New Year’s Eve is a time to kick back and celebrate with family and friends. But for chef Brad Kilgore? “I am definitely stuck in the restaurant,” he says. “Since the age of 12, probably.”
Back then, Kilgore was washing dishes at a breakfast café in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo. He soon graduated to small kitchen jobs like cutting biscuits and juicing oranges, and after taking a culinary course in high school taught by a professional chef, he was hooked. Or as he puts it, “I got the itch for fine dining.”
Influenced by the many visual artists in his family, he was particularly drawn to cooking’s creative nature. “I can’t draw to save my life, and I think I found food as my medium in order to express myself,” Kilgore says.
His early career included several stints at premier fine-dining destinations, but it was the debut of his first solo venture in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, Alter, that propelled him onto the national stage in 2015. The immediate success of his intimate tasting-menu spot led to the establishment of Kilgore Culinary Group, which now includes Asian restaurant and lounge Kaido, the eclectic European-leaning Brava, and Ember, a bistro focusing on wood-fired cuisine.
Ember, the newest addition to the group, spices up nostalgic American staples with Kilgore’s adventurous, original style. The resulting dishes are exciting yet recognizable, the ultimate balance to strike for holiday fare that can please everyone and still impress. Kilgore’s pick for New Year’s Eve is Ember’s fire-roasted lasagna with mushroom Bolognese and Gruyère fondue, which can be partially made ahead, travels well and can satisfy the masses—including vegetarians, a shock for some when it’s served in the restaurant.
“We don’t pitch it as vegetarian, and then when people realize it, they’re pretty impressed or blown away,” Kilgore says. “With that kind of a charred edge and the depth of the mushrooms, it kind of replaces that need for the meat.”
In typical Kilgore fashion, the recipe reimagines the very structure of lasagna. Instead of layering one sauce inside, you’ll spoon on two sauces at the end, after finishing individual slices in the oven to highlight arguably the best part: the edges.
“That’s where the crispy, crunchy parts are, and I wanted to make an individual lasagna where the whole thing is basically a corner ... to make it more of a terrine of cheese and pasta with your sauces on the outside in order to keep it held together,” he says.
Ember makes its own pasta, and while that’s not necessary here, Kilgore does recommend using fresh pasta, which you can also buy frozen. You’ll layer the cooked sheets with an herb-spiked ricotta mixture and bake that casserole in the oven before cooling it down in the fridge. “That way it kind of sets into shape,” he says. Then you’ll cut the cooled casserole into single portions and roast them in the oven at a higher heat to achieve that coveted corner effect and a charred, smoky flavor. The cooking is done over an open flame at Ember, but Kilgore insists that, for home cooks, using the oven is “still the same process, and actually it’s not that difficult.”
The mushroom Bolognese gets a boost of vibrance and complexity from red miso paste, which highlights tomatoes’ natural umami, as well as olives and capers. “That gives it a little bit of brightness and acidity, kind of helps cut through the pasta and all the cheese,” Kilgore says.
To make the Gruyère fondue exceptionally creamy, he avoids melting the cheese into a boiling sauce on the stovetop. “That’s when you get those grainy, broken cheese sauces.” Instead, he employs a nifty insider technique: using a blender. “You just pour your thickened cream mixture with the roux into a blender and you blend in your cheese, and it makes it a super velvety consistency,” he says. “It’s a really cool restaurant trick.”
The casserole can be made one or two days ahead, so all that’s left to do is to finish the portions in the oven, make the sauces, garnish and pour the wine.
Kilgore and Ember wine director Gustavo Rech suggest Oddero Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2015 from Italy’s Piedmont region, drawing on the traditional Italian pairing of Nebbiolo wines with mushrooms. “We wanted something kind of medium-bodied [and] gently fruited to pair with the tomato and something that would bounce off the crispy, charred flavor also,” Kilgore says. “You don’t want too deep or too heavy of a wine.”
Below, Wine Spectator recommends additional red wine options from Italy that offer those same components of substantial acidity, firm tannins and earthiness to complement the mushrooms and cheese.
