Pasta protocol: The lasagna has 12 layers not 11, not 13


Giuliano Bugialli is a hero to all who favor authentic Italian cooking, and his books are among the finest on the shelf. Lecturing this week at the Baltimore International Culinary College, the bearded and fashionably groomed Bugialli speaks in a soft, accented voice, but with great insistence (and some backhands at French cuisine): "Italian cooking is about using the highest quality ingredients in dishes presented with simplicity, not with tricks or decorations. . . . In a simple meal, fresh fruit is served without whipped cream! . . . You can't say, 'I like my risotto cooked completely.' That means you don't like risotto."

Bugialli's first lecture was on pasta. "Italians are very fussy, very stubborn about their pasta," he says. "Pasta is never served to accompany something else, never served as a garnish, always as a main course."

Some tips: When cooking pasta, always start with cold water. "Heated water from a pipe gives the pasta a sour taste." Do not add salt until the water reaches a boil. Never add oil. "If you add oil," he says, "the pasta will be coated with it and there is no way the sauce can be absorbed by the pasta." When cooking sheets of lasagna, remove each from the boiling water with a skimmer, dip them in oiled ice water, then rest them on damp towels until you're ready to assemble the dish. And remember: "Lasagna must have 12 layers -- cheese, the sauce, the pasta very thin -- to fit in a 2 1/2 - to 3-inch baking dish. It must be 12 layers." Invite him over to dinner and I'm sure Bugialli will count them, too.

From a nunnery

I would think something called "The Nunnery Riot of 1839" holds great theatric, even cinematic promise. One imagines mobs bearing torches, shrieking sisters in torn habits, toppled statues, mustachioed constables with night sticks, blood, mayhem and -- I dunno, what else? -- Tommy Lee Jones as the mayor of Baltimore? The "riot" took place here in August 1839, though in the city's history I find no reference to physical violence. There are references to "indications of a riotous spirit" and "excitement fomented by religious bigots and evil-disposed persons." But, c'mon, that's not "riot" in the Mob Town sense.

Still, any time you have an insane nun running through the streets of old Baltimore screaming for asylum and inciting anti-Catholic Protestants, you have the makings for drama. The nun, Isabella Neale, escaped from the Carmelite convent (then on Aisquith Street), claimed she was being held against her will and begged bystanders for protection. A crowd formed outside the nunnery, and there were fears the mob might tear the place down. Mayor Shappard Leakin brought in armed police and gave a speech imploring peace. He also appointed a committee to quickly check out the nunnery. The panel reported back that all the nuns were fine, content and well treated. Sister Isabella was examined by doctors and found to be "monomaniacal." By the third day the "riot" was history. Even without any bloodshed, this sounds like a good story, and just in time for Lent and St. Patrick's Day. Award-winning writer Helen Jean Burn has written a "living history play" about the "riot" for the City Life Museums, and it is performed -- I was just kidding about Tommy Lee Jones, though -- weekends through April 22.

Canine commerce

You've probably seen the clever television spots for Advance Business Systems featuring company president Alan "We Live And Breathe This Stuff" Elkin. But the one that created the most buzz features a golden retriever, Millie. She-dog had a fight with he-dog, Spot. He-dog faxes a letter asking forgiveness to Millie's doghouse. But Millie paws a button and shreds the letter. Cute stuff, but how effective can an ad with a shredding dog be? Shortly after the ad aired last month, the boss himself was in the Advance showroom in Cockeysville, and two elderly sisters, retired schoolteachers, walked in. They demanded "the same shredder Millie has." Elkin told the women the machine in the doghouse ad was a high-end model, more suitable for office than home. But the women insisted; they wanted what Millie had. They bought one, too. (I'm guessing the sisters own a goldie and want it to have the best of everything, right?)

Little bits

I must give credit where it's due: Vince Jackson, loyal TJI reader in Locust Point, was first to put us on to the meaning behind "Old Shouting John Said Hold My Mule," the gospel song by Shirley Caesar. . . . And for the record: The sacred owls of the Owl Bar at the Belvedere Hotel were restored by master plasterer Frank Schmuff of SandFran Ceramics, Brooklyn. . . . Bawlmer shorthand: Italian luggage -- from President Street to Highland Avenue, that's a Santoni's shopping bag. . . . Elizabeth Taylor on the cover of Good Housekeeping is like Tom Clancy making the cover of Sassy." . . . Baltimore magazine's cover this month might be the best in its history. Check it out. . . . There's an amusing typo on the flip side of Baltimore speeding tickets. Under "Notice to Defendant," Instruction No. 8 says: "Do not wail until the date of the trial to get a lawyer." Right. Better to do all your crying in court.

Here, Fido?

A reader in Hamilton had second thoughts about taking a leisurely stroll after spotting this sign posted on several telephone poles near Burdick Park: "MISSING, 135-lb Rottweiler. 426-2000 immediately. Can be unfriendly."

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