I've never believed in keeping recipes secret. I know there are some of you out there who guard them with your life. To the grave. Maybe it's your Mom's favorite cookie recipe, or Grandma's secret to mile-high soufflé. I've heard people gloat under their breath that if they do share a carefully guarded recipe, they purposely leave out the one ingredient that really makes it sing. Oops! Such passive aggressiveness has no place in the world of food - or at least I think so.
Be that as it may...
I encountered just such a person several years back, and like a Taylor Swift song, I'll never reveal the person's identity. What I can tell you though, is he arrived at a potluck party with the one dish there that blew my mind. "It's pastalone," he said. "It looks delicious. What is it?" I asked curiously. "Puerto Rican lasagna," he explained. I had no idea there was such a thing, but he had me at "Meat filling and cheese, layered with fried plantains." I was the first person to go in for his dish. It was awesome. I don't remember anything else that lined the buffet table that night, or even what I brought to the party, but I couldn't get the pastalone out of my head. With my mouth still full, I asked him for the recipe. And just like that...
He shut me down.
He eyed me as if I was asking for his social security number. "This is my Nana's recipe," he said flatly. "I don't give it out."
I suddenly stopped shoveling the pastalone into my mouth and looked down at the few remaining bites on my paper Dixie plate. Like a CSI agent I started sifting through the evidence. I had to figure out what was in this dish. And so I did. I pushed through it with my fork, inspecting each ingredient that I could see; the rest was reliant on my sense of taste. Obsessive? Sure, but I wasn't about to let this dish slip through my fingers. I had to have it.
Meanwhile, back in my home kitchen...
I reconstructed the recipe as best I could. Surprisingly, I came pretty close with my first attempt. One more pass and I was confident I had recreated Nana's recipe, maybe even improved on it a bit.
When I go to a potluck, this is the dish I bring. And when I go to a potluck, this is the recipe I share.
(My version of Puerto Rican lasagna)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 1/3 pound ground sirloin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
½ cup green olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
Vegetable oil (to fry plantains)
4 large ripe plantains
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, for buttering dish
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
6 large eggs beaten
In a medium skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions, peppers and bay leaf until onions are translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the ground sirloin, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 6 minutes; drain. Stir in the olives and raisins. Set meat mixture aside.
In a heavy bottom skillet heat enough vegetable oil to make a ¼-inch depth over medium high heat. Peel and slice the plantains lengthwise into 1/4–inch strips (about 3 per plantain) and fry until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Allow to drain on paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To assemble the pastalone: butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking dish and lay the plantains in a single layer along the bottom, cutting to fit if necessary. Sprinkle one cup of the cheese over the plantains and layer the meat mixture over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the meat and top with another layer of plantains. Whisk the eggs and pour slowly over the pastalone allowing them to seep into the meat mixture.
Bake uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until eggs are set and plantains are tender. Allow the pastalone to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.