THE Dish: Chef Michael Romano's "Mama Romano's" lasagna


(CBS News) Michael Romano is the culinary director for the Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes Union Square, Gramercy Park, the Modern, Blue Smoke and more. He joined the organization in 1988. He is the chef-partner for the Union Square Cafe.

Special section: Food and wine

The James Beard Foundation named him "best chef in New York City," awarded the Union Square Cafe "outstanding restaurant of the year" and inducted him into the Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America.

He has co-authored two books with Danny Meyer, and his latest cookbook, "Family Table," is a roundup of favorite staff meals.

Romano shared his ultimate dish, Mama Romano's Lasagna, with "CBS This Morning: Saturday."

Mama Romano's Lasagna

For the meatballs

6 slices white sandwich bread

3/4 cup milk

8 ounces finely ground beef

8 ounces finely ground pork

8 ounces finely ground veal

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano

2 large eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

For the sauce

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup coarsely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes, passed through a food mill or pureed with their juice in a food processor

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 fresh basil sprigs, tied together with kitchen twine

For the cheese mixture

3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (1 cup)

10 ounces mozzarella, grated (2 1/2 cups)

1 3/4 pounds (3 1/2 cups) whole-milk ricotta

3 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the pasta

2 tablespoons kosher salt

8 5-x-10-inch sheets fresh pasta, homemade (below) or store-bought

Olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

To make the meatballs:

1. In a large bowl, soak the bread slices in the milk for 2 minutes.

2. Squeeze the bread and mash it until it becomes a smooth paste. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula or your hands. Form a little of the meat into a thin 1-inch patty and cook it in a teaspoon or so of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings in the meat mixture if necessary.

3. With moistened hands, form the meat mixture into 10 equal-sized meatballs; they will be very moist and soft. Lay the meatballs on a baking sheet and refrigerate until needed. (The meatballs can be refrigerated for up to 3 hours.)

4. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add only as many meatballs as will fit comfortably in the pot without crowding and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. As the meatballs are seared, remove them from the pot and set them aside on a plate. When all of the meatballs are browned, pour out and discard the remaining oil.

To make the sauce:

1. Add the oil to the pot and heat over medium heat.

2. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion and garlic are lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, remove and discard the onion and garlic, leaving as much of the olive oil as possible in the pot.

4. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then add the basil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. Add the meatballs to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Continue simmering the sauce for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

6. Remove and discard the basil.

7. Carefully transfer the meatballs from the sauce to a platter or baking sheet, scraping the sauce that adheres to them back into the pot.

8. Slice the meatballs into 1/4-inch-thick slices and refrigerate, covered.

To make the cheese mixture:

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula or your hands.

2. Refrigerate, covered.

To cook the pasta:

1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large pot and add the salt.

2. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

3. Fill a large bowl with ice water.

4. Cook the pasta sheets one by one just until al dente.

5. Carefully transfer each sheet with a slotted spoon to the ice water to cool, then immediately transfer the pasta sheet to the baking sheet and lightly oil the top of it.

To assemble and bake the lasagna:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-x-13-inch baking pan.

2. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the baking pan.

3. Fit 2 of the pasta sheets into the pan and, using a rubber spatula, spread half the cheese mixture in an even layer over it. Top with a second layer of 2 sheets of pasta.

4. Spread a good amount of sauce over the pasta, then arrange the sliced meatballs, slightly overlapping, on top.

5. Spread more sauce over the meatballs and top with the third layer of 2 sheets of pasta.

6. Spread the remaining cheese mixture over the pasta and then top with the final 2 sheets of pasta. Spread the remaining sauce over the pasta.

7. Cover the pan with parchment paper and then with aluminum foil, making sure the parchment is completely covered by the foil. Poke a few holes in the foil and parchment with the point of a paring knife.

8. Bake the lasagna for 1 hour.

9. Remove the foil and parchment and sprinkle the Parmigiano over the top of the lasagna. Continue baking, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes longer, until the top of the lasagna browns lightly and looks set.

10.Allow the lasagna to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. (The lasagna can be cooled and refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 1 day. Reheat, covered with parchment and foil, in a 325-degree oven until it is hot in the center.)

Fresh Pasta Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

About 1 tablespoon olive oil

To make the dough by hand:

1. Combine the flour and salt on a work surface, shape into a mound, and make a well in the center large enough to hold the eggs.

2. Crack the eggs into the well and beat lightly with a fork, then begin using it to pull flour from the base of the well and incorporate it into the eggs.

3. When the mixture is thick, use your hands to push all the remaining flour into the center and knead until a dough forms.

4. When the dough is fairly stiff, move it away from any remaining flour and small bits of dough. Clean your hands, then scrape the remaining flour and bits of dough from the work surface with a pastry scraper and transfer to a fine-mesh strainer.

5. Shake the flour from the strainer onto one side of the work surface and discard the bits of dough.

6. Place the dough on the floured surface and knead, incorporating as much of the flour as necessary, until it holds together well and is no longer sticky; the dough should not be hard or dry.