Ember’s Roasted Lasagna with Mushroom Bolognese and Gruyère Fondue
For the pasta:
- 15 sheets lasagna, preferably fresh, or frozen and blanched in simmering water for 3 minutes
For the ricotta filling:
- 4 cups Italian ricotta, pressed
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, microplaned
- 1/2 cup parsley, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon shallot, minced
- 4 tablespoons chives, minced
- 4 tablespoons chervil, minced
- 1 egg white
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for greasing
For the mushroom Bolognese:
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 shallots, sliced
- 24-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 2 thyme sprigs with stem, finely minced
- 1 medium-sized sprig rosemary, without stem, minced
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons red miso paste
- 1/2 cup green olives, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive brine
- 1/4 cup capers, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chile flakes
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 cups mixed mushrooms (cremini, oyster, etc.), thinly sliced
For the Gruyère fondue:
- 3 ounces unsalted butter
- 3 ounces all-purpose flour
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 6 ounces cave-aged Gruyère, shredded
- 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
- 3 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon white truffle oil
- Fresh basil leaves
- Extra-virgin olive oil
1. In a large pot, bring 1 1/2 gallons of water to a boil and season gently with salt. Add the lasagna sheets and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes, then strain.
2. In a large bowl, combine all the ricotta filling ingredients except the olive oil. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Generously grease a large, rectangular casserole dish with olive oil. Cover the bottom with the pasta sheets and spread the ricotta mixture on top. Continue layering until the casserole is filled, starting and ending with the pasta. Transfer to the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with another casserole dish to weigh down, and transfer to fridge to cool as you prepare the sauces.
3. For the mushroom Bolognese: In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and garlic together over medium-high heat until the edges are lightly browned. Add shallots and sweat for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, thyme and rosemary, and cook over low heat until reduced by 15%, 30 to 45 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except for mushrooms and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the mushrooms and simmer for 15 minutes more. Set aside.
4. For the Gruyère fondue: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Whisk in the flour and gently cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cream and milk to the roux and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Transfer the cream base to a blender and blend on medium-high speed. Continue blending as you sprinkle the cheese through the ingredient slot until fully incorporated. Add lemon juice, salt and white truffle oil and blend to combine. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 375° F. Remove lasagna from refrigerator and cut into individual portions. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat and grease generously with olive oil. Space apart lasagna portions on baking sheet and transfer to the oven for 15 minutes until crispy and slightly charred around the edges and tops.
6. For each plate, use a spatula to place a lasagna piece in the center. Spoon some Bolognese over the top and spoon some fondue on the plate. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 8 to 10.
8 Italian Reds
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search
Nebbiolo Langhe Perbacco 2016
Score: 91 | $26
WS review: The rich texture is filled with cherry, raspberry, white pepper and chalky, mineral notes in this firmly structured red. Tightens up as it moves from the attack to the lingering finish. Shows fine intensity and balance. Drink now through 2025. 3,500 cases made. From Italy.—Bruce Sanderson
Nebbiolo Langhe 2017
Score: 90 | $23
WS review: Black cherry, black currant and violet aromas and flavors highlight this distinctive red, which is balanced and solidly built, firming up on the lingering finish. Drink now through 2023. 3,500 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Nebbiolo Langhe Surìsjvan 2016
Score: 90 | $23
WS review: Aromas of cigar box and macerated cherry lead to ripe cherry, strawberry and underbrush notes. Balanced and ready, but should develop over the short term. Drink now through 2024. 2,800 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Nebbiolo Langhe 2015
Score: 90 | $30
WS review: Aromatic and exotic, exuding floral, raspberry, licorice and medicinal herb aromas and flavors. Firm, yet balanced and lingering on the finish. This needs air, so decant two to three hours ahead of drinking. Drink now through 2023. 3,000 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Nebbiolo Langhe Il Principe 2016
Score: 89 | $20
WS review: Rich, ripe and fresh, this red boasts macerated cherry, strawberry and eucalyptus flavors. Just a touch dry on the finish, but that may sort itself out in a few months. Drink now through 2023. 10,000 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Nebbiolo Langhe Marghe 2016
Score: 89 | $30
WS review: Cherry and licorice are the main flavor themes in this juicy red. Firmly structured, with tannins for days. Mineral, tobacco and eucalyptus notes build on the finish. Lean and intense. Drink now through 2025. 5,800 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Valtellina Superiore Quadrio 2015
Score: 89 | $20
WS review: A round, harmonious, medium-bodied red, offering plum, wild cherry, thyme and citrus notes. Firm and chewy on the spiced finish. Nebbiolo and Merlot. Drink now through 2023. 14,000 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Nebbiolo Langhe Ebbio 2017
Score: 88 | $21
WS review: Vibrant acidity keeps this fresh, while cherry, strawberry and earth flavors meet up with dense, dry tannins on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 25,000 cases made. From Italy. —B.S.