101 Reasons (and Layers) Why I’m Mad at 'The Chew'
I’ve got a bone to pick with Mario Batali. Well actually, not Mario, but with the recipe and Web team at The Chew.
See, this week’s SWAT team recipe theme was lasagna and I got it into my head that it would be a smart thing to do to try my hand at an homage, a home cook’s version of the over-the-top 100-layer lasagna created and served by chef Mark Ladner at Mario’s four-star Italian restaurant Del Posto in New York City.
Del Posto's 100-layer lasagna served at lunch. Fantastic.
For those who haven’t eaten it, the 100-layer lasagna was introduced to the restaurant in 2010 as part of the $500 Collezione menu, a very fancy, nine-course, once-per-service experience served by the chef to the patrons, which includes a 100-layer lasagna, one that requires a process involving an 80-portion pan that has to go into the oven by 1:30 p.m. every day, skewers to hold the lasagna in place while it sets, and a special spatula to serve it. Described as "50 practically transparent sheets of handmade pasta, alternating with 50 layers of sauce (Bolognese, besciamella, and marinara)," the lasagna is delicious. Light, creamy, delicate, nuanced… it’s quite a bit of fun. And even better at lunch service when it’s presented after spending some time crisping on a flattop, texturally pleasing too with bits of crisp edge.
All right, already, so what’s my beef with The Chew? Their recipe.
I know, I know. "You mean Mario doesn’t write his own recipes for the website? Gasp! I’m shocked, shocked that there’s untested recipe-writing going on at that daytime food talk show establishment."
Maybe I have only myself to blame.
After all, while I did what I thought was enough due diligence by reading up on the piece on Grub Street and examining the recipe on The Chew and coming up with my own adaptations, I didn’t watch the accompanying video until after I was wrist-deep in lasagna at one in the morning, at which point I noticed that not only did the recipe not call for the pound of beef that Mario noted was needed while demoing the lasagna on camera (and which would have been very helpful near the completion of my own recipe when I was running out of meat), but he also layered the ingredients in a different order — béchamel , pasta, ragù, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pasta, béchamel, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pasta… — than the order noted in the recipe ("Spread a layer of ragù over the bottom and top with a sprinkling of parmigiano, a layer of pasta, a layer of besciamella, another layer of ragù, a sprinkling of parmigiano, and pasta. Repeat to end with 33 layers of pasta, 33 layers of ragù, and 34 layers of besciamella, so that the final layer is pasta, topped with besciamella and sprinkled with parmigiano.")
Let's just say that by the end of the night I was extending my ragù by adding the sauce that I'd been inspired to make on my own and that I was going to use for service, scooping up whatever had spilled out over the side to use that as replacement filler (not a bad thing necessarily), substituting cotija for Parmigiano-Reggiano between layers, and using a Mexican cheese blend I had on hand to reach the finish line (also actually pretty tasty).
Mario (and I say this with love, respect, and a gentle elbow-ribbing), che cazzo fai?
I know, you're saying, "Well why are you complaining about Mario’s recipe when you’re supposed to be coming up with your own?!"
Why? It’s an homage! A rendition for the home cook, but I wanted to end with a recipe that felt related. And I think the end result will feel that way, more so than the recipe on The Chew’s site (and yes, I’ve had the lasagna at the restaurant, not as a big spender, but as part of the $35 prix fixe, which is widely acknowledged as one of the city’s best lunch deals). Not only is the recipe pretty true to the restaurant version, but I’d argue that it’s more true to what the home cook is going to want to eat. Thirty-four layers of even the thinnest, freshest pasta you can find at your local nice Italian market is still likely to be pretty thick, as are most store-bought sheets of dry pasta.
The 101-layer lasagna — an homage to Del Posto's 100-layer lasagna.
Instead, the recipe for this 101-Layer Lasagna calls for using the 7 1/3-by-7 1/3-inch Nasoya egg roll wrappers, which you’ll find are often offered as pasta substitutes. It mimics the thinness of the lasagna at the restaurant and will alleviate the hour (that’s conservative) that you’d spend making the pasta. Is it cheating? You bet. And the next time I make this recipe for myself at home? I’ll be cheating again. Clocking in at about a four-hour recipe as is, though one that your guests will likely be pretty impressed by, you probably won’t feel like it’s cheating when you take it out of the oven. Don’t forget that without this step you’re going to have to roll your pasta and make sure all the pieces are even. And don't worry when it comes to this recipe about running out of ragù or Parmigiano-Reggiano — they've been accounted for. No cotija or Mexican cheese blend necessary. I've got you covered.
Why 101 layers and not 100 (and yes, in these recipes, pasta, ragù, and béchamel each count as a "layer")? Well, Del Posto has been one of restaurants on The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America, and the number has become de facto the site's official mascot. So there you go.
Takeaway for those with a short attention span?
• Use the large spring roll wrappers.
• Make sure you have 3 pounds of meat.
• Don’t expect to eat for about four hours.
• Just like with many other dishes, this one is better the next day when it has a chance to set.
Oh yeah, and make sure before you make a recipe from The Chew next time, that you watch the video and compare notes with the recipe before you start cooking (nudge, wink).
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.