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If there’s anything that’s been our rock during quarantine, it’s comfort food. In times of stress and uncertainty, it’s inevitable that we reach for the kinds of dishes we grew up eating, the meals that are defined by comfort, safety, and ease. So it should come as no surprise that we can’t stop flipping through chef Joey Campanaro’s new cookbook, “Big Love Cooking,” a bona fide ode to the Italian-American staples and comfort dishes he lived on as a kid in South Philadelphia. 

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Joey, who’s the chef and owner of several restaurants in New York City, including Little Owl and Market Table, has filled the pages of “Big Love Cooking” with a collection of Mediterranean and Italian-American flavors, recipes that he would define as shareable comfort food. Expect biscuits studded with fontina and sausage; gravy meatball sliders dressed in garlic-scented tomato sauce; and sangria-marinated skirt steak. Accompanying these 75 recipes are many stories told from the voices within the Little Owl, paired with historical New York City photographs—the exterior of the restaurant, after all, may look familiar if you’re a “Friends” fan.

Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food, $29.79 on Amazon

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Below, Joey shares his recipe for the Campanaro family lasagna, a soaring concoction of béchamel sauce; a beef, pork, and veal ragu; an herby spread of ricotta; and sheets of fresh lasagna. Joey explains when he was a kid, he and his family would sit around the dining room table for meals. His father would have his own portion of ricotta cheese—he’d put the creamy cheese on just about everything—which certainly meant his father couldn’t get enough of the family lasagna, thanks to its many layers of ricotta cheese.   

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To assemble the lasagna, you’ll line the bottom of an ovenproof dish with cooked lasagna noodles, followed by the ricotta-béchamel mixture and a thin layer of ragu. You’ll repeat the process until you’re out of everything, making sure to end with one final layer of the ricotta. Sprinkle the finished product with parmesan, then slip it into the oven until bubbly and brown on top.

Reprinted from Big Love Cooking by Joey Campanaro with permission by Chronicle Books, 2020

Campanaro Family Lasagna Recipe

My father loved ricotta cheese—so much that even if we were having rigatoni (and pretty much no one puts ricotta on rigatoni), there would always be a little on the side just for him. And he loved ricotta ravioli (especially the frozen kind from P&S Ravioli), ricotta-filled manicotti, and, of course, lasagna. My seat at the dinner table was beside him, followed by my brother Michael, my sister Michele, and my brother Louie. My mom sat directly across from him, perched at the other end of the table. And I just loved to watch him eat. Sometimes, when all other memories fall away, you are left with a singular memory that sums it all up: My father loved ricotta. And this was his favorite lasagna.

Campanaro Family Lasagna

Serves: 8
  • Béchamel Sauce : 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small whole yellow onion, unpeeled
  • 7 fresh cloves
  • 6 Tbsp (85 g) butter
  • 6 Tbsp (60 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups (960 ml) whole milk
  • Kosher salt
  • Pinch of dried nutmeg
  • Ragù: 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 small onion, ends trimmed, peeled, and roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 5¼ oz (150 g) ground beef
  • 5¼ oz (150 g) ground pork
  • 5¼ oz (150 g) ground veal
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) red wine, such as Chianti
  • One 28 oz (794 g) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Ricotta Mixture: 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 32 oz (910 g) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup (30 g) finely grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup (50 g) finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb (55 g) fresh lasagna, store-bought
  • ½ cup (50 g) finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  1. To prepare the béchamel: Attach the bay leaves to the onion, using the cloves like pushpins to hold them in place. Set aside.
  2. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk until absorbed and smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl and place in your refrigerator to get cold. (Don’t skip this step—it will keep your sauce lump-free once it’s added to the warmed milk.)
  3. In a large, deep saucepan over medium-low heat, add the milk and the onion and slowly bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, about 15 minutes. Remove the onion and discard. Add the cold butter and flour mixture to the hot milk and use a whisk to combine until the milk begins to thicken and can coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 1 minute.
  4. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a heat-proof bowl and strain the béchamel, using your wooden spoon to push it through the strainer and into the bowl. Add a pinch of kosher salt and the nutmeg, and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down so that it kisses the top of the sauce, preventing a skin from forming. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  5. To prepare the ragù: In the work bowl of a food processor, add the carrot, celery, and onion and pulse until finely chopped. Set aside.
  6. In a large, deep skillet over high heat, warm 3 Tbsp of the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the beef, pork, veal, cumin, a generous pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper and cook until the meat is browned, using the back of a wooden spoon to really get in there and break it up, 5 to 6 minutes.
  7. Once the meat is browned, use your wooden spoon to move it to the side of your pan, making an empty spot in the center of your skillet. Add the garlic and cook until lightly toasted, about 30 seconds—it cooks very quickly, so be alert! Right when the garlic starts toasting, add the reserved carrots, celery, and onions and give the whole thing a stir. Stir, stir, continuously moving it around, for about 30 seconds.
  8. Add the red wine, the entire contents of the tomato can, the parsley, and 1 cup (240 ml) of water. Lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, using a wooden spoon to stir it every now and then, until it thickens, about 40 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter the bottom and the sides of a 9 by 13 in (23 by 33 cm) baking dish and set aside. Drizzle a baking sheet with the remaining 1 tsp of olive oil and set aside.
  10. To make the ricotta mixture: Crack the egg into a large bowl, add the ricotta, a generous pinch of kosher salt, a few grinds of pepper, the pecorino, Parmesan, basil, parsley, and the red pepper flakes. Use a wooden spoon to mix until smooth and creamy—really take about 1 minute to just mix. Add the cooled, reserved béchamel sauce to this creamy ricotta mixture to make your life of lasagna layering even easier. Set aside.
  11. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and add the lasagna sheets. Cook according to the package directions, stirring them frequently so that they don’t stick together. Lift them out of the pasta water with tongs (letting excess pasta water drip off) and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, laying them flat and drizzling with a bit more oil. (There is nothing worse than stuck-together lasagna sheets—except stuck-together crespelle.)
  12. In the prepared baking dish, arrange 4 pasta sheets vertically to cover the entire bottom of the dish and ladle a thin layer of the ricotta-béchamel mixture over the top, followed by a thin layer of ragù. Repeat the layering process with pasta, ricotta-béchamel mixture, and ragù until you have used up all of your components, ending with a final layer of ricotta-béchamel. Spread the top with the Parmesan.
  13. Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until beautifully bubbly and brown on top, 45 minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes before serving so that the sauce sets and doesn’t spill out when you slice it and serve it to your dad. Allow any leftover lasagna to cool completely in the baking dish before transferring to an airtight container and storing in your refrigerator for up to 2 days. Alternatively, if you have a lot of lasagna left over, just leave it in the baking dish and wrap tightly with plastic wrap before storing.

Header image by to Con Poulos.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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