Tara’s Lasagna Al Forno and the search for la dolce vita

The first ingredient in lasagna? A trip to the deli. photos Tara McIntosh

Back when I lived in North Burnaby, bocce at Confederation Park, lineups at Anton’s and Michael Bublé sightings were just a Tuesday.

Since moving to the Tri-Cities, I’ve been hoping to find la dolce vita a little closer to home.

On a recent Friday I went shopping at Giancarlo Italian Deli in Coquitlam in Austin Heights. I quickly realized Giancarlo is more than just a business; it’s a community with regulars, eye contact, conversations and the same old-school, no-airs, friendly vibe I grew up with in North Burnaby.

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In fact, one regular customer I met while shopping was Lionel and he was more than happy to give me a tour. He doesn’t own the business but he’s proud of it anyway.

“I mean, look at these beautiful cheeses and meats!” he says.

And he’s right – the store has a well-stocked deli counter of imported cheeses, including the best wedge of Parmesan I’ve ever had. It also has all the splendor of an Italian pantry and a Nona’s freezer you’d like to raid at two am: olive oils, jars of meaty olives, frozen pizza dough, cannelloni, lasagna and of course those perfectly sun ripened plum tomatoes picked and canned at just the right time.

While Lionel talks to Sylvia, the owner and the women who work along side her, daughter Amanda and long-time employee Anna, he tells me that Giancarlo is a great place to come, have a coffee and write some poetry, which he does every morning.

“What, you’re a poet?”

“I am,” he replies.

“Can I take your picture?”

“Oh, sure,” he says, “I’d love my 15 minutes of fame.”

A frequent customer offers a tour.

With plenty of tables and chairs, a menu with enviable Italian sandwiches, hot pasta lunch specials on occasion, fancy coffees, and pastries, Giancarlo is the perfect meeting place for your book club, to share some slow food and conversation with your kids or to just come and write some poetry.

With Reflections Bookstore next door, right beside Giancarlo, you can make for a fabulous afternoon. As Sylvia wraps up my block of Parmesan and rings up my olives and tomatoes, I ask her about business and she tells me COVID hit them hard so they are always happy to welcome more customers. Well, they certainly have one in me. Now that we’ve become fast friends, I boldly decide to ask both her and Anna the secret ingredient to a good lasagna. “Oh, no, no, no, we cannot tell you that!”

But then Anna offers: “Well, we could tell you but then we’d have to kill you.”

I decide I’m good not knowing. But I do know a great place when I find one.

Giancarlo’s Deli is located at 1115 Austin Avenue, Coquitlam.

Tara’s Lasagna Al Forno

Whether it’s for a Sunday night dinner or for Valentines, you can never go wrong with a Lasagna Al Forno. Buon Appetito!

Meat Sauce: 1 large onion, diced, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 lb. ground beef, 4 cloves garlic, minced, one 796 ml. Italian plum tomatoes, two heaping tbsp. tomato paste, 1 cup dry red wine, 1 cup good flavorful beef bouillon, such as Knorr’s or Better than Bouillon Brand, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper or to taste. Optional: Feel free to add a handful of basil leaves, 1 tbsp. oregano and 1tbsp. garlic powder too! Taste and adjust seasonings as you like.

White Sauce: 4 tbsp. of butter and 4 tbsp. of flour 1 ½ cup of milk and ½ cup of half and half cream, ¼ cup Parmesan, ½ tsp. salt, pinch pepper, pinch nutmeg. (You can also use jarred alfredo sauce instead).

1 package fresh lasagna sheets (8 in a package, brand name Olivieri is good)

2-3 cups fresh shredded Parmesan

Putting it All Together

Meat Sauce: Sauté onion in olive oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat, until the onion is transparent. Add 1 pound of ground beef, breaking it up with a fork, add minced garlic to the pot, sautéing until beef is evenly brown. Add plum tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, beef broth, bay leaves, salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let simmer on low heat for 1 hour stirring frequently.

White Sauce: Melt butter in a small pot, then whisk in flour stirring for a minute. Slowly add in milk and cream, and continue to whisk. Add Parmesan cheese, whisk some more and simmer over medium heat until white sauce comes to a gentle boil. Remove pot from the heat add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Sauce will be thickened. Whisk again and set aside.

Show Time!

Spread 1/4 cup of the white sauce over the bottom of a 9 X 13, 3-inch-deep lasagna pan. Put two lasagna sheets over the white sauce (you will probably have to break up 2 nd sheet to fit pan).

Then spread 1 rounded cup of the meat sauce over top of lasagna noodles, then add another ½ cup of the white sauce over top of the meat sauce. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese on top of lasagna noodles, meat sauce and white sauce. Repeat this process until there are four layers ending with Parmesan cheese on top. If you have extra meat sauce, add extra on the last layer. Put baking dish in the middle of the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cover with tin foil if it begins to get too brown.

Once done, let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Keep up with Tara McIntosh on her blog.

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