This Tagliatelle al Forno will keep the winter blues away.
This Tagliatelle al Forno will keep the winter blues away.

Let’s Cook: Casseroles to Chase the Winter Blues

by Alison Boyd & William Sertl

New Year’s Day kicks off the Season of Gloom, and there’s only one way to fight back. With hearty Eat ‘n’ Watch Casseroles in front of TV. Think about football games and the hordes, on the verge of hungry, who’ll be piling their plates high pending the results of a Hail Mary pass. They don’t want to fuss with a sit-down dinner, so dish it out and get them back in front of the screen before someone fumbles the ball. Imagine movie night with friends and neighbors, none of whom want to miss a plot twist or grisly murder. Consider yourself, all alone one chilly evening. January is about comfort on a plate—easy to eat, easy to make—with leftovers to last through all episodes of Stranger Things, depending on how heavy an eater you are.

The Plan

Just like TV these days, casseroles can be classy (Hello, The Crown!)—no Fiesta Olé Chicken unless you like topping lasagna trays with miniature marshmallows to begin with. Thus, we give you Tagliatelle al Forno with Lamb Ragù, foreign words, and a real accent grave. Because we are not snobs, we also present a humble Shepherd’s Pie, the classic pub dish as democratic as majority rule. So what if we cheated by using the same ragù filling twice? Doubling the recipe makes the second casserole a snap. Not only that, but lamb is far better than the plain hamburger meat (and peas and onions) in a traditional Shepherd’s Pie. We did make one key change: tossed out the tagliatelle and béchamel, then topped the second casserole with mashed potatoes, just like for a real Shepherd’s Pie. Let a green salad (dressed up with radicchio and endive) serve as referee for our dueling dishes, and may our guests judge us guilty of no more than trying to cheer them up on a dark winter’s day.

Tagliatelle al Forno
Tagliatelle al Forno
Tagliatelle al Forno with Lamb Ragù

A more refined alternative to lasagna, this dish can be made up to 12 hours ahead. We like the organic lamb from the Icelandic sheep raised by 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue. If you prefer, good ground beef, such as a mix of chuck and sirloin, will also garner rave reviews.

1. Ragù

2 lbs ground lamb (or beef)
2 Tbs olive oil
3 ozs finely diced pancetta
I medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 ribs celery, minced
I large carrot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs tomato paste
I cup full-bodied red wine
I cup of lamb or beef stock
Bouquet Garni (1 bay leaf, 1 sprig each of thyme and rosemary, all tied with kitchen twine
Salt and black pepper

Heat a large non-stick skillet. Add the lamb, breaking it up while cooking to brown evenly. Set aside. Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot and put in the pancetta. When it begins to sizzle, add the onion and cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes before adding the celery and carrots. Sprinkle in a little salt and sauté on low heat, stirring constantly for about three minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute before adding tomato paste. Cook on low for three minutes, stirring constantly. Add a little water if the mixture starts to stick. Turn heat up to medium and pour in the wine. Cook on high for one minute; then turn down to a simmer. Transfer lamb to the pot with the vegetables; add stock, bouquet garni, and a little more salt. Bring mixture to a low simmer and cook for about an hour. Remove bouquet garni; add a few grinds of pepper. If not serving immediately, refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

2. Béchamel Sauce

4 cups whole milk
I bay leaf
5 Tbs unsalted butter
4 Tbs flour
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and black pepper

Place milk and bay leaf in a saucepan. Heat gently but do not boil. Melt the butter in another saucepan over low heat. Add flour slowly and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for about two minutes until mixture turns a light golden brown. Stir in the heated milk (remove bay leaf) and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer until thickened, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add Parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

3. Tagliatelle

12 ozs egg tagliatelle
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, drain, and reserve a cup of the cooking water. Place pasta back in pot and toss together with the olive oil and a little cooking water.

4. Assembly

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Swirl a very thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of a large earthenware or other ovenproof baking dish. Top with half of the tagliatelle, half of the ragù, and a layer of béchamel. Repeat, finishing with the remainder of the béchamel. Sprinkle half a cup of Parmesan on top. Place in a 360-degree oven and bake for about 25 minutes until the mixture is bubbling and the top is lightly browned.

A shepherd's pie will chase the winter blues away.
A shepherd’s pie will chase the winter blues away.
Bait and Switch Shepherd’s Pie

You’ll be surprised how different the same ragù tastes without béchamel or Parmesan and with potatoes standing in for tagliatelle. P.S. Honey-glazed carrots make a nice side.

4 lbs Yukon gold or russet potatoes
½ cup whole milk
3 Tbs butter
Salt and black pepper
Ragù: repeat recipe No. #1 from Tagliatelle al Forno with Lamb Ragù

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and mash with milk and two tablespoons of the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place ragù in an ovenproof serving dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Swirl the top of the potatoes with a fork and dot the peaks with small pieces of the remaining butter. Bake in a 365 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until bubbling with the top lightly browned.

Alison Boyd and William Sertl
Alison Boyd and William Sertl

Alison Boyd ran a catering business in her native London before working as a private chef in Bridgehampton. She has since decamped to the North Fork where she cooks frequently with William Sertl, Culture Editor of the Beacon and former travel editor of Saveur and Gourmet magazines. Every Thursday, before their spouses arrive for the weekend, they dine out and plot their next home-cooked meal.

East End Beacon
The East End Beacon is your guide to social and environmental issues, arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.

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