Some (most) days, all I want out of life is a big bowl of bolognese (BBB). I want the noodles to be silky on the outside and chewy on the inside. I want the sauce to taste creamy, even though it is not made of cream. I want the flavors to be blended to a point where I know there are different kinds of meat, but I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. I want parmesan cheese to have been involved from the beginning, layered throughout the dish and then showered on top. I want to sop up the sauce with bread, and have it taste like butter. I want to want the whole bowl, and then want more.
Cinquecento, newest member of the Aquitaine Group, has mastered the BBB. I’d go back for bowl after bowl, not to mention the lux vitello tonnato, the lemony kale salad, and the delicate vitello milanese, all of which I also tried, all of which were excellent but eclipsed by the BBB.
My mom’s birthday today kicks off birthday season – it seems most of the people I know were born between May 8th – July 6th. Happy Birthday to an amazing woman who taught me, among other things, how to cook, how to find the best Italian cookie in the North End, and how to spend 5 hours straight in frigid New England ocean water (aka how to have a beach day).
If you’ve ever seen The Sopranos you know that, much like a 1940′s film makes some crave a cigarette, watching mobster Tony Soprano inhale baked ziti defies you to go another second without pasta. I was struck in particular by a character’s description of how Tony’s wife, Carmela, makes her lasagna -with a layer of basil leaves underneath the cheese. Below is my lasagna (taught to me by my mother), but with a Carmela Soprano twist. You will probably be uneasy about the ridiculous amount of fresh basil you use, but don’t worry, it’s not overpowering at all.
Carmela Soprano’s Lasagna
makes enough for 6 really hungry people, 8 less hungry people.
32 oz whole milk ricotta
2 tsp garlic powder (or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced, or equivalent amount of garlic product)
1 tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1 lb ground beef
32 oz tomato sauce (make your own or use a great jarred sauce, like Rao’s)
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 lb lasagna noodles, cooked al dente (7-8 minutes) and drained
1 very large bunch basil, leaves removed from stems (about 60 leaves)
Brown the beef and add sauce. In a bowl, mix garlic powder, salt, eggs, and lemon into ricotta until blended. Begin to layer your ingredients into your lasagna pan:
Start with a thin layer of sauce just to coat the bottom of the pan so the noodles don’t stick (a tip from my mom).
Add a layer of noodles, then a layer of ricotta, then a layer of sauce and meat, then a sprinkle of parm. Next add a layer of basil leaves, top with mozzarella, then another layer of noodles to start again. You’ll probably get 3-4 layers in your pan, but remember you need an extra layer of noodles to top the whole thing, and at least enough sauce left over to coat those noodle so they don’t dry out. Finish with more basil and mozzarella, cover with tin foil. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.
As it is one of my favorite Boston restaurants, I follow The Gallows on Facebook, and I was psyched to see them post the above picture a few days ago. The comment card text, “Yelp doesn’t know shit” hits it – especially because the online review site almost steered us away from NoMad in NYC. Forutnately, we didn’t listen to the crowd-sourced smarmy-ness, and NoMad turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Here’s a few of the first Yelp comments you’ll get when you look up NoMad:
“Overpriced and underwhelming.”
“Roast Chicken – We saw every table ordering this. Presentation wise, it looked phenomenal. However, was it heavenly? No, it wasn’t. Some parts of the chicken was over cooked. The dark meat is delivered on the side with some sauce. It should be the other way around. Also overpriced.”
“The food was so salty, especially the butternut squash. And one of the staffers had awful body odor.”
Accusation #1: NoMad’s Roast Chicken is overpriced.
Fact: NoMad serves a Roast Chicken for Two, for $79.
$79/2 = $39.50. Under forty dollars for an entrée in New York? Empirically not overpriced.
Accusation #2: “However was it heavenly? No, it wasn’t. The dark meat is delivered on the side with some sauce. It should be the other way around.”
Fact: The roast chicken has foie gras, black truffle, and brioche stuffed under its skin. It is presented to your table whole, then left to rest, then carved. It is served with the white meat on a main plate, and the dark meat in a smaller black skillet, covered in a frothy hollandaise. It is perfect. And yes, it is heavenly.
So no, please don’t drench the chicken breast in gravy. Please, allow me to devour it as God intended, with its crispy stuffed skin intact and untouched. Please, accent the gamey dark meat with creamy, mildly acidic hollandaise that makes me want to order two more chickens to go. Please.
Accusation #3: “One of the staffers had awful body odor.”
You might want to check your own armpits, friend. The staff was nattily dressed and smelled lovely… a bit like the best chicken I’ve ever had. Moreover, everyone at NoMad was helpful and welcoming.
I hereby vow never to let Yelp decide my dinner location again.
Here it is folks, the results of my 6 weeks on a gluten free diet!
