Sunday, February 3, 2013

Roarin' 20s Murder Mystery Dinner

1928, Chicago. Jazz drifts from the old Victrola in the corner. The room is dimly lit, but lively. Alcohol is prohibited, but tonight, if you know the secret knock, it pours freely. Welcome to S.P. Keasy's Place. You've been invited here because you, along with the seven other people at your table, are suspected… for murder. 

Who dunnit? Was it the society dame and flapper with a sordid past? Or perhaps Chicago's most colorful millionaire gambler? Or was it the shady lady and owner of a prominent "private club?" Along with avid golfer "Socks," a young reporter with a questionable connection to the deceased, a crooked DA, a sultry, mysterious songstress, and the star pitcher for Chicago's major league baseball team, all eight of you played a role in the notorious gangster Hal Coppone's murder. 

My friends and I had a murder mystery dinner party! V and Ben's house was transformed into a speakeasy, and we were all transformed into flappers, mobsters, and madams. To go along with the 1920s Chicago theme, I went Italiano and made a lasagna and a "bathtub gin" cake. Ben stocked the Bar with prohibition era cocktails, and with Duke and Louis playing the background, we Charlston'd our way through four rounds of questioning to find out who killed the notorious bootlegging gangster. If you've never played a murder mystery game, I highly recommend it, super fun! It also helped that we had an improv actor in our group!

Also, if you've never made lasagna with homemade bolognese sauce and béchamel, I highly recommend that, too. It does take a bit of effort, but it's totally worth it. I've always liked lasagna, but never loved lasagna. That's because I had never had it quite like this. Forget the slimy pasta swimming in layers of red sauce and ricotta. This lasagna was thick and hearty, full of rich, meaty sauce and cheese. There's a touch of nutmeg in the béchamel, which seems weird at first, but totally works. Murder mystery or no, make this lasagna. And if you're feeling extra adventurous, throw on a fringed dress and and put a feather in your hair… it is the roarin' 20s, after all!

Bolognese Lasagna with Béchamel 
Adapted from Mario Batali's recipe

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon oregano
Hearty pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground or diced finely
3/4 cup tomato paste (add more by the tablespoonful if desired)
1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup dry white wine 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

1 package no-boil lasagna (flat)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. 5 cups shredded parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley, sliced thinly (optional)

For the bolognese: In a 6 to 8-quart heavy-bottomed pot (I used my dutch oven), heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and cook over medium heat until almost browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat to high, and add the beef, pork, and pancetta, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the oregano, red pepper flakes, tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat. Note: the béchamel is fairly salty, so don't over salt the bolognese. 

For the béchamel: In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.

For assembly: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large lasagna pan, assemble the lasagne, beginning with a layer of bolognese, a layer of grated cheese (both), a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel, a layer of bolognese, cheese, etc. until all sauce and pasta are used up. The top layer should be pasta, bechamel, cheese. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and the sauces are bubbling. Remove and cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Sprinkle with parsley if desired. 

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