In the past six months, four pairs of my very close friends have announced their intention to end their marriage. Since it is my dear friends who are separating, I take the loss personally.
I suggest that the fragile bonds of matrimony might possibly be recemented with the application of a little old-fashioned togetherness, starting with the premise that food is love after all.
Men are essentially romantics at the stove. They become excited when they attempt extravagant culinary feats. Women are somewhat more practical and temper their enthusiasms with realism and judgment. Men and women make excellent teammates. And I know that if my friends could manage to declare an emotional truce for the time it takes to perform a bit of serious cooking they just might discover the seemingly lost sense of compatibility.
What follows is a wonderfully complicated dish. It's my American version of a Greek classic that just happens to be designed for four pairs of hands. LAMB PASTITSIO
1 pound penne or elbow macaroni
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 pound Parmesan cheese, grated
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds cooked lamb, ground
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups hot chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Cook macaroni in large pot of boiling, unsalted water until tender, about 12 to 13 minutes. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Transfer to large bowl.
Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Set aside.
Pour melted butter over macaroni and toss to coat well. Sprinkle macaroni with 1/2 cup cheese and toss again. Fold in egg whites. Set aside.
Melt 3 tablespoons softened butter with oil in same large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 1 minute. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Stir in canned and fresh tomatoes. Sprinkle with sugar. Add cinnamon.
Stir in lamb and mustard. Cook until all liquid is evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool slightly. Remove cinnamon stick. Stir in 1/2 cup additional cheese and 1/4 cup bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly. Remove to large bowl. Wipe out pot.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same large pot over medium-low heat. Add flour, then cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Whisk in chicken broth. Heat to boiling. Add cream and nutmeg. Cook until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
Lightly beat egg yolks in small bowl. Whisk in 1/4 cup sauce. Whisk egg yolk mixture back into sauce. Set aside.
Butter large ovenproof lasagna pan or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle dish with 2 tablespoons bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon cheese. Spoon half of macaroni over bottom of dish to form layer. Add lamb mixture to form next layer. Top with remaining macaroni. Pour sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings.