Scuola Vecchia

We’re having a pretty stellar fall so far, with a high percentage of clear, warm days that make being outside a profound experience. It’s all I can do these days not to just bail on whatever work I need to do and just hike up into the mountains for hours at a time. Another benefit to this most beautiful and fleeting time is the fact that one can fire up the oven with no discomfort at all. And that of course allows one to dust off all the comfort food cravings that lay dormant in the heat.

I’ve been messing around with my Platonic lasagne recipe/technique for a while now, and though the veal/dashi velouté version is still the best yet in terms of sublime flavor, this time around I went with total authenticity. I’ve never been that much of a fan of ricotta in lasagne; it has a slightly chalky austerity that doesn’t mesh properly with the sensuality of the other components and there’s almost always way too much of it. Béchamel, however (sorry: besciamella) is perfect. It positively oozes sensuality, lies down in demure layers between noodles and ragù, and gently echoes the dairy note in the brown, bubbly cheese on top without overdoing it.

A good ragù (sugo in Tuscany) is not optional. This one made good use of all the late-season bounty, including the red peppers. I let a soffrito of peppers, onions, fennel, and celery soften nicely in some of the fat that rendered out of the duck ballotine, then added ground grass-fed beef to brown. Then some wine, herbs, a pint of the homemade tomato sauce, and a little bit of stock to get it bubbling low and slow.

I used some of the same fat to make a roux, and once suitably nutty I whisked in whole milk and a little more stock and added salt and copious twists of black pepper once it was all smooth and sexy. We rolled out the pasta, or rather the kid did almost entirely by himself, which is fitting, since he requested this meal. I see great things in store. Assembly was straightforward.

This was seriously badass. Besides definitively making the case for besciamella, every single ingredient was first rate, from the meat to the flour to the milk to the eggs to the vegetables. All were homegrown or locally sourced and as good as it gets. And using duck ballotine fat and stock made from duck, chicken, and lamb bones added that certain unique something that pegs the pleasure needle deep in the red and keeps it there. Impatient as we were to get to it, it did not plate with the elegant stratigraphy that the leftovers boasted after a firming night in the fridge. But that glistening, steaming sideways slide was pure magic. Peasant food is sublime when it’s made with the freshest and best. I didn’t even sprinkle parsley on it. It needed nothing but a fork.

9 comments to Scuola Vecchia

  • Oh Peter, Peter, Peter…..beautiful.

  • Gorgeous. Love the title, too. Somehow that tickled me more than usual. I’m making pasta today, for sure. Might not come close to this, but still. Your kid is smart. He knows how to request it!

  • Yum. That looks great. Maybe one day when you invite us to a party you will make this

  • El

    Hey: are you getting Milo to make the mother sauces? Very important in his culinary education. Besciamella especially, good foundation for the mac and cheese they so seem to crave.

    I agree about the ricotta but a home-made one usually works fine…especially if you add more cream to it after it drains.

  • Eve

    you really should invite us over more often…

  • this is making me very, very hungry. as you know, fall in brooklyn ain’t quite the same as fall where you are. i swear, nyc air just kills the leaves, barely allowing them to change color. they just fall off one day!

  • Peter

    Wendy: Grazie.

    Julia: All of a sudden he figured out that he can ask for things and I’ll make them. He wants gnocchi tonight.

    Janis: Yeah, like that’ll happen.

    El: I will now. He rocked the pasta machine.

    Eve: I get that a lot.

    Amy: It’s been nice up here, but the foliage has been sub-par because of the storms. Nice to have you back among the living.

  • Tresor T-mac

    Hi!I came over to visit your site for the first time and I really enjoy coming to your blog.

  • margo

    Mind sharing your recipe ….grams etc….thanks! Would love to make this!

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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