If you’ve watched 30 Rock with any regularity in the last few years you’ve likely seen Liz Lemon snack on something called Sabor de Soledad, an off-brand cheese snack from Mexico that translates from Spanish to mean “flavor of loneliness” an initially-hilarious and now not-quite-as-funny reminder for the audience that Liz is a single workaholic who has a predilection for highly-processed foods (see also: “Season 4″ and Cheesy Blasters) and for settling with Beeper Kings, if only for short bouts at a time.
But it got me thinking about my own approach to food when I’m on my own: when left to my own devices I’ll generally default to pasta–particularly angel hair with garlic and olive oil–because it’s fast and comforting and satisfying, and I don’t have to get my hands dirty handling meat after spending 13 hours in the office and on buses and trains. While aglio e olio is certainly a better choice than, say, cheese snacks or even the countless versions of takeout Liz eats on the show, I realized that were I to subsist for the next week solely on some form of pantry pasta with cheese, I’d feel awful and uninspired and unbalanced.
In other words: I resolved to throw away the pasta/olive oil/garlic/cheese crutch and focus on making a variety of meals, because there may come a time when I don’t have the crazy commute and can rely on Michael turning out dish after amazing dish each night. And what better time is there than when he’s literally across the country?
I had a few guidelines in mind when I started menu planning, namely that on Saturday and Sunday I’d go with more elaborate meals (that included pasta as long as I made meat too) and during the week I would make something that ideally would be ready to eat before 8…ish. To be fair, unless I cheat and take a cab home I generally don’t get home until 7PM to begin with, and I generally like to start working out between 8:20 and 8:40 (shut up–I’d work out in the morning but I like to sleep a little), so while it’s a fine system when I have dinner waiting on account of the husband’s efforts, I knew it would be tough to maintain that schedule while trying to get something of substance on the table.
Saturday’s dinner crystallized this fact as I had to make an emergency pasta run to Appletree on the ground floor of our building because the lasagna sheets I purchased at Eataly all stuck together and/or broke apart en route from the Flatiron District to Morningside Heights. I made the mistake of cooking the sheets at once and likely not in enough water, so despite the fact that the water was well-salted, those eggy sheets glued together fairly quickly. In a fit of pique I threw out some of the sheets, but I ended up keeping half the package in case I wanted something carb-y to snack on, so it wasn’t a total loss. And so I found myself downstairs, trying to find cannelloni or manicotti shells so I could theoretically cheat my way through this–but to be honest, when it got down to the assembly of these things, having to gently shove the filling into pre-formed tubes was not as easy as it sounds.
Also, that’s what she said. I think.
So as the new pasta boiled I tried making the bechamel…and I had to dump my first batch into the sink. I failed to properly cook the roux the first time so the sauce never came together; fortunately I had enough milk to make a second go-around without another run to Appletree and the results were far more to my satisfaction, so I left it on warm as instructed to attend to the meats.
The meat mixture was probably the easiest of all of the components to bring together: add the aromatics, add the meat, add the bread crumbs, add the sherry, and then when that is reduced, add the egg. The aromas are intoxicating and the flavors are really hard to beat.
The final result was nothing that we ever prepare at home normally, but it was tasty. It’s too rich to make for on a regular basis, but I’d make it for a crowd because even a half-pound of pasta yields an impressive amount of food.
After all: this dish is known as Canelons de la Festa in Barcelona–if it’s a feast-day dinner there, why not make it one at home? If anything else, it’s a great crowd-pleaser for the upcoming Clásicos in April–cheer on FC Barça while noshing on the city’s signature dish.
Canelons de Festa
adapted from Barcelona
Serves 1 with wayyyyy too many leftovers; more like 4-6 hungry people
- 1/2 lb manicotti shells
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/4 C unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup AP flour
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1/4 C olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, diced
- 20z serrano ham, shredded
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1 3/4 lb ground turkey
- 1 C freshly ground bread crumbs
- 1/3 C sherry
- 2 egg yolks lightly beaten
- 5 oz aged Mahón cheese
- 1 TB unsalted butter
Bring a pot 3/4 full of water to a boil; season well. Add pasta, cook until about 8 minutes, drain and lay out on parchment paper to cool. In the meantime, grease a 9X13 pan with butter.
Make the bechamel: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat, then remove from the heat to sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine. Once free of any lumps reapply to heat, and stir rapidly for 2 minutes. Start to gradually add milk, whisking as furiously as you can to prevent lumps. When the sauce coats the back of the spoon, season to taste with salt and pepper (and nutmeg if you have it) and keep warm.
Preheat the oven to 425. Take a large saute pan and warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the ham, pork, and turkey and saute until cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and cook for another 2-3 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the sherry, season with more salt and pepper, and cook until reduced, a bout 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add in the yolks (note: I added the whole egg, but I also didn’t have the chicken livers the recipe originally called for, so it all evens out in the end.)
Stuff manicotti with filling and lay out on greased dish. When full, whisk 3/4 of cheese into bechamel, and then pour over the shells; sprinkle the rest with cheese and butter. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes but you may need to go to a higher oven spot than I was at, hence the broil.