I was recently drowning my sorrows in good food and conversation with Michael Abbatiello at City Cellar in Westbury, the restaurant where he is executive chef. Here’s why.
Last year I had stopped by the annual Westbury bocce game. While the men played the game, the women set up the food. There was BBQ and homemade wine and all kinds of good Italian dishes. It was great. So this year I planned to write about the event for this column. Then I received the news that there wasn’t going to be any food this year.
I couldn’t believe it. Would Italians have an event without food? Was it even possible? I even drove by the court while they were playing to see if someone had dropped over with a pot of meatballs or a plate of soppressata. Nothing.
I was determined to do an article on Italian cooking. My first on Italian cuisine for this column had been more than two years ago. Then I remembered that Michael was a born-and-bred Westbury resident and of Italian ancestry. We started brainstorming.
Having worked in fine dining French restaurants in Manhattan and the renowned Nobu Japanese restaurant, Michael has a powerful culinary background from which to receive inspiration. Since the article was to run in November, we thought about Thanksgiving and that’s when Michael came up with lasagna with the flavors of the feast. A few weeks later, I came back to try his Thanksgiving lasagna, utilizing sage, sweet potatoes and turkey.
When I was a child, lasagna had always meant layers of ricotta, red sauce, mozzarella, ground beef, sausage and curly broad noodles, as prepared by our neighbor Sadie Bizzarro, whose family had migrated from southern Italy.
Michael’s delicious lasagna was the style I had enjoyed while visiting Bologna in northern Italy, with a white béchamel sauce holding the layers together. It is a perfect expression of how this imaginative chef likes to cook.
“This is an Italian dish applying French techniques with American ingredients,” he says.
So, Michael saved the day.
Michael Abbatiello Thanksgiving Lasagna
5 lb bone in turkey breast*
6 oz white wine
Mirepoix (1 small onion, 1 carrot, 2 ribs celery-finely chopped) plus ½ cup oil
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
1 clove garlic
1 gallon chicken stock
Chop mirepoix and add bay leafs, thyme and garlic. Sautè ingredients in oil just until fragrant. Deglaze with white wine. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Pour liquid mixture over turkey breast in a roasting pan and braise at 350 degrees for about three hours or until fork tender. Cook turkey breast and shred two pounds of the turkey.
*Note: you only need around two pounds of turkey for this recipe so you may want to buy shredded turkey instead of roasting your own. Use leftover broth for soup and turkey for whatever else.
Sweet Potato Puree
2 large sweet potatoes
1 pt heavy cream
¼ lb butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt and white pepper to taste
Wrap sweet potato in aluminum foil and roast at 400 degrees for roughly 30 minutes or until fork tender. Peel the sweet potato and place flesh in a blender. Steep cream, butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. Add the cream mixture to the blender and blend until smooth consistency. Season with salt and white pepper.
¼ lb butter
1 c (approx.) flour
½ gallon milk
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
Salt and white pepper to taste
Melt butter in a saucepan and whisk in flour. Once a pale mass forms, deglaze with milk. Whisk until clumps disperse and simmer for roughly 20 minutes or until flour cooks out. Season with salt and white pepper to desired flavor.
Purchase two pounds of lasagna sheets at your local grocery store. Blanch the sheets before assembling the lasagna. You will also need one bunch of sage.
Mix the shredded turkey with the ¾ of the béchamel (you will use the rest of the béchamel when serving the individual slices) until it is well blended. Spread a small amount of plain béchamel in the bottom of a 12-inch pan to prevent sticking. Place a blanched lasagna sheet over the sauce. Layer the lasagna with turkey mixture, then another pasta sheet and then sweet potato mixture. Make four layers of each ending with béchamel and turkey. Cover with foil.
Bake the lasagna for 25 minutes at 325 degrees or until bubbly. Let rest for about 20 minutes before cutting into portions. Garnish hot béchamel and fresh sage leaves.