7. Transfer the dough to a clean surface and knead with clean hands until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball. Drizzle with the oil, turn to coat with the oil, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

To make the dough by machine:

1. Combine the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to aerate. With the machine running, add the eggs through the feed tube and process until the dough starts to form a ball. If the dough is too dry, add 1 to 2 teaspoons water and continue to process.

2. Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Form it into a ball.

3. Oil and wrap the dough as above and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.

4. Sprinkle some flour on a baking sheet and set aside.

5. Set up a hand-cranked or an electric pasta machine and lightly flour the work surface in front of it. Cut the pasta dough into quarters. Wrap 3 of the quarters in plastic wrap and set aside.

6. Pass the remaining quarter through the widest setting on the pasta machine.

7. Decrease the setting a notch, pass the dough through again, and then repeat, decreasing the setting again.

8. On the floured work surface, fold the dough into thirds, bringing the two ends over the center as though folding a letter.

9. Flatten it with your fingertips and run it through the widest setting a second time.

10.Repeat this process 5 or 6 times, dragging the dough through the flour if it becomes sticky, until it is silky and elastic.

11. Then continue rolling the dough, decreasing the setting each time, until you get to the next-to-the-last setting.

12. Roll the dough through this setting 3 times; you will have a long sheet of pasta that is silky, elastic, and about as wide as the rollers.

13. Cut the sheet into thirds (each will be about 10 inches long) using a sharp knife or a pasta cutter. Then cut into the shape your recipe calls for using an attachment for the pasta machine or a long sharp knife.

14. For fettuccine, wind the strands around your fingers to make nests and toss gently with the flour on the baking sheet. For lasagna sheets, cut rectangles 5 inches by 10 inches. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Yellow Bell Pepper Panzanella

1/2 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

4 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups cut or torn 1-inch chunks day-old bread

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups torn fresh basil leaves

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and light golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add the bell peppers and garlic and cook until very soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

4. Toss the bread cubes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and spread on a baking sheet. Toast until light golden, 7 to 10 minutes; check them after 5 minutes to make sure they don't get too dark. Allow to cool.

5. In a large bowl, combine the pepper mixture and capers and fold in the bread. Add the two vinegars and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors.

6. Right before serving, gently mix in the basil leaves and drizzle the salad with the remaining ¼ cup oil.

Escarole & Apple Salad

1 cup pecans

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 head escarole, cored and coarsely chopped

1 Granny Smith apple, halved, cored, and thinly sliced

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/5 cup finely chopped fresh mint

1. Spread the pecans in a large dry skillet and toast over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring and watching carefully so they do not burn. Transfer to a plate to cool.

2. To make the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

3. Combine the escarole, apple, pecans, and onion in a large serving bowl. Toss with the dressing, sprinkle with the mint, and serve.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups buttermilk

Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of the cream. Let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Bring the remaining 1/2 cup cream, the sugar, and vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 minute, then whisk in the cream-gelatin mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Stir in the buttermilk.

3. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Divide the mixture among six 4-ounce ramekins or pour into a small serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, until set. (Well-wrapped, the panna cotta will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.)

4. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins and unmold the panna cotta onto plates, or serve it right in the ramekins or scoop out of the bowl. Top with the fruit compote.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb

2 cups quartered hulled strawberries

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

1. Combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.

2. Combine the rhubarb and sugar syrup in a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, until the rhubarb is tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Add the strawberries, stir, and bake for 5 minutes longer, until the strawberries have softened. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use. (The compote will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.)

Roasted Baby Artichokes

12 baby artichokes (about 2 pounds)

1?2 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1?4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2?3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 cup panko or dried bread crumbs

1?3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

1. Cut away the top 1?2 inch of each artichoke. With a paring knife, peel away 3 to 4 layers of tough outer leaves until you reach the tender light green leaves. Cut each artichoke lengthwise in half and remove the small choke, if any, at the center.

2. In a medium bowl, toss the artichokes with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the artichokes from the vinaigrette and spread them on a baking sheet; reserve the vinaigrette. Roast the artichokes for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and tender when pierced with a paring knife.

4. Meanwhile, mix together the Parmigiano, bread crumbs, and parsley in a small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved vinaigrette.

5. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the artichokes, stir gently to combine, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Cherry or Pomegranate Limeade

2 limes, cut into eighths

1 cup fresh Bing cherries, crushed or cut in half and pits removed

2 cups sugar

2 cups fresh lime juice (from about 16 limes), or more to taste

2 cups cherry juice or pomegranate juice (such as POM)

8 cups

1. In a pitcher, using a wooden spoon, muddle (mash) the limes, cherries, and sugar together. Stir in the lime juice, 4 cups cold water, and the fruit juice.

2. Taste and add more lime juice if you want to make the drink more tart or add more water to dilute.

3. Chill and serve over ice.