The magic of food on foreign holidays, or: why edible souvenirs are never as good back home

If you have ever been on a holiday abroad and you have brought some souvenirs of a gastronomic nature back with you, then you might recognise the following: food that you eat and love abroad, food with the potential to make you go insane because it is so delicious, will never be as good when you eat it back home.

It’s strange, but true. The amazing cheese that you enjoyed so much when you ate it with your lover from the Côte D’Azur turns out a disappointment in your own flat. But why? Should it always be eaten with a glass of red wine? Does the bleak, British bread on which you eat it drain its magic? Is it the lack of Mediterranean sun? Or is it the fact that, after a summer of love in a foreign country, you are now eating a chunk of cheese by yourself, at your kitchen table, listening to the sound of the inevitable rain that is forcing you back to the dreary reality of your normal life when you’re not ready to face it yet? Whatever the reason, it happens all the time. Cheese, wine, dry sausages, biscuits, even olive oil: once they pass the border they lose their magic.

But that doesn’t mean we should never try to relive our foreign escapades back home, by ourselves, in our own kitchens. It might not be as good as it was in the kitchen of your lover, the ingredients might lack the taste they took from their exotic foreign soil and southern sunlight, but it’ll just have to do. And I can assure you that lasagne al pesto, even if they’re better when you eat them in Genova, really are amazing wherever you eat them. So here’s for up to 6 people, or for 2 gluttonous bastards:

For the pesto:

  • 3 plants of basil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp of pine nuts
  • a fistful of grated parmesan
  • a fistful of grated pecorino
  • enough olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

For the béchamel:

  • 100 gr of flour
  • 100 gr of butter
  • a litre of milk

The rest:

  • enough lasagna sheets
  • more parmesan cheese, for in between layers and to top the dish

Because this dish is based on exactly the same principle as ‘normal’ lasagne (lasagne al forno), and I’ve published a recipe for pesto before (right here), I’m going to copy some parts from those posts. Saves me writing, and saves you going back and forth between recipes.

Make the pesto first. Wash the basil and dry the leaves carefully. Peel the garlic, cut it in half and remove the planty thing. Put in a blender with the pine nuts and blend to a fine mixture. Add the basil, the cheese, a pinch of salt and a little bit of oil, and start blending carefully. Carefully keep adding oil until the mixture has the right substance. If the the concoction doesn’t mix well, add a small amount of water.

Then make the béchamel sauce. I recently learned a much easier way to make béchamel sauce. Stick the milk in the microwave or in a little saucepan and preheat it a bit, but not too much, it only needs to be warm. Melt the butter and once it’s all soft, add the flour, stir well. Now add all of the milk in one go, and keep stirring for a while. Then just leave it, stir occasionally. It’ll take about 15 minutes to thicken. Add a generous pinch of salt and a small pinch of nutmeg once it’s done.

Boil a pan of water with some salt in it. Take your lasagna sheets and boil each for a short amount of time, about a minute and a half. This way the pasta will be a bit more flexible and easier to fold into your oven dish, but it won’t turn out overcooked. Also, if your dish is of a very inconvenient size, this way you can cut the sheets a bit and avoid too much overlap of pasta.

Mix all the pesto with all the béchamel. Mix well and taste for salt, just to be sure. Now take an oven dish and pour in some of the mixture. Top with lasagne sheets. Add more sauce, now also add a layer of cheese, and top with lasagne. Repeat this process, making sure you’ve got at least four layers of pasta and that you finish with sauce and cheese. Shove it in the oven for 45 – 60 minutes, 175°C. After taking it out of the oven, leave for 10 minutes to allow it to set.

About La dittatrice

After years of being based in Glasgow, I've recently made a home for myself in Turin, Italy, for the time being, at least. This blog is my captain's log. Here I note down what I did, and what I ate. A story, then a recipe. That's how this here works. Updates on Wednesdays.
This entry was posted in Baking, Food, Italian, Travel, Vegetarian and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The magic of food on foreign holidays, or: why edible souvenirs are never as good back home

  1. Jo says:

    Hi, I’d love to make this for a change from regular lasagne, but I don’t have a blender and wouldn’t have the patience to make my own pesto. Do you have any idea roughly how much pesto your recipe amounts to, either in weight or even just in how much it looks like it is – would it fill a mug, or a bowl, etc? So that I could just use shop bought pesto but not overload it or have too little. Thanks :)

    Like

    • Hi Jo! How exciting, a comment! Thanks! That’s actually a tough question, since I hardly ever weigh my ingredients. I trust my eyes more than anything, usually. But I’m pretty sure that I used about a regular teacup full. My scales tell me that my teacup fits 200 ml, so that should probably be enough. Sometimes pesto from a jar is not quite as fragrant and strong of flavour as fresh pesto, so you might want to use just a little bit more, say 250 ml. I hope this helps!

      Like

  2. Pingback: The attack of the giant moussaka | La dittatrice della cucina

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