream, pizza slices, beef  on weck sandwiches, french fries with malt vinegar, steamed clams… and everyone’s favorite Lista’s Italian Sausage Sandwiches!

Lista’s Italian sausage sandwiches were a fixture at the sidewalk sale and other local events including the 1979 International Special Olympics held at SUNY College at Brockport.  The 5th International Special Olympics saw some 3,500 athletes with special needs participate and hosted celebrities including members of the Kennedy family, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Sally Struthers, Christopher Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger and famous athletes including Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Rafer Johnson, Hank Aaron and “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali.  And Lista’s was right in the thick of it selling sausage sandwiches by the hundreds.

tobinsAt Lista’s we used exclusively Tobin’s First Prize sausage made right here in Rochester, NY. (Tobin’s left Rochester in the 1970’s and moved to Albany and was later sold to John Morrell & Co.) I remember how the sausage would come in long ropes, spiral packed into round tubs. We would cut the sausage into pudgy 4 oz. portions and gently roll them under our palms on the worktable until they became narrower and about 7 inches long. These long, thin sausage links were then lined up on sheet trays and baked in the oven until cooked through and ready for the grill. We served the grilled sausages on Di Paolo rolls (also made in Rochester) and topped them with our signature fried peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

By the late 70’s Lista’s sausage sandwiches became so popular that Dad decided to build a small enclosure near the back entrance of the restaurant which we called “The Sausage Shed.” There was a walk up window so we could sell sausage sandwiches to passersby throughout the whole summer.

Next time you fire up the grill why not make some Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Pepper Sandwiches and remember the fun of parades, carnivals, and summertime.

Lista’s Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Peppers

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves:  6 sandwiches

1 1/2 lbs. Good Quality Italian Sausage (6 links)
2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 large Green Bell Pepper — seeded and cut into 1/2″ strips
1 large Red Bell Pepper — seeded and cut into 1/2″ strips
1 medium Spanish Onion — cut in half and sliced into 1/2″ strips
1 tsp Lista’s Seasoned Salt (or too taste)
1 (16 oz) can Whole Peeled Tomatoes — broken up with a spoon or by hand
6 Bakery Sausage Rolls — split and toasted if desired

1.  If needed, gently roll each sausage link until it is about 7″ long. Place sausage links in a heavy skillet and add about 1/2 cup water. Simmer sausages covered over medium heat until no longer pink inside — about 10 minutes.  Remove sausages to a plate and let cool until ready to grill.
2.  Using the same heavy skillet, empty remaining water and add the olive oil, heat over med-high heat until oil is shimmering. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the peppers and season with seasoned salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until peppers and onions are quite tender — about 15 minutes. Add in the tomatoes (broken up) and stir until warmed through. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.
3.  Heat outdoor grill (or grill pan) to med-high heat. Grill the pre-cooked sausages until browned all over and hot throughout — about 15 minutes.
4.  Serve grilled sausages in rolls topped with generous amounts of peppers & onions.

There you have it… Lista’s Sidewalk Sale Sausage & Peppers. I hope it brings back memories of summer carnivals and parades — but if not, try eating one while walking down the sidewalk of your hometown, and maybe that will create new memories.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Giambotta (Grandma Lista Style)

loafWhen I was growing up I wasn’t very appreciative of the traditional cuisine of my Italian heritage. As a matter of fact, when in grade school, I ate the same thing every day for lunch: Oscar Mayer Ham & Cheese Loaf (you know the square mystery meat with the little dots of yellow cheese through it) with French’s yellow mustard on Wonder Bread.

My mom, Doris, who is not Italian, was the one who cooked for us kids at home. We ate what was popular at that time — things like baked chicken, meatloaf, macaroni goulash and tuna casserole. Mom was a good cook and I certainly didn’t go without. But I actually preferred the American foods to the Italian foods back then.

giambottaWhich brings me to this post.  Once in awhile my Grandma Lista would cook for us kids and if it was her homemade manicotti, or her “Sunday sauce” with the chunks of meat, I was a happy little boy.  But if it was Giambotta (we said “jum-brought”) …ugh!  I hated it! I would cry at the thought of having to choke down those awful stewed vegetables.

Fortunately, as I grew up so did my palate and my appreciation for ethnic foods of all kinds. Today I relish a steaming bowl of this summer vegetable stew with lots of grated Pecorino Romano on top and some good crusty bread for dipping.

I had to do a little research on this dish since I only remembered it as a family thing and had not seen it in a cook book or menu before. Thanks to the internet I was able to learn a few things about Giambotta.  First, it can be called many things: giambotta, ciambotta, giambrotta, ciammotta, cianfotta, and ciabotta. Most Italian-Americans pronounce it either “jum-b(r)ought” or “cha-bawt.”  It seems to come from the southern areas of Italy (Grandma’s family was from Calabria) and is a popular late summer dish and often served with grilled sausage. Some recipes called for the addition of hot peppers. One popular food blog shared a recipe that included sliced hot dogs (apparently enjoyed by many Italian-American families in the New York city area). I never remember Grandma making Giambotta with any meat — just lots of garden fresh veggies and tomatoes.

So, however you pronounce it, and whether you add the sausage or not, I hope you try this hearty southern Italian vegetable stew called…

Giambotta (Grandma Lista Style)

Prep time:  30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves: 6-8

3 TBSP Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic – minced
2 medium Yellow Onions – sliced
2 stalks Celery – roughly chopped
3 medium Carrots – peeled and roughly chopped
2 large Potatoes – peeled and cut into 1″ dice
1 medium Eggplant – cut into 1″ dice
1 large Green Bell Pepper – seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
1 large Zucchini – cut in half length wise and sliced in 1/2″ half circles
1 large Yellow Summer Squash – cut in half length wise and sliced in 1/2″ half circles
1 (28 oz) can Whole Peeled Tomatoes – broken up with a spoon or by hand
1 cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock (homemade or store bought)
1/2 lb Green Beans – cut in half and blanched in boiling water
1/2 cup Fresh Basil Leaves – roughly chopped
1 tsp Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper – or to taste
Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese – to sprinkle on top

1.  Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and blanch Green Beans for 1 minute — drain into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.
2.  Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot (with a lid) over medium heat.  Add garlic, onions, celery and carrots and cook stirring occasionally until onions are translucent 8-10 minutes.
3.  Working while the onion mixture cooks — chop and add the vegetables in the following order:  Potatoes, Eggplant, Green pepper, Zucchini & Yellow squash.  Cook and stir for 10 more minutes.
4.  Add tomatoes, stock, salt, pepper and blanched green beans.  Stir everything together, cover pot and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
5.  Stir in chopped basil.
6.  To serve, ladle giambotta into bowls and top with a generous amount of pecorino Romano cheese.  Serve with some crusty Italian bread if desired. 

There you have it Giambotta like Grandma Lista made it.  I hope you give this a try before the fresh produce of summer is gone.  If you don’t have a garden you can pick up everything at a Farm Market (or the grocery store).  And feel free to add your own personal touch like some hot peppers… some Italian Sausage… or even sliced hot dogs!

So until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”