Roasted lamb seemed a bit heavy-handed for the warm weather. So, I went searching for a lighter alternative. I have no family Easter tradition to fall back on. In fact, I cannot remember a single Easter meal from my childhood. Channeling a past memory was not an option, leaving only the interweb to search for a new idea – maybe even the makings of a new Easter tradition.
A fan of Saveur magazine, I often visit the online edition for information and ideas. It was here that I discovered my inspiration – Lattughe Ripiene en Brodo, or stuffed lettuces in broth. This is a traditional Genoese Easter dish described in the article as:
…little packets enclosing a flavorful veal forcemeat, simmered in broth—has been traditional Genoese Easter fare since the 16th century. (An ancient Genoese proverb says ”Pe Pasqua nu ghe cuxin-a ca nu fasse a laituga pin-a”—For Easter, there’s no kitchen that doesn’t make stuffed lettuce.)”
The idea of this dish is a homerun for me. First, it’s Italian, which is my “go to” cuisine. But, rather than a typical Roman or Bolognese dish, it is a Genoese preparation. This sparked my interest since I am not familiar with the regional cuisine of Genoa.
Second, it’s a lighter preparation, appropriate for the aforementioned warm temperatures and my dining companion’s lighter eating preferences. Lastly, it requires an Italian brodo. I had been planning a large batch of broth for another upcoming meal and this dish provided the motivation to get the broth making underway.
The brodo was made on Saturday, the night before Easter dinner. It differed from an earlier rendition of brodo by including a large slice of oxtail and three small pig trotters. These were browned in the oven along with eight chicken wings. Browning meats beforehand produces a darker, richer broth.
Making broth is a technique that allows for unlimited variations and interpretations. Don’t feel constrained by a recipe. As a bonus, it freezes well and can be thawed for use in many dishes.
The lettuce packets are stuffed with a mixture of lightly browned ground veal, sautéed porcini mushrooms, a slice of day old bread, one egg and some herbs. I used Italian parsley and sorrel, but feel free to experiment. Basil is prized in Genoese cuisine and could be used.
All of the ingredients are mixed together. A food processor makes quick work of this and produces a finer grind of the veal. The stuffing is set aside while butter lettuce leaves are blanched for only the moment it takes to dip and remove them from a pan of boiling water.
To assemble, dried lettuce leaves are laid flat and one tablespoon of the stuffing placed in the center. The lettuce is folded around the stuffing and placed in a skillet, seam side down. Broth is ladled over the stuffed lettuces just short of covering the packets. This allows the stuffed lettuces to rest gently on the bottom of the pan so the packages don’t open as the broth is brought to a gentle, rolling boil.
Place three or four of the stuffed lettuces into each individual serving bowl, followed by a ladle of broth. Serve with a sprinkling of your preference of either Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. As prepared here, the dish serves two, but the recipe makes enough stuffing to serve four to six, if additional lettuce leaves are prepared.
- 4 to 6 cups of homemade Italian brodo (a mixture of store bought, low salt chicken and vegetable broth can be substituted)
- 4 to 6 sliced porcini mushrooms (reconstituted dried porcini may be substituted)
- Everyday olive oil for sautéing
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves of garlic smashed and coarsely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups of Italian flat leaf parsley coarsely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound ground veal
- 1 whole egg
- 2 slices day old bread cut into large cubes
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
- Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano as preferred
- 1 head butter leaf lettuce
- 1 lemon (optional, cut in half for squeezing)
- Add broth to a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.
- Place a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. When the oil and butter are hot, add chopped mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, ¼ cup chopped parsley and season to taste. Sauté for three to five minutes or until the mushrooms soften and brown. Remove mushrooms from the pan and set aside.
- Return the sauté pan to the heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the ground veal along with salt and pepper to taste. Break up the veal with a spatula and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add mushrooms, veal, egg, bread, the remaining parsley, nutmeg and ½ cup grated cheese to the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse the mixture 4 to 5 times. Taste to adjust seasoning and set aside.
- Remove the largest butter lettuce leaves from the head. Bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil and quickly blanch the lettuce leaves so these become pliable (just a few seconds in the boiling water is needed). Set the leaves aside on a tray, or backing sheet, to dry.
- To assemble, place a butter lettuce leaf on a flat surface with the stem side on the table so the natural curve of the leaf is facing up. Put 1 tablespoon (more or less, depending on the size of the lettuce leaf) of the stuffing in the center of the lettuce and fold the lettuce around the mixture. Repeat, making 3 to 4 packets per planned serving.
- Spoon enough broth to cover the bottom of a skillet, or shallow pan. Place the stuffed lettuces in the pan without touching. Ladle enough broth over the packets to just barely cover the packages. Cover and bring to a gentle boil for 2 minutes to cook. Remove from the heat.
- Place 3 to 4 stuffed lettuces in individual, shallow serving bowls. Ladle broth over the packets and add grated cheese to serve. Optionally, a light squeeze of fresh lemon can be added to brighten this dish.