Pounds lost: 13.5lb
I lost a significant amount of weight the first two weeks, but this quickly tapered off to 1 lb a week for the last few weeks. Remember, the contributing factors to this weight loss were exercise 3-4 times a week and counting calories with Lose It. I may have lost the same amount if I hadn’t been working out or paying close attention to quantity, but I’m suspicious. Remember, Wheat Belly claims you can lose 14 lbs in 14 days – it took me six weeks to lose less than that, and with a lot of hard work. I will note that the first week on the diet- when I lost a whopping 6 lbs – I was not counting calories, nor was it my best workout week. So I do believe that the initial detox phase of going gluten free jump started my metabolism, which is great.
Blood Test Results:
Every year I get the same battery of tests done – my employer offers them for free. This year I planned my gluten free experiment to end on the day of the tests, to see if doing this for 6 weeks would make a measurable difference in my blood pressure, blood sugar (triglycerides), and cholesterol. My blood pressure was marginally better, but my cholesterol was marginally worse. However, my triglycerides were phenomenal, well below the “optimal” range set by the American Heart Association. Interestingly, when you have high triglycerides (I didn’t, but I still did better on this test this year), they suggest you cut out starchy foods and sugar - which is basically what the Wheat Belly diet does. Conclusion: not a huge change after six weeks, but can clearly see the positive effect on blood sugar.
Cravings: My only indiscretions on this diet were some sweets on Valentine’s day, and one really good roll at dinner one night. And while I may have incessantly talked about pizza and inhaled the smells of every passing bakery with gusto, I was able to stay away from gluten-y foods. Maybe it’s because I knew there was an end date to this diet, maybe it was because I was seeing tangible results, but whatever the cause, this was one of the easier diets I have tried.
Inflammation: The Wheat Belly books claims that eliminating gluten will reduce inflammation in your body. I’ve heard this said other ways – that carbs make one look puffy, that if you want to slim down quick you should cut out sugar. I think this is true. I look and feel far less puffy, and after my workouts I feel far less sore. After my experience I would definitely suggest anyone with a chronic soreness problem give this a shot.
A lot of people have asked me “but do you FEEL better on this diet?” It’s hard to answer that one in a vacuum. Yes, I do feel better – but why? Is it because I lost weight? Is it because I am exercising more? Is it because I just feel more energetic eating a more plant-based diet? I think it’s probably all three. The Wheat Belly cookbook claims that just by cutting out gluten one can achieve these results, and maybe you can – I certainly think it was a big contributor to the last few weeks. But it wasn’t the only factor that made me feel better.
Well first, I’m having pizza for dinner tonight. But on the whole, I’m going to be eating differently. Less pasta, bread, and red meat, more fish, vegetables, and wine- I mean fruit. I’ve got my eye on the newly hailed Mediterranean Diet, and I’d also like to try the “Fast Diet,” a new idea that intersperses two days of fasting with 5 days of regular eating. Fasting here is defined as less than 800 calories a day – which, compared to the fasts I’ve done, is luxurious. Stay tuned!
I’ve been gluten free for one whole month, and while I’ve seen some great benefits, I’m really starting to crave my old favorite foods. This past week I slipped and had what I knew to be a particularly good dinner roll. I loved every bite of it, but I knew it was just going to make my cravings worse. Oddly enough, it’s not my beloved pasta that I’m missing the most – it’s pizza. All I want is an enormous, cheesy, doughy pizza, followed by a sugary, frosting slathered cupcake. I imagine that at this point that combination of carbs and sugar would actually stop my heart. I don’t care, it would be worth it.
I initially pledged to do this for at least one month. I’m going to keep it up for 9 more days, and I’m even having some blood tests done on March 6th (last day!) to see if this experiment has had any effect on my health, good or bad.
I’ve also been diligently tracking my calories on my Lose It! App, but this recent NPR article – Calorie Counts: Fatally Flawed, Or Our Best Defense Against Pudge - has me wondering just how accurate they are. Some of the main points against using calories as a weight loss tool:
- It’s much easier for the body to extract nutrients from cooked and processed foods than from whole or raw foods. People get more energy per ounce out of cooked hamburger than they would from a raw steak.
- Some foods, like almonds, deliver a lot fewer calories than they contain, probably because we don’t chew them enough to fracture all the cell walls and release fats.
- Calorie counts don’t account for the 5 to 30 percent of energy used up in digesting and absorbing a meal.
- Refined carbohydrates – foods with a high glycemic index — make people hungrier sooner than an equivalent calorie amount of whole grains, encouraging overeating.
The last point, about refined carbohydrates and whole grains (both of which are discouraged/forbidden on the Wheat Belly diet), is interesting, but I wish they were comparing carbohydrates to more calorie dense vegetables. One thing I’ve re-learned on this diet is that veggies are my friend. I can fill my belly to my heart’s content with cucumbers and carrots and actually feel full without gaining weight. Common sense stuff, but easy to forget when all you crave is a bowl of pasta.