May 24, 2024

Sei forte is Italian for “You rock!” dedicated to Menggay, her classic, creamy baked lasagna or both.
With her 20th or so batch of small trays, her birthday celebration last July 17 gave her a “high” as the phrases of,or praises of encouragement from the comments in her page “Bernie Cooks” conveyed messages that her lasagna was awesome.
Charmaine Marie celebrates 33 years of life in the universe. She exchanged vows with Chok Francisco two years ago and has literally settled down from all the restlessness, nights out with the girls, scuba diving, escapades here and there with her cousin Stephanie Kate.
Blessed with a lovely, charming, and sweet little baby nicknamed “Betchay” who at one year and six months has brought love, joy, laughter, and smiles in the household. A little naughty though, like who else?
A day before my birthday last June, she baked her first lasagna with the whole clan praying for a miracle it would work. Her first official customer was neighbor Nadine Dee, who by stroke of fortune liked what he ate. Then came Dr. Abs, Ray Olarte, tita Atz who ordered 12 trays for the birthday of tito Jorge. Literally, everybody in the party talked about the lasagna but forgot to greet the celebrator.
Then like fire, word spread out and orders poured in via the page in Facebook she has created.
Bernie Cooks is a tribute to her mom who reinvented the heirloom recipe from Italy. No, she did not learn it from the culinary school she attended, a few years back. It was 20 or so years ago when she started her own formula and called it lasagna soup at the start. Family and the children’s friends repeatedly requested for the recipe but she had a blood compact with those she fed that they can only eat and not bake.
In one desperate moment, JP’s friend Jasper, who was a chef, rummaged through the garbage bin and found a grocery receipt hoping against hope that it would reveal the ingredients but gave up when he saw that the list included Lysol and other disinfectants.
Menggay and the rest of family saw him in Washington and he has not forgotten his yearning to bake his own. He has pleaded, cajoled, threatened to “kidnap” Betchay and ransom her for the recipe, make peace with JP after the usual childish squabbles, all falling into deaf ears because until now, the recipe is top secret.
They never asked me but from the outside looking in, it’s easy does it. The genuine pasta “lasagna ala Bolognese” is from the region of Emilia-Romagna Bologna. The traditional pasta shape is the long, flat strips that go into making the layers. It can be bought in the supermarket as dry pasta. It can also be made at home, high-quality, handmade pasta like the mami of Luisa’s Café manager Chongloy.
Fresh pasta is better, of course, as there is no sacrificing taste, texture or even consistency for convenience. All one needs is a casserole pan, flour, eggs and a cutting board or clean countertop for working the dough. How to do it? Easy. Break eggs into a “crater” of the flour volcano, stir so that the yolks and whites mix before incorporating them into the flour, mix until it comes together. Then knead to work the gluten in the dough and make it more elastic by pushing it down with the heel of your hand, turning, stretching, folding, then smashing it down again. Store for up to 24 hours in the ref. Get it out sprinkle a little flour on the cutting board, cut and lo and behold, fresh homemade pasta.
The ragù in Italian cuisine is the meat-based sauce that is commonly served with pasta and of course, the familiar spaghetti. There are canned sauces available in the supermarket but to make one, you will need carrots, white onions, celery, extra virgin olive oil, butter, flour, salt and ground pepper. The longer it cooks, the tastier it becomes. Stewing literally all day – three hours or more, keeping the heat as low as it can be, stirring from time to time, is the key. Then time to bake! Put the casserole in a pre-heated oven at 200° Celsius (390 Fahrenheit) for about 25 minutes and when you see a golden crust around the outside edges on the top layer, done. Cut, serve, enjoy. Simple, sana all.
But that is not how Menggay prepares and bakes her meaty, cheesy, and mouthwatering brand. It takes her a day or two to finish a dish, slowly but surely. That is why it needs to be pre-ordered. And while we are at it, she now has her own version of Cathedral windows and an original majadera for dessert, but that is another story.
Don’t worry Menggay, your secret is safe. The recipe written here is from an illusion of a wannabe cook stage father. Happy birthday though from all of us. We love you to the moon and back. Sei forte! Sei grande! You rock! Sigh.